Friday, July 1, 2011

Thirty Years Of Silencing Theologians Has Only Fueled Secular Relativism

Funny how attempts to control thoughts have a nasty tendency to create more of what they intend to control.

One of the things I find really fascinating and frustrating about Benedict's crusade against secularism and relativism is his apparent blindness to how much the JPII/Ratzinger Church has been responsible for the upsurge in this trend--especially in the west.  I can remember when the Vatican started in on liberation theology I was utterly confused as to why a theology which gave a preferential option for the poor should be so summarily crushed.  In my mind the only way one could confuse liberation theology with Marxist communism was to do so purposefully, and for some other agenda.  That period of recent Church history certainly fueled my own tendency to look at the Vatican with an eye towards global politics and not Christian spirituality.  In truth, it was the beginning of the end of my mindless thoughtless orthodox obedience.  In many respects I am the kind of spiritual Catholic I am because the JPII/Ratzinger papacy was the reactionary political papacy it was.

The following is a part of a review of Mathew Fox's book "The Pope's War" from  Although much of it is not actually a review of Fox's book, it does give valuable insight about how the JPII papacy and Ratzinger CDF reign impacted both non Catholics and fueled American corporatism.  The review was written by Theodore Richards, a non Catholic who is the director of the Chicago Wisdom Project--which explains the Fr Pfleger references, and in the interests of full disclosure, he has worked with Fox in California.  I have excerpted the final paragraphs of his review.

.......Ratzinger's influence goes back to the previous Papacy, when he was in charge of tracking down dissident clergy and silencing them. He was able to do so with alarming silence from the mainstream media. Seduced by the flawless public image of John Paul II and American cold war propaganda that equated Liberation Theology with the USSR, the media said little as Liberation Theology in Latin America was crushed. One by one, theologians and priests who had stood by the poor against often-violent oppression--with US complicity--were silenced. Even more than Pfleger, these people were putting themselves at risk by bravely opposing oppressive regimes. Imagine if Dr. King had been similarly "silenced" during the American Civil Rights Movement. The result, years later, has been two-fold: The work the Catholic church had been doing to seek a more just society has been curtailed, leading leftists and intellectuals to abandon religion altogether; second, fundamentalist sects--and it is no coincidence that these have been supported by the same Right Wing North Americans who fought Liberation Theology--have gained a strong foothold in Latin America as people seek more vibrant forms of worship.

Moreover, it has become clear that Ratzinger would rather go after a feminist than a child-rapist. It turns out that Sinead O'Connor had a point when she protested child abuse in the Church back in the early nineties. Then, few defended her. Now that the scope of the abuse, and the degree to which Church leadership ignored it, have come to light, her simple and poignant protest seems mild.

So why should those of us not in the Church care? It is easy to see why a silenced theologian, or the parishioner at St. Sabina in Chicago (Pfleger's Church) would care, but what about non-Catholics? What about the ever-growing group of Catholics who have left the Church? What about Jews, or Protestants, or Hindus?

First, Ratzinger and his ilk promote a total rejection--again, regressing to the pre-Vatican II days--of other faiths. He has rehabilitated open Holocaust deniers and openly criticized Islam. Such an approach makes interfaith dialogue difficult, for one--one would think that a man who lived in Germany during the Holocaust would understand the need for interfaith understanding--but even more importantly, it makes interfaith spirituality impossible. The Catholic tradition--for all its baggage--has much to teach the world. Unfortunately, a pathological emphasis on orthodoxy, a false unity that, as Fox points out, lacks the diversity that authentic unity requires, has resulted in much of its truth being obscured.

Second, Ratzinger's "crusade" is political as well as theological. He has supported groups with open Right Wing agendas. The impact of his policies in the Catholic world is felt by all, Catholic and non-Catholic. Neighborhoods and nations in which priests are silenced have been transformed to adhere to Ratzinger's vision of the world in which the poor, and women, and the Global South, and homosexuals find themselves at the bottom of the hierarchy.

Third, the lack of rigor in our media when it comes to the Pope--even in today's anti-intellectual climate, it is shocking--allows people like John Paul II to become heroes. This is how his ideas can affect not only the Church, but also other institutions run by those who, seduced by the anti-intellectualism of Ratzinger's Church, are lacking a critical consciousness. Fox points to several institutions, for example, dominated by Opus Dei members.

