Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Midweek News Round-Up: Dan Rather on Catholic Bankruptcy, Vatican Politics, and Gay Pride Parades

Bits and pieces of the news to catch up on, midweek: 

I noted a few days ago that Dan Rather was going to air a report on June 29 about the bogus bankruptcy claims that some Catholic dioceses have filed to avoid paying damages to survivors of clerical abuse for the abuse they have suffered at the hands of priests.  That piece aired yesterday, and Dan Rather has posted a summary of the segment at Huffington Post, with a link to his televised report.

Rather notes this about his investigation of bankruptcy claims by various dioceses:

Facing waves of lawsuits by now-adult victims, we found the church has reacted more like a big business than a sacred institution . . . .

And his conclusion, noting the recent police raid on Catholic headquarters in Belgium and the pope’s reaction  to that raid:

Pope Benedict XVI denounced the raids. The Belgian authorities, he said, had trampled on the church's own internal abuse investigation. Even worse, it had affronted the Vatican's sovereign immunity. It's hard to know at this point whether he has a fair argument, since the details of the investigation haven't yet surfaced. There should be no surprise if many observers argue that there's one thing telling about the pope's response to the raids: In describing them as "deplorable," he was arguably using even stronger language than he has used to criticize the pedophile priests and their protectors that have gotten the Roman Catholic Church into this mess.

Meanwhile, Benedict is reacting to the growing disaffection from the church of many Catholics in the Western world in this restorationist moment of its history by creating a new Vatican department to re-evangelize the West.   And this spectacularly misses the point, in my view.

Many Catholics in the developed nations of the church are not disaffected from the church per se, and we are certainly not disaffected from Jesus, the gospels, and the church’s mission to heal the world and be a sacramental sign of God’s salvific love in the world.

What we are disaffected from, quite specifically, is the malignant clericalism that is at the heart of the scandals through which the church continues to walk, precisely in this time in which Benedict and his predecessor and ideological fellow traveler have claimed that they are purifying the church.

We see clearly—and no amount of doublespeak and window-dressing image management can cause us to stop seeing—that the cause of what Benedict calls the “filth” in the church is unambiguously the very clerical system he (with John Paul II before him) has fought tooth and nail to preserve at all costs.  Even as the maintenance of clerical power and privilege is causing the church to fall down around the ears of Vatican officials and of the bishops of the church . . . .

The West does not need to be re-evangelized.  The church needs to be cleaned of the “flith” of clericalism, of the arrogant, immoral behavior of pastoral officials who act more like leaders of big corporations than like good shepherds walking in the footsteps of Jesus, and who are more comfortable in the presence of the heads of big corporations than they are in the presence of the humble members of their own flocks.

The millions of Catholics who are now alienated are not alienated from what the church means and what it exists to do.  We are alienated from the evil—I choose this word deliberately—example provided by a huge proportion of our pastoral leaders. 

Until that problem is addressed sincerely and with full repentance on the part of a Vatican that has created the problem, we will continue to keep our distance, many of us.  The choice to launch a new Vatican department to re-evangelize the West continues the problem, because it blames those who have left for their lack of faith, rather than admitting that our faith in what the church is meant to be remains strong.  It is our refusal to accept the clericalist paradigm as an essential component of the church and its proclamation and mission that has caused us to leave that is the problem.  The initiative to re-evangelize the West, in fact, continues the clericalist paradigm that is the very center of the problem, and continues to hinge the church’s future on it.*

And so I read with jaded ears John Allen’s announcement that “theologians” have triumphed over diplomats in the Vatican as Benedict appoints Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Bishop Kurt Koch, and Archbishop Rino Fisichella to key Vatican offices.

