Thursday, February 21, 2013

Matthew Fox on Benedict's Legacy and the Necessary Destruction of the Imperial Church

Last week, Rob Kall of OpEd News's Up Radio interviewed Dominican theologian and former Catholic priest Matthew Fox regarding the transition in the papacy and what it portends for the future of the Catholic church.* A two-part transcript of the interview is at the OpEd News website here and here.

As Fox notes, he himself was among 105 theologians the current pope, Joseph Ratzinger, hounded and silenced during his years as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Fox thinks that history will remember Ratzinger-Benedict primarily as the man who brought the Inquisition back to the Catholic church, with the blessing of the former pope John Paul II.

The upshot of this return of the Inquisition and "firing" of one theologian after another? In Fox's estimation, it has resulted in a colossal "dumbing down" of the Catholic church. That was, in fact, its deliberate intent. And what happens when you dumb down a church?:

You get the Cardinal Laws, you get the Cardinal Mahonys, you get the sexual crisis, the pedophile crisis, because you don't have men of conscience and intellect overseeing things. You have people that don't know what to do when they hear there's a pedophile priest, they just hide it under the rug. Obviously that's no way to go.

A primary goal of John Paul's and Ratzinger's attack on Catholic theologians was, Fox insists, to destroy the vibrant liberation theology movement in the developing sector of the globe, a movement he characterizes as "the most vibrant and justice-oriented movement on the planet after the Civil Rights movement." Until John Paul and Ratzinger began to dismantle it, that is . . . . 

In their attack on liberation theology, the previous pope and his right-hand man in the CDF, Ratzinger, worked closely with the CIA under President Reagan, Fox maintains--a claim  he has documented in his book The Pope's War: Why Ratzinger's Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church, and How It Can Be Saved. John Paul II and Ratzinger also undertook the task of dismantling the liberation theology movement, Fox thinks, in order to replace bishops sympathetic to the social-justice concerns of liberation theology with Opus Dei bishops.

Opus Dei, a group that Fox defines as "a radical, fascist, right-wing Catholic movement begun by a fascist priest, Escriva, who actually praised Hitler," and whom John Paul and Ratzinger rushed to canonization, undoing the traditional canonization process, with its checks and balances, to facilitate Escriva's precipitous canonization . . . . And Opus Dei, a movement that, as Fox repeats several times in his interview, wields enormous power in the Catholic church today because of its close connection to powerful wealthy elites in Europe and North America . . . . 

And so this purge of the whole intellectual class of an organization, this attack on those representing the organization's best ideals of compassion and justice, this ruthless centralization of power in the top leaders of the church, with demands that they be absolutely obeyed whenever they decree: what effect has this behavior had on the Catholic church under the leadership of the current pope and his predecessor? The effect has been abysmal, Fox believes.

The moral credibility of the Catholic church and its leaders has been effectively destroyed--a word Fox repeats a number of times in this interview--under John Paul II and Benedict. But this is a process of implosion in which Fox sees the work of the Holy Spirit:

It's that I think the Holy Spirit has been at work destroying the Catholic Church as we know it.  That is to say, exactly how you're identifying the top down thing.  It's just lost all credibility.  This horrible revelation of, not just the priestly pedophilia, but the coverup of the priestly pedophilia by hierarchy; like Cardinal Law, like the Pope, and like Cardinal Mahony now.  All this coverup, that's the real crime.  To think people at the top, the CEOs so to speak, would act on this this out of moral necessity, but they didn't.  They swept [it] under the rug to protect the institution. 

At a grassroots level--at the level of parish life and Catholic family life--here's what that destruction has come to mean, Fox reports:

Well, it's happening in America too. I tell you, I did a retreat a few years ago in upstate New York, and Friday night about a hundred and fifty there said what traditions they were from.  A hundred were Catholic, "How many are practicing?"  About 60 percent.  Then I said "How many of your children are practicing?"  Every hand went down.  Zero percent of the children of these Catholics were practicing, and that was three or four years ago.  I find this everywhere, that again, the revelation of pedophilia and the way it's been handled, plus the other teachings against birth control, against gays, the preoccupation with sex as the apparent primary teaching of Christianity.  All this is turning off many, many people, as it should.

Zero percent of the children of these Catholics were practicing, and that was three or four years ago. But this is a hopeful sign, a manifestation of the work of the Holy Spirit, who is assisting in dismantling structures that are all about serving the wealthy, maintaining the power of autocratic rulers who employ the imperial style of Caesar and ignore the humble servant style of Jesus. Because Catholics are now free to shrug off the imperial basilicas, they can begin the process of backpacking as spiritual pilgrims, with the gospels and the works of the prophets, martyrs, and mystics in their backpacks, Fox argues.

All in all, not necessarily a bad place for a church to end up, if what should count most for that institution is not basilicas and tiaras and pandering to the super-rich, but the witness of the prophets, martyrs, and mystics . . . . And the example of Jesus . . . .

Later: a wonderful reader of this blog, ClevelandGirl, has sent me a link to a HuffPo article by Matthew Fox now featured at that site, which complements the preceding material very well. I'm very grateful for this link, and want to direct readers to it. 

*I'm grateful to Dennis Coday with his "Morning Briefing" column at NCR for the link to the Fox interview.

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