Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hans Küng on JPII Beatification: Chronic Sickness in a Church of Sumptuous Pomposity Masking Total Emptiness

As Tom Fox notes in National Catholic Reporter, Paddy Agnew published a good overview yesterday of critical responses to the beatification of John Paul II.  Agnew is writing in the Irish Times.

Among those whose responses Agnew surveys are SNAP, Italian Vatican-watcher Giancarlo Zizola, and Swiss theologian (and peritus at Vatican II) Hans Küng.  Agnew excerpts comments Küng made about the beatification this past weekend in Frankfurter Rundschau:

In an interview last weekend with German daily the Frankfurter Rundschau , Küng says John Paul II does not merit being presented to the faithful as an example. He says: "John Paul II is universally praised as someone who fought for peace and human rights. But his preaching to the outside world was in total contrast with the way he ran the church from inside, with an authoritarian pontificate which suppressed the rights of both women and theologians."

In particular, Küng argues that John Paul’s harsh treatment of Latin American liberation theologians such as Gutierrez and Boff represented the "exact opposite" of decent Christian behaviour. Küng also sees it as totally “logical” that Pope Benedict would be keen to promote the cause of his predecessor but adds: "Wojtyla and Ratzinger are the people most responsible for the chronic sickness of today’s Catholic Church. Behind the sumptuous pomposity of the great Roman liturgy, there looms a total emptiness in many Catholic communities."

One of the most regularly touted criticisms of this beatification has been its fast-track time scale, given that it comes just six years after the death of John Paul II. Supporters of the late pope point to the fact that, to some extent, this is a beatification that has come about by popular acclamation, given the cries of "Santo subito" (Make him a saint immediately) that rang out in St Peter’s Square on the day of his funeral.

Küng dismisses this justification, arguing that the campaign was manipulated: "I remember those so-called “spontaneous” posters in St Peter’s Square – all neatly and carefully printed. The whole thing was just a con act by conservative and reactionary Catholic groups, especially those ones that are very strong in Spain, Italy and Poland."

"[H]is preaching to the outside world was in total contrast with the way he ran the church from inside": in a sacramental church, who we are and how we live proclaim our message far more decisively than our words do.  When the leaders of a church call secular society to a respect for human rights while they themselves trample on human rights in their leadership of their institution, their ultimate message to the world is, at best, opaque, unclear, ambiguous, and, at worst, the direct opposite of what their words say.  Their behavior as leaders of their own institution undercuts the message they want to proclaim to the world.

John Paul's treatment of various theologians, liberation theologians in particular, was the "exact opposite" of decent Christian behavior: silencing theologians without permitting those sisters and brothers in Christ any hearing at all, any chance to know the charges against them and the identities of their accusers, any chance to rebut the charges before they are silenced, is a violation of fundamental human rights.  The brutal suppression of liberation theology by Ratzinger and John Paul II also have had the dismal effect of silencing many of the most significant voices in Latin America challenging the oppression of the poor.  In key respects, John Paul's attack on liberation theology has aligned the Catholic church in Latin America with dictators whose behavior towards the poor in their countries is savage.

The "spontaneous" manifestation following John Paul's death calling for him to be made a saint immediately was a a "con act by conservative and reactionary Catholic groups."  It was an attempt to make the ideology of the Catholic political and religious right in Europe and the Americas appear to be the ideology of the entire church.  In beatifying John Paul, Rome sends a signal that the Catholic church has decisively aligned itself with right-wing movements, even fascist ones, and that Catholic identity at this point in history is tied up with support for movements resisting democracy and the extension of human rights around the world, including the rights of women and gay and lesbian persons.  In key respects, the beatification of John Paul II sends a signal to the world that the Vatican belongs to those wealthy and powerful corporate elites in North America who need the Catholic church to undercut movements for human rights in the developing nations, since those movements threaten the interests of the corporate elites of North America.

"Wojtyla and Ratzinger are the people most responsible for the chronic sickness of today’s Catholic Church. Behind the sumptuous pomposity of the great Roman liturgy, there looms a total emptiness in many Catholic communities."  Those who imagine that we have just seen a great victory of authentic Catholicism over jejune post-Vatican II liberal Catholicism in the beatification ceremonies are tragically deluding themselves.  Place the grand, expensive show (and who paid for that show, I wonder?) beside the real status of the Catholic church in nation after nation today, and you can only shake your head at the self-delusion of those who imagine that the spectacle, the numbers, the fanfare represent vitality for the Catholic church at this point in history.

A chronically sick church, sick unto death, mounting these spectacles to divert attention from its diagnosis: as  Colleen Baker wisely notes, "Those who wanted to believe that the beatification of JPII would put the abuse crisis and its corruption to rest . . . well, they are soooo wrong.  Justice will be served."  The beatification of the previous pope only exacerbates and deepens the crisis in which the Catholic church now finds itself, since band-aids seldom if ever cure cancer.

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