Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Thirty Years Is Too Long For One Man, Be That In Cairo Or Rome

Two who ruled too long.

I've been following the news out of Egypt with a great deal of interest and concern.  One of my biggest concerns was how the army would react once the police were pulled off the streets.  It seems the army has elected not to fire on it's own people. That is a very good thing and I pray this continues.

Some of the on site news reports I've watched have chalked up this restraint to the US indicating the Egyptian military would suffer serious consequences to it's US military aid should they fire on their own people.  If this is true, and I suspect it is, it is as much a message to President Mubarak as it is the army. The US will not support Mubarak against the will of his people and the US is getting that message across via the military rather than official diplomatic channels since officially the US is still supporting another one of 'our dictators' in the Middle East.   

When I think of such large scale demonstrations, I can't help but appreciate the fact the US has had a number of this kind of mega demonstration and for the most part these have been totally peaceful.  At least they have been since the turbulent sixties.  So it isn't as if putting one million protesting people together need result in violence and human carnage, and there is no question that such a huge protest makes a powerful statement.

I've also had some other thoughts, and one of those was how debilitating it can be for a country to be under the control of one man and his cronies for the length of time Mubarak has been in control in Egypt. In the thirty years Mubarak has been the Egyptian president the US has seen six different presidents with 12 years of Democratic rule and 18 of Republican.  Maybe it wasn't always change we could believe in, but it was change, and it came frequently enough that not all hope was lost. Thirty years is just too long.

But I also realized I have actually undergone a very similar lengthy rule and it has been just as hope deflating for me as Mubarak has been for Egyptians.  That rule was JPII's rule over Catholicism and now by extension Pope Benedict's.  Egyptians have accused Mubarak of surrounding himself with yes men who won't tell him what he doesn't want to hear.  The same has also been said of JPII, especially in the latter half of his reign.  As an example even Benedict has alluded to the fact while head of the CDF he was unable to convince JPII or his inner circle to move on clerical sexual abuse. If JPII wanted to believe it was a gay Anglo problem then by golly, that's what it was.  End of discussion.  Unfortunately not all reality conforms to the wishes of monarchical rulers, no matter how long they reign.  Dictating reality doesn't make it reality.

I got to wondering- hypothetically speaking -which if any country might actually revolt and take to the streets over the thirty some years of JPII's notion of  'reform of the reform'.  I suspect it would be a country like the Phillipines where the hierarchy is highly political and wields undue pressure on politicians.  It's also a place where the legal enforcement of the Catholic sexual moral code is exacerbating the level of poverty and hopelessness.  It's also a place where JPII had his share of photo ops with the Marcos's.  JPII had a penchant for sharing his concert stage with dictators, which is not surprising given the mindset of 'paternal' dictators and their mutual attitudes towards their children.

 The demographics in Egypt are really amazing when I think about them.  Sixty percent of the population is under thirty with ninety percent unemployment amongst the college educated.  Those are not statistics which spell hope for the sustainable future of Egypt.  Lose the allegiance of the twenty somethings, frustrate them and their hopes, and you have lost their children and their childrens' children. 

Catholicism has a similar problems.  The Vatican has spent more than thirty years frustrating hope for change in the clerical nature of the church. Forget ideas about transparency and accountability and avenues for hearing the sensus fidelium, under the JPII brigade the church can't even make progress on a married priesthood.  The message has come loud and clear: better millions of lost laity than one married priest in the Roman rite. That's an incredibly stupid message.  But as far as women are concerned, the really stupid message is to keep promoting excommunication for the ordination of a women, but not for the male priest who rapes a woman's child.  Actually, that is beyond incredibly stupid.  Lose the women and with the women their children, and the church as a viable institution is thoroughly cooked.

In short, their are real lessons for the Vatican in what is transpiring in Egypt.  There is such a thing as killing hope by over staying in a long reign of autocratic and unresponsive governing.  Failure to address problems does not make them go away just because a given dictator dictates so. Eventually the 'simple' people choose to move on. The question is will Benedict and company be any better at getting these lesson than President Mubarak.  If  history is any indication, I doubt it.


