Tuesday, February 11, 2014

James Carroll on Vatican's "Shameless Dodge" in U.N. Hearing and Its "Terrible Moral Cost"

It's a recommendation to me when the (self-appointed) centrist gatekeepers of the American Catholic conversation like Michael Sean Winters (and here and here) at National Catholic Reporter or Jim Pauwels at Commonweal get their knives out for a fellow Catholic who has dared to say what they decree as unsayable. The three articles I've just linked from Winters don't address Carroll's op-ed piece yesterday in the Boston Globe; they do, however, richly illustrate his penchant for reading Carroll out of the American Catholic conversation, insofar as he does not accept Winters's strange ecclesiology of "the church belongs to the bishops and they can do as they want with it."

The Commonweal statement by Jim Pauwels to which I link does directly deal with Carroll's Boston Globe article, which Pauwels dismisses superciliously by suggesting that Carroll just doesn't get canon law--or the distinction between the Holy See and Vatican City, a distinction that looms large as Pauwels parses (and dismisses) the recent U.N. report on the Vatican. That report is, Pauwels opines, a "dunderheaded" job by the U.N. committee, one that just doesn't get the job done, because the committee can't quite fathom intricacies of Vaticana that Pauwels understands better, including the difference between the Holy See and Vatican City. 

As I say, it's a recommendation to me when folks such as Winters and Pauwels go after a fellow Catholic thinker or journalist, and so when I see Pauwels taking after Carroll for his article on the U.N. statement, and when I remember Winters's long history of attempting to slap Carroll down for claiming to speak for and understand the Catholic tradition, I'm inclined to read sympathetically. I'm inclined to read sympathetically any person whom the centrist dictators of who may or may not enter the sacred space of the conversation defining Catholic identity happen to be attacking at the moment.

And so what does James Carroll say in that op-ed piece that Jim Pauwels dismisses as woefully uninformed? He brilliantly deconstructs the "shameless dodge" that the "pope's men," "including squads of lawyers who deny that offending priests and bishops are 'employees' and insist that the pope as a sovereign head of state is immune from lawsuits," sought to peddle at the hearing to which the recent U.N. committee report responds. He smashes this "shameless dodge" to smithereens by quoting canon law (hence Pauwels's sniffy dismissal of Carroll as someone who may not understand canon law):

By virtue of his office, the Roman pontiff not only possesses power over the universal church, but also obtains the primacy of ordinary power over all particular churches and groups of them. (Can. 333)

Carroll asks how we can possibly square the "sweeping" power granted to the pope by this and other canons with 

the shameless dodge put forward by the Holy See in this era of church disgrace — the claim that, when it comes to protecting children from abuse, the Roman Catholic Church is legally responsible only to safeguard those living in the confines of Vatican City, a tiny city-state that would fit inside New York’s Central Park eight times? Washing the Vatican’s hands of broader responsibility for the staggering transnational accumulation of rapes by priests, and systematic enabling of those rapes by bishops, a Vatican spokesman said, “When individual institutions of national churches are implicated, that does not regard the competence of the Holy See . . . The competence of the Holy See is at the level of the Holy See.”

And then he goes to the heart of the matter: the unbelievable, mind-boggling moral price that the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church--and the pope's men, including, I'd add, journalists and academics of the center who do everything in their power to prop up the indefensible claims of these pastoral leaders--have been willing to pay to keep their shameless dodge going:

But the Vatican strategy has come at a terrible moral cost. Once again, protection of church power and possessions is trumping the profound moral obligation to reckon with the truth of what is still happening in the Catholic Church. And now comes this next lie — the ridiculous assertion that the pope does not exercise full and complete authority over priests and bishops. When parishioners fight the closure of beloved churches, they appeal to Rome. When English-speaking Catholics are directed to say at Mass that Jesus died for "many" instead of for "all," the fiat comes from Rome. "The competence of the Holy See" is exercised at every level of church life everywhere.

Then he adds,

The UN report is so blistering because the committee clearly concludes that, despite a Vatican official’s assertion that the church "gets it," the hierarchy still does not understand the urgency of protecting children. The Holy See hides behind reporting law loopholes that exist in many nations. It still does not hold to account the abuse-enabling bishops, a failure permanently on display in the honors accorded to cover-up icon Cardinal Bernard Law. And the UN commission, surprisingly impolitic, properly calls attention to the broader culture of Catholic sexual repressiveness — "barriers and taboos" — because it is the source of what endangers children. Vatican push-back in the name of "religious freedom" misses the point, and deflects the core UN indictment. 

And as I read this stellar commentary, which focuses so rightly on the incredible moral cost of the obfuscation that is the entire purpose of the pope's men at all the levels at which they do their dirty work, I conclude that if this moral focus misses the Catholic mark--as Winters and Pauwels and other arbiters of the conversation that makes Catholic identity want to keep insisting--I'm happy to miss the mark. 

Precisely because I am Catholic . . . .

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