Saturday, May 28, 2011

According To John Allen, Pope Benedict Is Engaging In A Quiet Revolution

 If Pope Benedict could get out side himself and stand back away, he might be able to see there are a few too many holes in the long black wall for him to fix.

I had to kind of laugh at the latest posting from John Allen. While the National Catholic Reporter has been running multiple stories on the Ratigan/Finn fiasco in Kansas City, MO, John apparently feels it necessary to even things up by reporting on Pope Benedict's crackdown on the Cistercian Abbey at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. OK, I admit Jerusalem is more important on a global scale than Kansas City, but may be not for American Catholics. Allen's article dealt with more than just this one issue, but I have chosen to concentrate only on his assertion that Benedict is quietly cleaning up "All Things Catholic". Here's the pertinent part of Allen's article.

Benedict's 'Quiet Revolution'

A funny thing has happened as the story of a recent Vatican crackdown on a legendary monastery in Rome has made its way into the English-language press. I mean that literally -- the story has been turned into a joke, thereby obscuring its real significance.

For those with eyes to see, the suppression of the Cistercian abbey at the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, one of the traditional seven major pilgrimage sites in Rome, rates far more than placement in a "news of the weird" column. Instead, it's the latest chapter in what might be called a "Quiet Revolution" under Pope Benedict XVI, referring to a reform in clerical culture beginning in Rome and radiating beyond. (I don't think John remembers what he wrote last week.  That article included referring to a just released book in Italy about how the Vatican clerical culture is something of cess pool of sex and various other sins.)

The essence of it is this: it's the end of the "by their fruits, you shall know them" logic that once translated into a free pass, or at least a strong benefit of the doubt, for superstar clerics and high-profile groups charged with misconduct. Once upon a time, the working assumption in officialdom often was that if someone is doing great good for the church, then allegations of sexual or financial impropriety against them were likely bogus, and taking them too seriously risked encouraging the enemies of the faith.

Without great fanfare, Benedict XVI has made it clear that today a new rule applies. No matter how accomplished a person or institution may be, if they're also involved in what the pontiff once memorably called the "filth" in the church, they're not beyond reach. (Then what's Cardinal Sodano still doing around, or Bernard Law, or the virtually intact corrupt leadership of the Legion?)

That's the deep significance of the Vatican's recent action vis-à-vis the Cistercians at the Basilica of Holy Cross in Jerusalem, though you certainly wouldn't get the point from most English-language coverage. A BBC headline on Thursday was typical: "Pope shuts down lap-dancing monastery," it said, playing off the fact that an ex-nightclub performer turned Catholic nun, Anna Nobili, once performed something called "the holy dance" in front of an audience at the basilica that included Vatican dignitaries.

In reality, however, the basilica was hardly a running joke.
First of all, the Cistercians have been at the basilica for almost five centuries, since 1561, and at one stage the Abbot of Holy Cross was also the Abbot General of the entire order. Given Benedict XVI's keen sense of tradition, as well as his reverence for the monastic life, it would take more than a dancing nun to trigger the suppression of the entire abbey. (Certainly it would need at least three complaints from the Temple Police.)

Further, until quite recently the basilica was actually seen as a major success story. The consensus was that a renaissance was unfolding under Cistercian Abbot Simone Maria Fioraso, an ecclesiastical mover and shaker if ever there was one. Vocations were growing, and the basilica had become a crossroads for Italian nobility, political VIPs and pop culture icons.

In the autumn of 2008, Fioraso scored his greatest PR coup. He organized a six-day reading of the entire text of the Bible, called "The Bible Day and Night," carried live on Italian state TV. The marathon was kicked off by Benedict XVI, and concluded by the Vatican's Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. A slew of other Vatican potentates took part, along with celebrities such as actor Roberto Benigni and the former president of Italy, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. (American Cardinals William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Daniel DiNardo of Houston also participated. DiNardo was in town for a Synod on the Bible, which was the occasion for the Bible-reading festival.)
It's tough to overestimate what a media sensation the event constituted in Italy. Headlines proclaimed, "Holy Cross in Jerusalem becomes a superstar." (In the post Vatican II Church there is only room for one superstar and that would be the Pope.)

Yet around the same time, rumors began to swirl that something wasn't quite right. Some critics charged that Fioraso seemed more interested in cozying up to social elites than in the traditional disciplines of the monastic life, while others raised questions about money management, especially given that the monks ran a successful boutique and hotel, apparently without clear accounting of the revenue flows. More darkly, there were rumors of "inappropriate relationships" carried on by some of the monks, understood to be code for some sort of sexual misconduct. (Oh yea, the sex thing is much worse than the money thing. I can't help but wonder if the money thing has something to do with where the Cistercians banked or didn't bank--as the case may be.)

All that might once have been dismissed as envy or defamation, especially given Fioraso's reputation as a rising star, but not this time. The Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life launched an Apostolic Visitation, which ended in the dramatic decision to suppress the abbey entirely and to send its roughly 30 monks packing. The decree was signed by Brazilian Archbishop João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and by American Archbishop Joseph Tobin, his secretary. It was approved by Benedict XVI.

As is its practice, the Vatican hasn't provided a public explanation; in typically euphemistic argot, officials say only there were "numerous allegations of conduct incompatible with the vowed life." The gist is that there were real problems at the abbey, in terms of both financial accountability and personal morality.
As one official put it, "It was not a good scene."

