In the thread of comments following my posting about the attack on Hans Küng for his recent critique of Pope Benedict, Colleen Baker and Phil Ewing recommend a presentation that Giovanni Franzoni, a former Benedictine abbot, gave earlier this month at the 31st Congress of the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII in Madrid. A transcript of Franzoni's presentation is at the Iglesia Descalza blog site.
Among many noteworthy observations Franzoni (who was at Vatican II) makes is one that has to do with the point that got me commenting in the first place on Küng and his critique of Benedict as Benedict visited Germany. As my posting on this topic indicated, I was particularly struck by Küng's remark in his interview with Spiegel that Pope John Paul II launched a restorationist agenda in the Catholic church that "went against the intentions of the Second Vatican Council" in that it sought to restore "the pre-council Roman regime."
As I had argued the day before I happened to read Küng's comments in Spiegel, I read John Paul and Benedict's reactionary restorationist program as an attempt to keep alive the Constantinean model of church and state relationship, in which the church has power to rule over and coerce the secular state. I read John Paul and Benedict's restorationism as an attempt to keep asserting this right of the church to coerce the secular state, in the face of what Vatican II said to the contrary.
And here's Franzoni on that same issue, which ultimately resulted in his suspension as a Benedictine abbot, when he supported the right of the Italian government and Italian people to choose to maintain laws permitting divorce in the face of opposition from the Vatican and the Italian bishops, which wanted (and continues to want) to force all Italian citizens, whether they're Catholic or not, to adhere to Catholic teachings about marriage:
In short -- still proceeding through very quick flashes -- I think the post-conciliar popes have forgotten the Council on one point above all (with the repeated recognition of the autonomy of earthly reality and the nation state), or they have interpreted it in a reductive and, ultimately, deviant way. I'm referring to the relationship between the ethical norms proclaimed by the Catholic magisterium and laws of the nation states on "sensitive points" (that is, the issues related to sexuality, the family, the end of life). In Italy, as you know, in May 1974 a referendum was planned to say YES or NO to the repeal of the law on divorce. The idea was, therefore, to discuss a civil law, not a sacrament. Well, the bishops' conference tried, morally, to force not only Catholics but all citizens to vote YES on the repeal. Allow me a personal reference -- I publicly opposed this attempt and, in a small book, I supported Catholics' freedom to vote, their freedom of conscience. So I was suspended a divinis!Finally, on May 12 and 13, 1974, the vote took place. In Italy, which was 98% Catholic according to Vatican statistics, 60% voted NO on the repeal of the law on divorce. It was a big blow to the Pope and the bishops, but they didn't give up then and haven't since, and in fact in a June 2005 referendum on assisted procreation, they waged a public campaign to invite everyone not to vote so, as the quorum of 50% +1 of the voters wasn't reached, the referendum was declared invalid. The ecclesiastical hierarchy is convinced that only the Catholic Magisterium can speak words of truth about "natural law" and "sensitive issues" and therefore it tasks Catholics with making civil laws stress the perspective of official Catholic doctrine on every issue.
This remains a neuralgic point with the Vatican and bishops, whether the issue is the right of those insured under health care plans to have access to contraceptive coverage, or the right of same-sex couples to civil marriage. Under the restorationist regime that has governed the church in the last two papacies, there have been continued attempts of church leaders to assert their "right" to determine what secular law decides, in controversial areas of morality over which the church claims exclusive and unilateral "rights."
Franzoni rightly interprets this triumphalistic assertion of the "right" of Catholic leaders to coerce civil society as a betrayal of all that Vatican II stood for in the most fundamental sense possible. And the repeated assertion of the "right" of Catholic officials to dictate to civil society in one nation after another today is rapidly eroding the moral influence of the Catholic church. As Vatican II repeatedly noted, a model of respectful dialogue between believers and secular society holds much more promise, if we want to communicate the values and ideas of communities of faith to civil society.
And the attempt of Catholic leaders to keep clinging to power and "rights" that have everything to do with the imperial model of Constantine and nothing to do with the gospels: this does neither them nor the church as a whole any good at all.