  1. Blaming Catholic sexual ethic for the sexual abuse scandal is like blaming marriage for problem of adultery, it just simply isn't the case. This would mean that any priest who practiced a life of celibacy with success, which is the majority, had something wrong with him or is simply unexplainable.
    Regardless, that is not the topic of this article. The topic is whether or not someone should "rule" for as long as Pope John Paul II "ruled." Well, I guess that depends on what you mean by "ruling." If you mean imposing your will, like a dictator, running the show at the expense of others to push your individual selfish agenda, then forget 30 years, that person should never rule at all! Regardless, that simply was not the case with Pope John Paul II, nor is it the case now with Pope Benedict XVI. Their humility and selflessness are undoubtable and truly graced. I do feel, however, that no matter what I type regarding the love of these two men for the flock that they guide, the author of this post and many others will be quick to bring up individual decisions, ideas, or acts of either of these two in order to slander their names with a hermeneutic of suspicion and doubt. We could truly go back and forth in a kind of dialectic of "yes he is" and "no he isn't," but what good would that do? Rather, I would ask what is your opinion on the papacy is as a whole? Do you believe that their elections were guided by the Holy Spirit, that these two were selected to guide the pilgrim flock on earth, to lead them and strengthen them? Or do you believe that their elections were random or a conspiracy from within, some kind of power game so that the Church can control people or something like that? If you answered "yes" to the latter, then I imagine that you believe that their orthodoxy is indeed a scandal and their teaching a last ditch effort on behalf of the world's largest organization to remain medieval and controlling. This Church, however, is not in the business of controlling, but the salvation of souls. Since on earth it is run by people, they make mistakes. Indeed PJPII and PBXVI both went/go to Reconciliation once a week, and they must have something to confess for that to be a valid Sacrament. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI will go down in history as two Pontiffs who selflessly led this Church through a West that is increasingly secular.
    However, after Pope Benedict XVI passes away, do not be alarmed when the Holy Spirit elects a Pope who is as orthodox as he is holy, as selfless as he is "stuck in the mud." If the change of Church teaching means her people falling into sin, it will not happen. Let us place our hope in Christ, in heaven, so that our eyes may be fixed on that which is to come for eternity.

  2. Phil, I just read the John Allen article today (NCR) about Maciel and the Legion. Count me among the "root-and-branch reformers", not only for the Legion but for my church. Despite your feelings as listed above, I think you and I aren't that far apart.

    Do you believe we've had anti-popes? I'll assume you answer yes, especially looking at the fruits of some popes from 800 - 1100, and all despite the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us. The Faith so abused by those in power was still held by the people, the everyday saints that preserved our faith for us.

    Maciel bribed many vatican officials. It appears to be well documented, and significantly, Cardinal Ratzinger appears to have refused the bribes. However, the rest of the bribed Cardinals are still there. Cardinal Law continues to be a bishop-maker in Rome, continues to be a "leader" despite the fruits of his time in Boston. The truth coming from the Vatican contradicts scientific truths, and truth cannot disagree with truth (quote from a seminary rector to my friend who was teaching a science class to the seminarians).

    How else can I respond to these events except to defend truth, to preserve the Faith, to go against even my pope and bishops elected supposedly with the guidance of the Spirit, if that's what I'm led to by that same Spirit? I take comfort in the story of St Francis when God told him to rebuild the Church. Francis spent the first year rebuilding a church, later understanding his error and knowing that God continued to guide him. Here's to you and I, all of us, living in that same light.

  3. This is one of the best pieces of writing that I've ever come across in the blogosphere. Well done!

  4. Congratulations, MJC. I had a rather wordy idea in mind to answer Phil, yet after reading your answer, my words would be superfluous.


  5. Your analysis and writing are both spot on. Thanks for this!


  6. @mjc

    Nice reply!

    @ Phil said...

    From the "orthodox" perspective you really shouldn't be here. Simply adhering to norms excludes much of the discussion here. Not that we want to be excluded, quite the contrary, but the alternatives are heterodoxy, heresy, schism and/or apostasy.

    The laity have been systematically excluded from decision making in the church. So which label would put on us, or me specifically for daring to ask questions, search, research, evaluate, analyze and attempting to draw conclusions on the religious and moral issues in my life? Some orthodox have been quick to label me a heretic for inconveniently pointing out that the evil, yet superficially orthodox, Marcial Maciel was embraced by JP2.

    About the papacy? On the whole it needs radical reformation. Otherwise, yes you're right about the Vatican being a scandalous medieval organization that's putting its own interests ahead of the mission of salvation.

    Note that I have not made an ad hominem attack on a pope. Humanity has moved beyond the orthodoxy of pray, pay and obey.


  7. I think mjc answered Phil quite well, but I would add this:

    Phil said, "Their humility and selflessness are undoubtable and truly graced."

    I answer that the only persons who could know this in any respect about any individual are that individual and God. And yet, again I see it portrayed as a fact by a third party. This tells me more about that Church as a personality cult than a means of promoting/developing relationships with God. It slanders no one to point out that yes even the pope is human and as subject to human failings as to human achievements. It defames no one to point out that God is as close to the Pope as to any other human being.

