Monday, June 4, 2012

Is There A Lesson For The Vatican Of 2012 In The Soviet History Of 1982?

Back in the early 80's group photos of Soviet Leadership let us all know who was in and who was out.  The 'out' were literally photo-shopped out of photos.

I see where our fearless leadership has put another LCWR theologian under notice a day after our fearless leader threw a plum to Philadelphia's Archbishop Chaput.  I can't help but see this as another theologian sent to Siberia and another ladder climbing papal syncophant given a pat on the back. In the meantime we are not supposed to notice the Vatican continues to implode or that the jury in the Philadelphia abuse case is now in deliberation or that Cardinal Dolan has taken the gloves off and is in full bully mode concerning his bribes to predators to leave the priesthood.

Yesterday I read this article and the author, Richard Cottrell, makes a very interesting comparison:

 "Joseph Ratzinger, alias Pope Benedict XVI, reminds me strongly of Brezhnev in his final decline. Then the corridors and chambers of the Kremlin hummed with plots, horrific acts of political treachery occurred behind closed doors as the general secretary quietly faded away, like the smile on the face of the Cheshire Cat.
The communist system effectively died with Brezhnev.
That story is being repeated right now within the sacred precincts of the Holy See.
One Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, was moved to describe the commotion inside the Vatican as the “penultimate act of a medieval battle moved to the 21st century.”
This is slightly an understatement. The Vatican is gripped by a civil war of such bitterness and furious intensity it may never fully recover.
The issue, as with Leonid Brezhnev, is largely but not fully connected to the toxic issue of the succession."

I remember well those times of the Soviet Union under Brezhnev.  It seemed there was endless speculation about who would replace him, just how sick he was, whether the KGB would rig his succession and on and on and on.  The score could be kept by literally paying attention to who was and was not seen on the parade platform with Brezhnev. The infighting got so toxic for so long that by the time Brezhnev finally met his Maker in 1982, the Communist party resorted to old guard old men, (Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, who both died after short terms in office) as place holders until the fighting in the Politburo resulted in some sort of truce.  This led in 1985 to Mikhial Gorbachev who essentially presided over the death of the Soviet system.

There really are some striking parallels between the current Vatican situation and the Soviet situation in the early 80's.  The memberships in the college of cardinals and the bent of most of the curia has been carefully managed to be conservative and traditional.  The infighting in the Vatican is not amongst progressives and conservatives, it's strictly between conservatives.  It is truly a one party system fighting over who gets to replace the old leader of that one party system.  The CDF under Levada continues to act like the KGB, ferreting out dissent and those who question the party line.  These investigations are too often the result of self appointed secret police who the CDF seems only too happy to have in their system.  Benedict may fancy himself a sort of fatherly benevolent monarch, but that's only true in his imagination.  What is happening under Benedict, and what he himself used so effectively to rise to his current position, is not very much different from the Communist system under Kruschev,  a system of patronage and corruption that Brezhnev used in exactly the same way to achieve his own ascendancy.

I can certainly see where a similar scenario could play out in Catholicism where the current internecine fighting leads to the election of another old pope of the old guard that very shortly leads to another old pope of the old guard that very shortly ends, making it obvious to even the old guard that change can no longer be avoided.  I can also hope that someone in the Vatican or the college of cardinals can take a look at Soviet history and just bite the bullet and skip the intervening papacies.

I also think it's pretty ironic that the Pope who was instrumental in bringing down the Soviet system fostered pretty much the same thing in his own Vatican.  God does seem to have a sense of humor. 


  1. Supposing we lose Benny here shortly (not entirely out of the question), who in your mind fulfills the roles of Yuri and Konstantin?

    I'm guessing Schonborn is Gorbachev (?) And looking ahead to the possible future, what remains/comes after the inevitable fall? I hope it's not modern day Russian kleptocracy with all the husks of the former inner circle serving an ambitious and destructive Putin.


