Thursday, January 10, 2019

There's No Making the Catholic Church "Great Again"

The Roman Catholic Church is facing perhaps its greatest crisis since the Reformation in the wake of a never ending cascade of sexual abuse by clergy and cover ups by high ranking Church officials, some of whom engaged in abuse themselves. Recently, it was disclosed that Opus Dei, an extreme far right element in the Church, had paid a $1 million settlement in respect to one of its most visible priest in response to abuse allegations. Over a dozen state attorneys general are investigating clerical sexual abuse and Church cover ups in their states and bomb shell stories hit the press nearly daily (my Google search agent delivers numerous stories every day).  The response of the far right elements in the Church such as "Church Militant" - which would bring back the Spanish Inquisition if it could - is to call for a return to the the Latin mass and blaming gays for all of the sins of the Church.  They want to make the Church "great again" in the same blind and fraudulent way that Trump has convinced his white supremacist followers that he can take them back to a better time that never really existed. A piece in the National Catholic Reporter looks at the foolishness and dishonesty of this approach.  Here are highlights:

Despite political slogans to the contrary, there has never been a time when America was "great." The same thing could be said about the Roman Catholic Church.
There has never been a "great" time, a "golden age," a context in which the church was actually a "perfect society" or anything apart from what it always has been and remains: a pilgrim community of the baptized. It has always been simultaneously holy and sinful (a theme theologian Brian Flanagan takes up in his recent book Stumbling in Holiness: Sin and Sanctity in the Church) because it is composed of imperfect, weak and ordinary human beings like you and me and everybody else.
While many Catholics, especially those in ecclesiastical leadership, have focused a lot of attention on the sanctity of the church over the centuries, the real sinfulness of the church can no longer be merely brushed off or avoided altogether. 
In the wake of the crises of faith and trust renewed by the revelations of the abuse and assault allegations against former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and witnessed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, women and men of faith have had to grapple with why they continue to identify as Catholic and what that identity means to them. And the responses have varied.
A lot of attention has been paid to those who have opted out of Catholicism entirely. . . . . I understand this decision and the feelings that precipitate such a serious choice. I, too, have had my own struggles with how to square my faith in the God of Jesus Christ and the church with the darkest and most-disturbing criminality of some of its leaders.
[S]ome Catholics have proposed constructive pathways and calls for change. Among these, I think increased lay leadership and ministerial oversight in numerous forms makes tremendous sense and its implementation is long overdue.
Others have suggested dramatic and, at times, unrealistic responses. While well-intentioned, calls for widespread episcopal resignations or even just that of Pope Francis alone do not adequately address the structural issues that were the conditions that make possible such egregious abuse, assault and cover-up. 
And still others have taken a different approach entirely. Which brings me to what we might call the ecclesial equivalent of the Trumpian rally cry to "Make America Great Again."
While not an overwhelming number, there is a small but vocal group of Catholics who have taken the latest revelations as an opportunity to suggest the source of the crises in the church are the theological and liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. This sort of conjecture is as incredible as those who claim gay clergy are the problem (a preposterous assertion that has been incontrovertibly disproven by scientific research).
What I find extremely disturbing with this sort of logic — and it is not limited to Roman Catholics, as one recent piece in The Times of London showed — are the ahistorical and untenable theological foundations it presupposes.
Change can be a terrifying prospect. So too is the realization that what so many of us generally presumed about the goodness, virtue and moral standing of our religious leaders might not be as accurate as we rightly hoped. But change in itself is not the problem and reactionary attitudes of yearning for a greater time that never was is also not the answer. The desire to return to what some see as past liturgical perfection, for example, reflects the fear of change in unfamiliar times seen today in broader society. It is a symptom of something more troubling: a desire for control presented as authentic reform.
There's no going back to this reverie of some past great church, because the only church that exists is the pilgrim one composed of all the baptized on a journey forward. The question for us this year is how exactly do we let the Holy Spirit lead us forward?

Rigid doctrine that ignores modern science and knowledge and condemnation of anyone who disagrees is not going to solve the current Church crisis.  Just as Trump's chanting MAGA is not going to sweep the nation back to the segregated and often brutal 1950's. 

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