For your weekend reading on what's a long weekend for many American workers, I'd like to recommend to you Jerry Slevin's new essay at his Christian Catholicism site entitled "Thanksgiving, Catholic Hope and Pope Francis." As with everything Jerry writes, this posting is actually an essay, and it bears very careful reading. In offering you some excerpts and framing remarks about the essay, I don't want to give you the impression that I'm summarizing it.
I can't do so, in a few words. My hope is that the excerpts and framing remarks will tempt you to read the essay in its entirety.
Jerry frames his argument by noting that, a year ago at the time of the American Thanksgiving holiday, Catholics around the world appeared to have more hope than many Catholics now have that the new pope could effect significant reform of the Catholic church. The obstacle of which many of us are increasingly aware: the "entrenched and self-interested" managers of the church in Rome, who want Catholics to imagine that the way the church is presently governed is part of its "unchanging and unchangeable" essence.
And so Jerry sees the church plunging into deeper and deeper crisis, a crisis of which the laity are fully aware, but which eludes the self-interested managerial elite governing the church, and who are seeking to thwart any reforms Pope Francis wishes to initiate. As in several of his previous essays about the new pope and his potential to reform the church, Jerry argues that the crisis now facing the church is the most serious since the Reformation:
The Catholic Church is in the throes of its worst crisis since the Reformation. Vatican leaders in the 16th Century, aided by powerful outside military protectors, had mainly evaded making overdue structural changes, and their successors also managed with outside protection to avoid such changes mostly during the four centuries since.
Nevertheless, changes to the Catholic Church’s misinformed moral teachings and unworkable top down structure are badly needed now. Importantly, the Vatican no longer has any dominant outside national protectors like emperors or dictators willing to help it avoid the changes.
The changes cannot be deferred much longer if the Vatican wants to avoid both (1) further Catholic Church membership decline, accompanied by splintering into competing factions, and (2) constant interference and unrelenting pressure from outside governments, like Australia’s Royal Commission.
Pope Francis’ confident and bold approach, and the Vatican’s evident need to avoid further negative repercussions from the current crisis, are both generating some hope now, as well as creating what appears to be the best opportunity since the Reformation for the worldwide Catholic majority to press the Vatican successfully for key overdue changes.
But as Jerry has also consistently maintained, unless Francis faces the abuse crisis transparently, honestly, and with full accountability to the people of God, no amount of reformism will move the church beyond this crisis, or prevent the crisis from continuing the destruction of the church at a global level. The proof of the pudding here is what Francis does and not what he says. And vis-a-vis what he has done up to now, Jerry maintains that the record is not promising in the least:
Pope Francis seems, for over a year and a half now, to have made as his highest priority, protecting Catholic cardinals and bishops from prosecution, especially related to allegations of child abuse and/or related cover-ups, and of financial corruption, (A) by easing out, quietly and with minimal recriminations, controversial hierarchs by comfortable retirements, demotions or transfers (O’Brien, Brady, Conry, Tebartz-van Elst (Bling Bishop), Liveries, Burke, Rigali, even Wesolowski so far, et al.), and (B) by trying to co-opt completely all independent government investigations of hierarchs with Vatican controlled and secretive proceedings (especially Archbishop Wesolowski), that conveniently also protect against disclosures about other hierarchs that may have been implicated.
There's also, as he notes, the fact that the "top cop" Francis has appointed to deal with child abuse crimes, his fellow Jesuit Robert Geisinger, was, as the Boston Globe recently reported, "one of several Catholic officials who allowed a notorious abusive priest to remain in ministry for years after learning of his long history of sexual abuses, legal documents show." And then there's the fact that Geisinger replaces as "top cop" Father Robert Oliver, who will remain as Geisinger's assistant and who was previously the notorious Cardinal Law's canon lawyer, and who then became canon lawyer for Cardinal O'Malley, the American prelate to whom Francis has, more than any others, close ties.
Jerry sees in this configuration of managers at the top of the Catholic government chain — managers of the abuse crisis — not exceptionally strong signs that Francis really gets it, about the abuse crisis and how it threatens the very foundations of the Catholic church at this point in its history. Meanwhile, the kind of reform demanded at this moment is root-and-branch reform of the sort that two leading Catholic theologians whose work informs Jerry's thinking he tells us — Hans Küng and Charles Curran — have long advocated.
It's reform that points to this vision for the church — if Francis chooses to act, above all in the area of the abuse crisis:
There are now hopeful indications (A) that the Catholic Church may restore some of its management structure to its earliest consensual, bottom up and distributed form, from its current coercive, top down and hierarchical form, and (B) that some questionable traditional Church teachings may change to fit mercifully the actual lived experience of sincere Catholics and to conform honestly to current biblical, historical and scientific scholarship, all with or without the Vatican’s affirmative assistance.
I hope this brief overview of Jerry Slevin's rich essay will inspire you to read it fully. The text of this essay incorporates a previous one, equally thought-provoking, to which I pointed readers in a posting a number of days ago. You'll find yourself well-rewarded for re-reading that text and Jerry's new preface to it in this valuable essay, I suggest.