  2. If I had to make a guess it's Bertone and then perhaps another older Italian curia type, maybe Bagnasco. Schoborn would indeed be a good candidate for the Gorbachev role, but Schonborn is not just about politics. He is also a Dominican monk who seems to take his calling seriously. I don't think at that point we have to worry about a kleptocracy because the hierarchy is well on it's way to bankrupting itself in the West, and the South doesn't have the resources.

    And then, we don't know what the future holds, it maybe that a kind of truth comes forth that makes a lot of what we think our reality is all about obsolete.

  3. It all sort of reminds me of the Dark Crystal - when the skeksies gather at the deathbed of their "emperor". Thinking he had passed, one of them reaches for the sceptor and is taken aback when the supposedly dead emperor awakens violently, grabs the sceptor and proclaims that "I - I -i - am - still - the emperor!" then expires in a horrific gasp/gag and crumbles into oblivian...

    In truth tho, it's a sad thing to witness in real life. What could have been as envisioned by John XXIII would be something to behold...

    1. I had a theology professor back in the seventies who said the sixties were a precursor to another major change in how humanity saw itself and that there would be a huge backlash from forces who were threatened by the implications or just plain afraid of the future the sixties forecast. He said it would be an especially vicious fight in Catholicism because entrenched power would not let go. His example of this fear was both Humanae Vitae and the maintenance of priestly celibacy under Paul VI. Those two were important to keep in the Vatican's purview because they intimately effected the laity and the lower clergy and the old guard had to keep the heels on the throats of those two groups. He also said I might see VII come to fruition in my lifetime but he doubted he would ever see it and that saddened him. He died six years ago and I and a friend of mine were the last two people he spoke with before he suddenly died. I saddens me he didn't get to live to see his dream come true, but never the less, I think he might be right about me.

    2. Hardly anyone even remembers the 1960s anymore.

      As far as I can tell, the '60s forecast has already fallen into backlash, and had done so by the late 1980s.

    3. Some older folks very much recall the 1960's and the tremendous energy which was created by the titanic shift that was Vatican II. Indeed, that is the great bulk of our parish.

      The rest of the western world, however, has progressed in it's social thinking so far since the 1960's that the 'reforms' of Vatican II now have the ring of regressive or, at best, mainstream policies. In short, your theology prof was correct about the shift of consciousness, Coleen. The trouble is that most all of the Christan churches (not just the RC) didn't get the memo and are working under outdated sociological and ecclesiological models.

    4. Tim there's no question mainstream religions, but especially the three Abrahamic religions did not get the message. This shift in consciousness has seriously impacted unexamined assumptions about inherited power, gender and sexuality, and race. Religion is the last cultural area which has yet to undergo the kind of social and cultural change and introspection that these other areas have. I think this is the unstated reason the USCCB via the Vatican is pushing the religious freedom crusade. They want to protect religious thinking and action from the same kind of scrutiny and change all other aspects of our lives have undergone.

      In this sense it is very counter cultural, but unfortunately for the Bishops, the more they push this issue the more they bring that scrutiny on themselves. It's the lesson the CDF can't seem to get when it comes to censuring theologians. Sr Farley's book is now number 1 in religion and spirituality themed sales, and it happened in less that 36 hours after she received her notification. I wish they would condemn this blog. :)

    5. One other thought, Vatican II most certainly had a big philosophical impact on all the change and upheaval in the 60's, especially about war, poverty, and racism. It's so strange to see the Church running as fast as it can backwards from it's own message that precipitated so much forward thinking in society.

    6. ...Hardly anyone even remembers the 1960s anymore.

      Thanks for the laugh!

      Give peace a chance.


    7. We 'know' about the 1960s, but mostly from pop culture references...if we're honest.

      Pace those born 1950s and earlier, of course.

    8. I88 there is a wealth of material available on the 60's since so much of it was on the evening news. Back then the evening news had some integrity. It was TV that forced America to come to grips with racism and the Viet Nam War. Buy some popcorn and spend some time on Utube watching some ole time TV news. While you're at it, check out the student demonstrations all through Europe. It might help give you some idea of what threatened the then progressive theologian Joseph Ratzinger.