I hear the announcement with jaded ears because these “theologians” are every bit as much diplomats as any of the men they have replaced, or as any of the other men who might have been placed in these key positions.  These men are Benedict’s cronies.  They are, like Benedict, first and foremost churchmen, in the restricted, clericalist sense of that word that has brought us to the dismal juncture at which we now find ourselves.  They wouldn’t have risen to power in the church of John Paul II and of Benedict if they were not preeminently careerist churchmen, intent on never rocking the boat or displeasing those at the top.

And so their “theology” is theology of the sort that has come to predominate in the church today: safe, reactionary, institutionally focused, hobbled and suspicious of engagement with the broader world, catechetical in the worst sense of that word, in that it merely repeats without seeking to understand, interpret, and transmit key aspects of the faith to a new generation in the language of that generation.  

The theologians who might have made a difference in the church—those doing real theology and not the bogus catechetical tinkering that has come to pass for theology—have been run off.  Silenced.  Defenestrated.
By Benedict himself.

And so I look for nothing to change soon as what John Allen describes breathlessly as “another Vatican earthquake” now takes place.  It’ can’t change, from the center.  I agree with Tom Roberts when he responds to John Allen’s previous article at National Catholic Reporter about the three archbishops on whom the future of American Catholicism depends: the bishops are not the future of the church.

Their behavior in the health care debate was abominable.  It displayed abysmal pastoral leadership.

The future of American Catholicism lies, rather, with the courageous and prophetic women religious who dared to articulate core Catholic values in the health care debate, to stand by those values and proclaim them unambiguously to American culture at this crucial transition moment in our society.  The future of American Catholicism lies with the parishioners of St. Francis Xavier parish in New York, who marched with a blank banner in this weekend’s gay pride parade.  It does not lie with Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who told them not to identify themselves.

It lies with those working among and trying to provide safe spaces for immigrants on the southern borders of our nation, and with theologians who study and stand in solidarity with this sanctuary movement.   It does not lie with the safe theologians of the center and with the theologians now thriving in most of the Catholic academy in the U.S., who have found an entirely comfortable niche in the church at a time in which real theology has been savagely suppressed.

The future of American Catholicism lies with those who resist American militarism to the point of going to jail for their convictions, not with the centrist and right-wing Catholic opinion makers who pander to wealth and power, who constantly provide a voice for the rich and mighty, but who find no place in their opinion-making and their definition of authentic Catholicism for the wretched of the earth or for their Catholic brothers and sisters who stand with the wretched of the earth.

The future of American Catholicism lies with the young, who are walking away in droves from the institutional church, who care not a fig for bishops and archbishops and the latest earthquake in the Vatican, but who hunger and thirst for authentic gospel values and real gospel witness in the church they are fleeing.

And speaking of the gay pride parades in various areas last weekend: I highly recommend Joan Garry’s recent slide show of the New York parade at Huffington Post.  As Garry notes, the New York Times chose to illustrate its coverage of the parade with the most outré picture it could find, a picture of a woman dancing on a pole.

As Timothy Kincaid reported at Box Turtle Bulletin on Sunday, the Kansas City Star chose to illustrate its article about the New York pride parade with a picture of a naked man riding a bicycle.

Which happened to be a picture from San Francisco’s pride parade—from last year’s parade in San Francisco.  As Kincaid notes, that picture popped up on Sunday to illustrate 973 news articles about gay pride parades around the world, though the Star later removed the picture from its website.

The American religious and political right constantly attack the mainstream media for being too gay friendly, but truth be told, mainstream media coverage of gay lives and gay culture is constantly skewed in a right-wing direction.  Joan Garry’s slide show is a valuable corrective to the reductionistic, demeaning way in which much mainstream media coverage continues to deal with gay lives and gay culture.  I highly recommend it, and commend Garry for making these snapshots available to those who want a more accurate picture of the wide diversity of the gay community and those who stand with us.

*An addendum, later today: I'm just now seeing Terry Weldon's outstanding commentary on Benedict's initiative to re-evangelize the West at the Open Tabernacle site.  I highly recommend Terry's posting on this topic.