Finally, Ratzinger's theology has left the Catholic Church on the sidelines of the pursuit of what Fox calls a post-modern spirituality, a spirituality than can give birth to a worldview capable of dealing with myriad problems humanity faces. How can a body-denying, Earth-despising, sexually repressed spirituality deal with such issues as climate change? How can a spirituality that won't speak of justice and sentimentalizes the poor deal with global poverty?..............


The other thing Ratzinger has accomplished in thirty years of silencing other theologians is to pretty much insure his theology is the only theology anyone hears from our pulpits and JPII's notions of global politics the only political strategy we hear.  The culture war issues of abortion and gay marriage are perfect issues to fog up the real agenda of keeping white male European/corporate culture transcendentTruth is sex sells and nothing sells like 'perverted' sex, especially when one can be on the righteous side of the perversion equation. But God is a just God, and that same 'selling' point has kept the clerical abuse crisis front and center in the Catholic imagination and Benedict and company are definitely not on the 'righteous' side of that equation.  That has given many of us the intellectual latitude to see it is not in the global world's best interests to maintain white male European/corporate culture as transcendent.  We have to find a better way, a more inclusive way, a more just way.  

In spite of thirty plus years of silencing the voices in the wilderness who attempted to articulate those better ways, those voices are still being heard.  One of the best things about the post modern world is that even though a pope can silence a theologians voice, a pope can not stop the spread of the silenced theologians words. The pen is still mightier than the sword.  True thoughts still more potent than empty power driven edicts.  If that weren't true, Christianity would have died in it's infancy.  It won't die now, in spite of the baggage that has accrued to it over the last two thousand years because in it's core concepts it's still true.  Love is the force that makes the universe go round.  Or as my favorite bumper sticker says, "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."  Only when Catholicism recaptures that spiritual understanding will it be a true force for peace.  Until then it's just another mindless power broker lost in it's own delusions.


  1. It is axiomatic among the Trads that the Church is "still" in a mess because all those "hippies" and "libs" from the 60s and 70s "corrupted" it. They have no sensible reply to this observation: by any measurement, traditionalist forces have been in charge of the institutional Church for 30+ years. A post-Vatican II spirit reign in the Church for, what, maybe 15 years (and that's being generous with time and "spririt"). In other words, you guys have been running the show twice as long as us guys--and by any measure you guys have been dogged and absolute in imposing your stamp on the institution--yet the Church remains "corrupt." Hummmm....

  2. Kevin, the trad answer -- that shows how terribly the hippies undermined the church. It also needs the corollary "Everybody is learning the right way now, and especially the young people." All other views are at minimum uninformed and if necessary, satanic. Corruption is always minimized.

    Colleen, thanks for the excerpt and your analysis. Exactly what friends and I were discussing last night.

  3. To understand JP2 you need to understand postwar Poland. I have many friends whose parents fled Eastern Europe to live in Canada.

    It doesn't matter if you are Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Hungarian or Czech, you hate the Soviet Russians and you hate Communism. Period. I have a very good friend of over 35 years and we cannot have a political discussion to this day. His family is still in negotiation to recover his grandfather's property, a small apartment in one of those countries. Furthermore, as they say about the Dutch, wooden shoes, wooden head, wouldn't listen. It is emotional, visceral.

    That's their world view. That's the world view JP2 brought to the papacy.

    Too bad, and I speak of this as a descendant of the Iberian peninsula, they don't understand the oppression the Portuguese and Spanish suffered under fascist dictatorships supported by the Church. Nor do they understand the suffering of the people under post-colonial dictatorships of former Spanish colonies in Latin America. Some of the worst abuses are the result of the Church's support of right wing military governments and dictatorships, their enabling corporations, and the illicit secret activities of US government agencies.

    To JP2 it was Communist=Socialist=Evil. He was willfully blind to right wing military oppression in Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Nicaragua and so on. Some of those Latin American bishops who enabled great evil are still in the Vatican today. Sodano, we're looking at you.

    It was no accident or mere coincidence that an assassin did the job JP2 intended to do by signing the papers to remove Oscar Romero from his office as bishop. The church stood silent witness to brutal violation of ordinary people. JP2 refused to condemn the Salvadorean government's use of death squads.

    Ironically what they feared from American Protestant Evangelicals has indeed come to pass. The church sided with the rich and powerful against the people. Another bad decision.