    9. It's still not perfect though, is it. I mean, so, so, so much of what was so central to the whole '1960s thing' was completely contrary to the Second Vatican Council and hugely destructive to what the Council aimed at.

      I think it is dangerous to view the Second Vatican Council as something from the 1960s, rather than as what it is - an expression of True doctrine from the True Church. As you say, some parts of it (for example; avoidance of war, engagement with other religions) seem to overlap with the 1960s ideal, but this is pretty incidental when one considers the great many parts of it which have been damaged and in cases nearly obliterated by that same 1960s thinking (sanctity of life, authority of the Church, importance of patriotism, value of celibate priesthood, role in persona Christi, married life as 1man+1woman, nobility of married life, etc.).

      In the context of this culture-war over what is and is not legitimate Catholic teaching, it is not
      "progressive" Second Vatican Council vs. "regressive" Pope Benedict.
      It is, in fact,
      "1960s-influenced popular culture" vs "The Pope, the Church, and its Councils of which the Second Vatican Council is the latest".

  4. I've been saying this for quite a while. Though, just now, what impresses me is the hypocrisy of the Comrade Chairman. At Vatican II, that revolutionbary fire-brand Comrade Ratzinger was complaining about how the nasty ol' Holy Office was suppressing theologians. Now that he is in power as Comrade Chairman, and has successfully swapped the pre-Revolution Faith for one devised by him & his fellow-rebels, he is resorting to the same tactics as...the Holy Office. Just as Lenin & Stalin & Co. overthrew the old autocracy, & replaced it with one of their own. The Party line is different, but the ill-treatment of "deviationists" is no different, unless it is worse. The Church is concerned with the ideology of the Party: not with truth, except of the Communist kind. Truth is not what is true, but what the Party & the Comrade Chairman (both of whom are *always* right, no matter what) say is true. And woe betide anyone who presumes to contradict them.

    This is (some of) what happens, when the Church is wrecked by a Papacy ever hungry for more and more power. The Gospel is forgotten, and the Church is enslaved by the Papacy That Can Do No Wrong. The Papalist principle has gutted the Church :(

  5. I wish I could be as hopeful about change as you, Colleen...economic reality eventually brought down the Soviet Union...they just couldn't provide the Russian people with bread and at the same time keep up the military competition with the capitalist other words their socialist militarized economy which was only 62 years old couldn't compete with a worldwide capitalist economy...socialism in one country couldn't survive trying to match the west in an arms race....the Church still has and always will have a certain significant block of fundamentalist Catholics who will do whatever the hierarchy wants by either supporting them with money or acting as a counter-reformation attack squad....think of the French Catholic fascists - priests, nuns, and laity - who were still literally harboring Nazi war criminals from the old Vichy government in their monasteries as late as the 90s - nearly 45 years after WWII...these people don't go away...they just dig in...they are the true believers - they fervently believe GOD is on their side...corruption in the Roman empire went on for centuries...the Curia is an old anachronistic survivalist institution left over from the Roman empire - survival is their middle name...

    1. Mike I certainly see where you are coming from and your explanation is logically correct. But then progress in human consciousness--notice I don't say religious truth--is never easy. Religious truth always lags behind, sometimes for centuries. The movement Jesus started, which was all about a huge shift in human consciousness, didn't produce meaningful fruit for three centuries. By that I mean, it didn't topple the accepted collective consciousness until it had been germinating for a long time. It took a lot of blood to fertilize that germinating. I think that it isn't going to take centuries to effect another major shift in consciousness. It may not even take decades because now we have the instant communication to spread new ways of thinking.

      I can pretty much guarantee that if the internet existed when Vatican II was happening, we would not have had time for any kind of backlash. Time and ignorance no longer favors the Vatican. Change is coming.

