Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Day of the Four Popes: Pope Francis and the Reform (??) of the Church

The day of the four popes, they're calling it.

We had Vatican II, which told us that the church is the people of God on pilgrimage together to the reign of God. Vatican II called us to recognize the presence of the Spirit among the entire body of the people of God, to decentralize and declericalize our church after the centralization and clericalization that occurred in response first to the Reformation and then the rise of modernity and democracy had smothered the church and turned it into a fusty, creaky museum piece, a travesty of an institution effectively proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in contemporary culture.

All of that, and in 2014, we find ourselves at the day of the four popes? With two living popes canonizing two of their predecessors and another in the wings to be canonized (please see Jerry Slevin's valuable commentary on the latter point)? This is what Vatican II was all about?

Popes added to popes added to popes. Popes declaring each other — presto abracadabra! — saints at the drop of a hat, as soon as one of them has taken his last breath.

Because they were popes, for goodness' sake! And popes are ipso facto holy (unless they happen to be the forgotten pope who died mysteriously after a reign of only 33 days in which he announced plans to reform the Vatican bank and said that God is "even more our mother" than our father — that poor fellow seems totally ignored when the presto abracadabra! of saint-making takes place, doesn't he?).

We had Vatican II and its magisterial statements about the church as the people of God, and this is where we've ended up in 2014? Under the leadership of a pope who's supposed to be all about reforming the church and pointing it back to the gospels?

Think about what all this nonsense — and that's what it is, toxic nonsense — means, and I wonder where the hope and promise we were told that Pope Francis represents can possibly reside: 

∙ It means that, despite Vatican II's magisterial teaching that the church is the people of God, being ordained continues always and everywhere to trump being baptized when it comes to wielding any power in the church — when it comes to counting

∙ It means that, far from having declericalized the church, Vatican II has ultimately — in the hands of the top clerical leaders of the church, and especially of one of the two new saints of the church, John Paul II, and his successor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — reclericalized the church in a way that surpasses the previous clericalization of which Vatican II was supposed to be the corrective: it has resulted in the day of four popes. With another pope waiting in the wings to be canonized.

∙ It means that we'll continue to have to listen to more claptrap and nonsense from our leading Catholic publications about how Francis = reform, even when we can see with our own eyes that Francis = the pope who staged the day of four popes. With another pope waiting in the wings to be canonized.

∙ It means that, as far as we lay Catholics are concerned, the only possible way to remain a good, faithful Catholic who expects a secure place in her church is to remain docile, submissive, totally silent, as the popes manage things for us. As the popes stage lavish ceremonies to tell us that only popes count, that being a pope automatically qualifies one for sainthood, that the church is really all about popes and their papal circuses, after all.

∙ It means that all those Catholics (and they're not a tiny group) who feel slapped in the face by Pope Francis's choice to canonize Pope John Paul II — many theologians, many women, most gay folks who know anything at all about John Paul's legacy, practically all survivors of clerical sexual abuse, the multitudes of lay Catholics who care about seeing survivors treated with compassion and the crisis addressed — might as well recognize that we don't count. Not at all. Just slink away and let us conduct our Catholic business, please.

Popes count. And the more of them who can be found living or dead to crowd the stage, the better, it seems.

Since that's apparently what Vatican II told us to think about our church, right? Because why otherwise would a reforming pope who is setting the church back on the track of that reforming council be staging a day of four popes?

The photo is from NBC News.

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