Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Media Coverage of Finn Indictment: An Authoritarian Culture in Serious Denial

In a posting yesterday, I linked to A.G. Sulzberger's recent New York Times article about how Catholic pastors in the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph seemed to tiptoe around the topic of their bishop's recent criminal indictment in the homilies they gave this past Sunday.  And now today, I find that theme becoming something of a meme at various blog and news sites.

In U.S. Catholic, Bryan Cones writes that priests in this diocese seem to be exhibiting classic denial about what has happened to their bishop.  Cones thinks that Finn and other bishops who have behaved as Finn behaved in shielding Father Shawn Ratigan when images of child pornography were found on Ratigan's computer should resign.  He writes,

Denial is, perhaps, understandable, but not, I think, the best way to approach this situation. The Times story includes a young couple that no longer attends church because their young daughter attends the school where Ratigan served as pastor; she could have been one of his unknowing vicitms. How many others are lost to the Catholic Church because of this scandal?

I recently spoke with a long-time friend who, it turns out, suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a priest as a teenager. The message from that friend: The church (bishops, priests, and people) still don't get "it"--don't get the profound suffering of victims, the permanent damage this violation of trust entails, the lifelong effects on self-confidence and ability to trust others. We--all of us--focus first on forgiveness rather than justice rightly understood, which includes truthfulness, determination of guilt or innocence, and appropriate penalties.

And  in Time magazine, Stephan Faris notes the Vatican's pretense that what is happening in Kansas City is occurring in a far-away place that has little or nothing to do with Rome.  Unfortunately, Faris has swallowed the misleading line of Vatican apologists like Sandro Magister and John Allen that the Vatican has only loose control over the behavior and decisions of individual bishops.  Magister and Allen argue that the Vatican functions not like a centralized machine in which the man at the top pulls all the levers, but more like a loose affiliation of central branch managers of a highly disorganized collective of individual dioceses.

I've just finished reading Rembert Weakland's autobiography A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church, and find that Weakland paints precisely the opposite picture, from his years as archbishop of Milwaukee.  Time and again on ad limina visits to Rome, Weakland notes, he was ushered into the office of the current pope, Cardinal Ratzinger, who was then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to answer detailed charges about his supposed mismanagement of the Milwaukee archdiocese.

In his sessions with Ratzinger, Weakland says, large stacks of documents, photocopies from local and diocesan papers, transcripts of Weakland's talks, etc., were arranged imposingly on the cardinal's desk, as a reminder that Ratzinger and the Vatican were monitoring Weakland's every move and every utterance.  Weakland notes that Ratzinger and John Paul constantly micromanaged the decisions he and other U.S. bishops made, and that this behavior was a hindrance to the ability of bishops to deal with cases of clerical abuse in their dioceses, since every case had to be referred to Rome for handling at the top, and bishops' hands were tied when it came to making decisions about these cases.

As I've noted previously, the apologetic maneuver that Magister, Allen, and others of this ilk want to use in situations like the Finn situation, to dissociate the Vatican from bishops who have spectacularly mishandled abuse cases, is precisely the same maneuver used by any apologist for a powerful CEO: when it comes to defending the power and authority of the CEO, these apologists hit the ground running to make the argument that the man on top must have ultimate control anytime that power and authority appear to be under attack.

But when it comes to the insistence that the man on top take responsibility for his mistakes as his decisions backfire, the apologists suddenly reverse their argument, and insist that the corporation controlled by tight, top-down authority is, after all, loosely organized, and the man on top can't be held responsible for the bad decisions of those down the chain of command from him.

You can't have it both ways.  You can't have a totally centralized, top-down, authoritarian regime that exerts absolute control over everyone down the chain of command, and, at the same time, plausible denial of responsibility for the man controlling what happens down that chain of command.  Rome wants totally centralized, top-down, authoritarian power over what goes on in the church, and, especially, over what bishops do.

And since it wants that model of church, it must take responsibility for what happens in the authoritarian top-down system.  Finn is Benedict's man, and Benedict isn't putting on a very convincing act right now in pretending that the name doesn't ring any bells for him.

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