The suppression is part of a pattern under Benedict XVI, which began with crackdowns against high-profile clerics such as Gino Burresi, founder of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ. More recently, in September 2008 Benedict laicized a well-known priest in Florence, Lelio Cantini, whose Queen of Peace parish was regarded as among the more dynamic in the country. Earlier this year, Benedict permanently removed Fernando Karadima from ministry, a legendary priest in Chile known as a spiritual guide to a large swath of the clergy and episcopacy.

All those cases, and others like them one could mention, pivoted on charges of sexual misconduct and abuse.
Also part of the picture are Benedict's policy moves to expedite procedures for weeding abusers out of the priesthood, including a recent set of revisions to canon law, as well as his decision earlier this year to create a new financial watchdog authority with the power to ride herd over once-untouchable entities such as the Vatican Bank or Propaganda Fide. The overall impression is that this is a pope weary of scandal, doing what he can to clean house.  (Sticking fingers in a few holes in the dyke is not going to stop the dyke from collapsing. This kind of selective cleansing is too little too late for way too many people.)

Critics, of course, will object that this quiet revolution remains incomplete until it reaches into the episcopacy -- that is, until the bishops who presided over the sexual abuse crisis, or various financial scandals, or other forms of "filth" in the church, are themselves brought to account.
Whatever one makes of that objection, the fact remains that even an incomplete revolution is still a revolution. And that's no joke.  (An incomplete revolution is by definition not a revolution--it's a failure. And that too is no joke.)


Unfortunately for Allens' attempt to paint a rosy picture of Pope Benedict, one can not carry out a meaningful revolution against 'filth' from the source of the filth and corruption.  Nor can one do so when one has made a career out of being part of and enabling the 'filth' while importing more of the filth into the Vatican.  This is just another attempt at putting lipstick on a pig--I just couldn't resist quoting another well known person whose stated mission is cleaning up another cess pool of iniquity.  I don't much believe her either.

But I have other issues as well.  I would like to ask Pope Benedict why he keeps asking us to pray for abusive priests etc when the spiritual solution has been a total failure.  Why does he keep asking us to pray for vocations when that prayer has patently not been very successful.  Why does he keeping asking to go back to a well that has run dry.  I want to know when he is going to pull his fingers out of these holes and stand back and look at the dyke, because the problem is the dyke, not the holes.  That dyke is the Roman Catholic concept of priesthood that Benedict has been working over time to re convince us actually works.  I admit it's worked for him.  He's now the most powerful Catholic cleric on the planet, but I question just how well that clerical power translates into meaningful spiritual fruits.  It doesn't seem to translate any better than high church Latin translates into every day English.  Clerical power leading to spiritual efficacy is most often times a no go.  Which is why it too often leads to clerical abuse under the guise of spirituality.

Allen mentions Fr. Ferdanando Karadima.  I was unfamiliar with this man and this particular case.  In reading up on him it was like reading up on Chiles' own national version of Maciel.  I mean this goes right down to the fact accusations were essentially ignored until the man hit his 80's and was then retired to a 'life of prayer and penance'.  Karadima seems to have had a personal mission to make the Pinochet dictatorship a model of concern for the poor.  (Where have we heard something similar just recently?)  In the process of making Pinochet's regime a version of Catholic Social Justice, he was boinking his hand picked teen age acolytes. When I read the NY Times article on this affair, I was struck with the language used by Karadima's victims--it was all about power. Karadima's power over them.  They don't really mention the sexual abuse.  They all mention the power abuse.  But of course, that's what sexual abuse of any sort actually is, just another tool of abuse by those who have power over others.  That is precisely the real problem with the dyke that Benedict can't see while he has his fingers in those sporadic holes.  

The underlying problem of abuse in Roman Catholicism is all about power and since Benedict himself is the pinnacle of that abusive power structure, he can not fix the problem.  He has to believe plugging some egregious clerical holes is fixing the problem.  To do otherwise negates himself.  But you see, negating the self is the real source of spiritual fruitfulness. Not the simple kind of surface negation the pious believe in, but the real core kind of negation that comes when one understands they can't take a damn thing they've accomplished with them to their grave,  and that it doesn't matter in the end that they can't take it with them.  None of it matters.  What matters is how we've acted towards and with others.  What matters is understanding that real spiritual connection calls for the emptying of the 'ego I' from the spiritual equation.

I've written before that my Native friends have an expression they use to describe this ego less state of spiritual connection.  They say one must become like a hollow bone and let Grace flow without personally impeding it.  They also have another saying.  This one talks about not getting in the way of one's own medicine.  Medicine meaning unique spiritual gift or understanding.  In other words, one really needs to be careful about not inserting the self in front of the gift.  What Pope Benedict does not seem to get is that his notion of the clerical priesthood seems purposely designed to get in the way of it's own medicine.  I suppose that's why he's been somewhat good about plugging holes while failing to see the dyke.  His vision of priesthood puts the priesthood smack dab in front of the medicine of the priesthood.  This is precisely why none of the spiritual solutions he calls for to fix the priesthood work.  The priesthood itself is in the way of the solutions.


1 comment:

  1. The abbey of Holy Cross in Jerusalem is in Rome, not in Jerusalem so the comparison with Kansis is a mistake