  4. Kevin, that's always amazed me that the trads have zero response to the last thirty years of conservative rule having virtually driven millions of Catholics out of the church in the west, except to blame it on the people who left. They also have no response to the sickening fact that same conservative church engaged in a criminal conspiracy to hide and protect pedophiles. The unfortunate thing about that fact is that progressive clergy were as culpable as conservative clergy---which makes it a universal clergy thing taking precedence over their individual theology. There is an important message in that about the power of clericalism to over run individual commitment to Christ.

    mjc: thanks for the kudos. We are now engaged in a battle for both the soul of Catholicism and by extension Christianity. I have much hope in the younger generations, not because of JPII, but because these generations are asking real questions in view of what real science is telling us about humanity and what those generations are themselves telling us about humanity.

    @p2p I can get why Eastern European countries are not keen on notions of communism or socialism, but what I don't get is how Benedict could have ever backed fascist governments in South America. If anyone should have had an idea about the excesses of fascism it should have been Benedict. Blows me away because neither fascism nor communism gives a damn about Christianity except to either co opt it or outlaw it.

  5. I'm pleased that you refer to the "attempts" to control theologians: it's clear to me that the absolute control that once existed, has gone, especially in moral theology. (It's not for nothing that last year's major academic conference of Catholic moral theologians, involving hundreds of participants from all over the globe, has been widely described as the Second Council of Trent). When the CDF or bishops' conferences criticize new books of theology, the main impact seems to be a boost in sales.

    Theology is no longer being done only by (supposedly) celibate, CDF approved priests their self-contained ivory towers, removed and aloof from the real world, but by real people, living real lives.

    Vatican II promised a church that included all its people. The last two popes and the curia have been trying to deny the promise, but you can't put the toothpaste back in the tube,in the internet age, ideas cannot be locked up out and isolated from public consideration.

    Theology has moved beyond Vatican control, into the whole church - and is a great deal healthier for it.

  6. As i read this post, a couple of thoughts came to mind. My husband and I have worked in a ministry for couples in troubled marriages for many years, and a lesson we have learned is that when couples hit crunch time in their relationships, they invariable revert to how their families of origin dealt with issues.

    I believe that this is what happened under JP2 and now Benedict. When they hit a crisis situation, rather than being changed by their experiences growing up, they reverted to exactly the domineering, controlling, facist measures they saw under the regimes in which they lived. They have both attempted to squash dissension in the Church in exactly the same manner as dissension was squashed in their homelands (although not as bloody, but with the same mindset).
    Personally, I was not able to divorce myself from the behaviors I learned in my family of origin until I experienced the consistently unconditional love of my husband for many years.

    Being in a loving, intimate relationship has helped me understand God's love for me which has, in turn, changed the way I love and accept others, even those I disagree with or who have hurt me.

    It seems to me that celibacy and the lack of intimate loving relationships severely restrict how we relate to people. Could this be the underlying source of the insecurity exhibited by the Pope and the curia now leading to the increasingly authoritarian stance they have taken?

    Just wondering....

  7. Jo that's a great observation. I've seen this 'crisis resolution' tendency work the same way in corporations. Leadership all too frequently resorts to their own particular family model of crisis resolution. It freaking drives me crazy since a lot of those solutions are so dysfunctional.

    I think too, in the case of JPII and now Benedict, that this rush backwards also stems from the clerical family in which they were educated and ordained. Both of them were ordained into the seminary system of Pius XII, which is exactly the system they are trying to reinstate. It's also the system that produced the vast majority of pedophiles, even though this fact seems almost impossible for some conservative Catholics to compute. The most reported numbers of abuse acts did occur in the sixties and seventies, but they were not committed by priests ordained in the sixties and seventies. They were committed by priests ordained in the seminary system of the forties and fifties--JPII's and Benedict's years of ordination. So the Vatican is attempting to find the solutions to this crisis by returning to the system that created the crisis. Ain't gonna work.

  8. Great article and great comments too. I feel a sense of sadness when it comes to Pope Benedict XVI. He was raised in the very toxic society where various groups of people were viewed as less than human. I wonder if he had grown up in a society where Jews and gays (to give 2 examples) were seen as equal in their humanity to other, if he would have a different mindset on some things. Mark

  9. Here's a good reference on how fascists use religion: More Fascist Analogies