Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fr. Eric Hodgens on John Paul II Legacy: Monumental Lust for Power, Leaving the Church High and Dry

When I linked yesterday to recent commentary by Fr. Eric Hodgens in the Sydney Morning Herald about a "come-home" ad campaign that Cardinal Pell is considering for the Catholic church in Australia, a wonderful reader of this blog, Kathy Hughes, reminded me that she had previously sent me another article by Eric Hodgens.  This is an essay that Hodgens published in December at the Australian Cath News site, which then promptly removed the commentary from its site.  But the article had already appeared in a publication of the Australian priests' council, The Swag, and is still online at that site.

It's interesting to re-read this essay now, as a complement to Eugene Kennedy's reflections about what the beatification of John Paul II will mean for many Catholics (and many people of good will in the world at large).  It's interesting to read the two pieces side-by-side as the Vatican gears up for the beatification of John Paul II, because Hodgens' commentary provides an unalloyed picture of how some priests remember the previous pope.  And of the damage JPII's restorationist campaign, with its objective of halting the much-needed reform of the church initiated by Vatican II, has inflicted on the church.

Hodgens remembers the church in which he came of age as a priest--the Gaudium et Spes generation--as a springtime moment in which Catholics began to engage other Christian churches in a new and productive way, in which priests began to move out of the constricting model of clericalism that had set them apart from the rest of the people of God to whom they ministered, and in which the laity began to educate themselves about theological issues and to claim their rightful place in dialogues about the church and its future.

And then along came John Paul II.  And here's Hodgens' memory of what the arrival of JPII meant for the springtime church in which he had come of age as a priest: 

Then came John Paul II. Charismatic in front of the TV camera; brilliant at languages; but – out of touch in scripture and limited in theology, a bad listener and rock solid in his self-assessment as God’s chosen man of destiny. His whole life had been spent in the persecuted church of Poland with its fortress church mentality frozen in time.

The open dialogue of the Church with the new ideas and values arising out of new knowledge in scriptural criticism, theology, psychology, sociology, anthropology stopped. New scientific discoveries in genetics were treated with suspicion and their application usually condemned. Sexual mores were promoted to the top shelf of his panorama of sin – a bit of an obsession with him.

Power corrupts. The history of the papacy shows this pre-eminently. Unchecked potentates believe their own propaganda. Taken to the extreme, they claim infallibility. Pius IX bullied Vatican I into institutionalizing such a claim. Since then creeping infallibility has resulted in the pope and his theologically limited curia stealing the term “magisterium” from its real owners – the college of professional theologians. How can you conscientiously give assent of mind and heart to policies formed without theological debate, consultation, transparency or accountability? In contemporary government and business this would be judged unethical.

John Paul’s lust for power showed very early and was taken to monumental proportions. Accountable to nobody, John Paul moved against any opinion other than his own and removed many exponents of alternative opinions from teaching and publishing. His most powerful enforcer was the Ratzinger-led Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Other Roman dicasteries joined the campaign.

And, as the Catholic church gears up for the canonization of this pope--as the leaders of the church who are pushing mightily for the canonization of this pope ramrod the canonization process through, no matter what anyone says or thinks--is it any wonder that this essay was censored by a Catholic news service?  A much-needed voice from the heart of the church, from a priest who has served long and faithfully within the church, that does not count at all to those pushing the canonization of the former pope . . . .

And perhaps a prophetic voice to which we'll be returning in days to come, when--as I fully expect--more comes to light about John Paul and his legacy, in the wake of his beatification.  And when those revelations are hardly flattering to the saint-to-be and the church that has rushed to elevate him to the altar . . . .

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