Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Jack Waterford on Cardinal Pell and "the Authoritarian, Cold, Unfeeling, and Arrogant Face of the Church Corporate"

It appears I may not be the only person in the world who thinks that many of the bishops now leading my church have overdrawn their moral credibility: here's Jack Waterford, editor-in-chief of the Canberra Times, on the kind of "pastoral" leadership Cardinal George Pell has provided the Australian church, which was on full display in his recent testimony to the royal commission on child sex abuse in Australia:

Pell is on a tough management job in Rome. In business terms he may do it well, but, if he does, it will be by behaving in much the same manner that has made him so ineffective as a pastor, but so powerful as a cleric, in Australia. He will not be preaching, or exemplifying a gospel of love, but being autocratic, driven and unaccountable to those below him. 
This week he copied that strange, modern ministerial style of accepting responsibility - as the person at the top - while blaming everyone else and refusing to be actually accountable. 
The diocesan lawyers, questioned about their hardball, no-prisoners approach to sexual abuse litigation, insisted that they acted on detailed and specific instructions from the diocese. The tight circle of top diocesan officials surrounding Pell gave evidence that those instructions came directly from him. 
Pell denied giving detailed instructions or having close knowledge of the case. He effectively called a host of senior clerics and officials liars. That's the sort of leadership which illustrates why he has had sycophants, but not followers. While mouthing words of ''regret'' at the ordeal forced upon a victim, he would not look him in the eye, though he was metres away. This man of God is very mortal.

Pell is responsible, responsible, responsible in that he has absolute power in his hands and expects everyone working "under" him to adhere scrupulously to his every command. But he bears no responsibility for anything those underlings do.

Even when they're adhering scrupulously to his commands in what they do.

As Waterford notes, this pattern of absolute control from the top with no responsibility for how that control is exercised through underlings who are thrown to the wolves when the stuff hits the fan is replicated over and over in the leadership structures of the Catholic church. Bishops give all appearances of "extricating themselves from the processes" by which they exercise power through subordinates, he notes--extricating themselves from the processes through the media-savvy lay people or women religious they thrust forward to be their spokespeople when situations grow heated.

But then there's this:

But there is no sign that bishops have surrendered any ultimate absolute control over anything happening in their dioceses. Nor that the church has seriously addressed systemic problems of governance, or the lack of downward accountability of bishops to their priests, their parishioners, or the community at large.

Meanwhile, as he also notes, there's all that money. The royal commission hearings last week surprised many people by showing that Pell controlled, as "the effective absolute monarch over his see," assets of more than $1.2 billion. The diocese of Sydney has had under his leadership annual surpluses of up to $50 million.

And yet, Pell has now stated, following his testimony last week, that we should all simply "move on" now and let him and other church leaders continue to function as moral representatives for all the rest of us, when the pastoral and moral leader we've just seen on full display in the royal commission hearings is, as Waterford maintains, "the authoritarian, cold, unfeeling, and arrogant face of the church corporate in Australia."

How do we do that? How do we "move on," when the veil has been pulled aside by the abuse crisis and we've discovered that our "pastoral" and "moral" leaders are no different from the cold, unfeeling, arrogant leaders of any secular corporation--and that they control as much wealth as any big corporation controls, and employ the same hardball tactics other corporate CEOs employ to shield their corporations' assets? And throw underlings to the wolves when things get heated for them because of horrible decisions they've made at the top, for which they own no responsibility at all?

How do we move on, when our moral leaders turn out to be morally despicable human beings?

The photo of Cardinal Pell arriving for the royal commission hearings last week is by Getty Images by way of Zimbio.

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