    Is any given papal election guided by the Holy Spirit? Sure, just as any other election to human office I suppose. But the Church in this life is also a human institution and therefore I think a papal election has as much to do with politics - however decorous those might be - as with the Holy Spirit.

  8. mjc, well stated. I wish I had written it.

    Phil, I do think the election of JPII was rigged because the death of JPI was 'mysterious' to say the least. I absolutely think the election of Ratzinger was a done deal for years before JPII died. I do not then see the hand of the Holy Spirit as directly influencing the elections of the last two popes. But then I don't necessarily see the papacy/Vatican as the principle ground in which the Holy Spirit does her work. That work is done with in the People of God and that includes all of us. The true church lives in the hearts of those of us who believe not in the halls of those who lead.

    JPII and Benedict are proponents of the Catholic religion, not Catholic spirituality. There is a huge difference. Catholic religion needs a clerical magic priesthood, where as Catholic spirituality needs Jesus Christ. I'll have more to say on this theme today.

  9. @Phil:

    About this:

    "Rather, I would ask what is your opinion on the papacy is as a whole? Do you believe that their elections were guided by the Holy Spirit,"

    ## No, I do not believe that. I see no theological reason, and no doctrinal reason, & no reason of any kind, to believe that the Holy Spirit guides any Papal elections. I think the idea is unsound, and a novelty with no basis in Tradition. It may be widespread, but even if it is, that does not make it true.

    "...that these two were selected..."

    ## By men, yes, who may be presumed to have acted as they thought best. That would not make their judgements as to whom to elect in any way supernatural or inspired - they would be exercising a prudential judgement; and prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues; it is not a Divine afflatus, like the gift of prophecy.

    No respect for the Papacy should betray people into divinising it, as though Popes were Divine and not human. They don't need flattery, but always need prayer - it is a great cruelty to them & the Church to flatter them instead of asking God for the help they need; for of themselves, there is no sin, error, & blunder into which they cannot fall. For they human beings, just like the rest of us - they differ only in having a different place in the Church.

    "..to guide the pilgrim flock on earth, to lead them and strengthen them?.."

    ## Yes

    "..Or do you believe that their elections were random.."

    ## Random ? *Humanly* speaking, quite possibly - though with God, nothing is random. If you mean, "Were their elections within the scope of Divine Providence ?", then yes, they were, as are all things.

    "or a conspiracy from within,"

    ## Depends what you mean. Elections must be free, to be valid in law, theology & morals - but even if their elections were invalid - which would be difficult to prove - the lack of validity in an election can be made good by acceptance in practice of the election. In plain English, they have been accepted in practice as legitimately-elected Popes, & their acts have been accepted as those of legitimately-elected Popes. People's objections to their acts do not usually extend to denying that they were legitimately elected. The exceptions are the Sedevacantists; the adherents of various anti-Popes; & perhaps some "independent Catholics".

    "some kind of power game so that the Church can control people or something like that?"

    ## Are Papal elections ever a "power-game" ? Certainly. Does that invalidate them ? No. Does the Church try to control people ? Yes indeed. There are all sorts of reasons for this, some noble, some not so noble - the fact itself is hardly doubtful. And pointing it out is not in the least un-Catholic.

  10. @Phil - 2:

    "If you answered "yes" to the latter, then I imagine that you believe that their orthodoxy is indeed a scandal and their teaching a last ditch effort on behalf of the world's largest organization to remain medieval and controlling. This Church, however, is not in the business of controlling, but the salvation of souls."

    ## There is more than one kind of scandal. If only their orthodoxy were the sole "scandal" in the Church - & it is not clear that JP2 really was such a pattern of orthodoxy. As you said "many others will be quick to bring up individual decisions, ideas, or acts of either of these two in order to slander their names with a hermeneutic of suspicion and doubt"; unfortunately, various "decisions, ideas, or acts of either of these two" have indeed been scandalous. One example is the Assisi Abomination of 1986; another is the Balamand Declaration; the pontificate of the present Pope has been littered with *faux pas*. There is no point in praising the present Pope for his delicacy & tactfulness in dealing with sensitive matters: it is not a virtue to give a man credit for qualities he seems not to possess. I'm not interested in pretending that Popes & other bishops are models of all the virtues - there is too much evidence that the virtues they should possess are to be found among the laity instead.

  11. It's really tough for us atheists to do more than shrug our shoulders at this point; the levels of religious nonsense are piled high like the snow in the Northeast. We just try to live our lives around it and keep our kids away from men and women wearing strange clothes and talking about invisible people who want our money.