    2. That huge shift in the human condition was indelible from the moment of the crucifixion. You really think it depends on us, here on earth, to "make it produce meaningful fruit"?

      Is the New Covenant not in itself "meaningful fruit", not 'germination'?

      Seriously, Colkoch. What's your thinking here?

    3. My thinking is that free choice is paramount. It's what this reality is all about. It's God's big gift to us. The potential for the shift was made manifest at the Resurrection, but we as individuals still have to choose to validate that for ourselves. When enough have affirmed that truth a shift in the collective consciousness then occurs. This doesn't mean everyone 'gets it' all at once. It means the collective bell curve moves further along the spiritual path. Right now we're in a situation in which the right hand edge of the bell curve is trying to keep the whole curve from moving forward. They will be drug along just as they always are, but they can take comfort in the fact they will still uphold their end of the bell curve.

    4. it is valid because it is from God, we don't validate the gift, we accept it.

      Where is the Bible or in the doctrine of the Church is this concept "collective consciousness", and how does the Church affirm this bell-curve picture of humanity?

    5. "collective consciousness"? "bell curve"?

      I haven't come across these notions in the Bible, or in Church teaching, or from any sound theological source before. As a theological picture, it looks really quite weird to me, and definitely unChristian.

      Generally, we 'accept' or 'receive' rather than "validate" a gift. And the relationship of God with Man hasn't ever been seen in terms of a mound of ants on a see-saw before. Or, not by the Church.

    6. Collective consciousness is not a theological term, it is a psychological term. It would include in the Catholic sense, both those Catholics currently alive and the Communion of Saints and Angels and it would be a huge part of the Christian consciousness. It more or less refers to the over all world view of a given group of people. In Catholicism, the current 'wars' are about the definition of this world view.

      You believe in the traditional authoritarian drive 'truth' concept, and I believe in a more evolutionary concept which influences how these 'truths' are understood. Historically the conservative authoritarian magisterium has always been mired in the past, and about every 500 years they are so outside the collective consciousness and have become so corrupt they precipitate schism and or reformation movements. Afterwards, there is a time frame where they clean up their acts corruption wise, and surreptitiously change the emphasis of some dogma and doctrine to make it look like 'we always taught that' by dragging up some theologian or papal statement that said something more or less along the lines the Vatican is now espousing. Read the history on the teaching about slavery. While the Church was up to it's eye balls in the slave trade, there were always those who were dead set against it and it is now the thinking of these marginalized abolitionists that the magisterium is quoting to prove the Church was always against slavery.

      We're due for another major split in Catholicism. The corruption and the reverse to the past are proof of this pudding. It's also a fact Pope Benedict has been working to create just this split with his ideas of a remnant who will save Catholicism from secularism. It's actually a very paranoid and defeatist proposition,essentially stating God is powerless to effect meaningful change in His people and that like protecting the Host in a Tabernacle from profane hands, God must be protected from a profane culture. Benedict's Catholicism is one for defeatist elitists who are afraid of change.

      Because of that, this time, the schism will all be on the right and the reform will come from the left.

    7. So, do you mean collective consciousness, or The Church (inc militant, suffering, triumphant)? It'd be hard to blur them as you do, because they've incompatible structures.

      This conversation is unlikely to bear fruit if you've swallowed that mad, destructive, crippling idea that "truth" is "authoritarian", and that the only alternative is "truths" (i.e. no truth at all).

      For all your talk of splits, there's still just one Catholic Church, defending the same gospel truths from error, as stood at the First Ecumenical Council, which stood well inside your notion of quincentennial rotations of error and reform.

      It's also difficult, because it appears that behind the new-agey openness, modern progressiveness, and general feel-good right-on veneer, you're rooted in a quasi-eschatological worldview in which the Church is about to crumble and give birth to something else. It doesn't have any close neighbour in Catholic teaching that I know of, but shares at least a superficial resemblance with certain protestant fundamentalist groups...though it might also be something pagan or occult instead, I really don't know.

      What a messy messy muddle of problems we have here!