Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pope Francis Announces He'll Meet with Abuse Survivors; Colleen Baker on "Keeping the Laity Religiously Infantilized and Dependent on the Clergy"

At Enlightened Catholicism, Colleen Baker sees the story of the abuse crisis in the Catholic church as the story that keeps "changing spots," which is "still the most important story hanging over the Church." In her view, the story won't go away (and changes its spots every time a new challenge surfaces) "because the Vatican is terrified of its real solution and that solution is completely revamping the theology of the priesthood."

I think Colleen's exactly right about this. As she notes, through all the spot-changing, one thing remains constant in Pope Francis's strategy for discussing and dealing with the abuse crisis — the one thing that has to be open to discussion if the crisis is ever to be resolved, but about which the hierarchical leaders of the church will brook no discussion: this is that, in their view, the church revolves around its ordained members, who are indispensable to mediating salvation to the rest of us.

Colleen writes,

There is one thing about Francis that truly has bothered me and unfortunately he keeps doing nothing but furthering my angst. He seems bent on keeping the laity religiously infantilized and dependent on the clergy. Allowing married clergy does nothing about the religiosity, much of it surrounding the priesthood, that keeps laity infantilized. Fixing the IOR does nothing about this, and his continual references about the devil and Holy Mother Church only serves to reinforce the infantilization. And I can't even let myself get started on the CDF. 
Sometimes I think the only really adult voices in the Church come from victims organizations like SNAP, the victims themselves and their few supporters. Unfortunately that doesn't say much for meaningful reform in the Church.

"That doesn't say much for meaningful reform in the Church": it appears increasingly to many careful observers who had hoped that Francis meant business when he talked reform that the only kind of reform we're going to get from this pope is reform "of a sort." It's going to be reform that keeps intact the very misallocation of power and maladaptation of the church's structures that continues to place all control in the hands of clerics and reduces lay Catholics to the status of dependent children.

Colleen's essay deftly summarizes some of the debates that have unfolded in Catholic circles after Pope Francis told reporters on his recent flight back from Tel Aviv that he will meet with abuse survivors in June (or, as Colleen notes, at some indefinite point in the future, according to a "correction" issued by papal spokesman Father Lombardi after the interview on the plane). For Religion News Service, David Gibson surveys the range of responses to the pope's announcement, noting that SNAP leaders Joelle Casteix and David Clohessy have both expressed strong reservations about whether the upcoming meetings will prove little more than a publicity stunt.

As Colleen notes, in an essay published in National Catholic Reporter, survivor advocate Mary Gail Frawley O'Dea expresses sharp disagreement with the position taken by Casteix and Clohessy, as does Father Tom Doyle, whom Gibson cites in his survey. Doyle thinks that the meeting between Francis and abuse survivors will be "worth the risk" and the risk should be taken, since we do not know what will be its outcome.

In its latest editorial, National Catholic Reporter also takes a hopeful stance on the upcoming papal meeting with abuse survivors, while noting that NCR understands, and to some extent shares, the concerns of victims' groups that this meeting may turn out to be merely an offering of "media theater." In a similar statement on behalf of Bishop Accountability, Anne Barrett Doyle notes that, though Francis's own record as cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires and leader of the Argentinian bishops from 1998 to 2013 does not give much hope to those who want to see the church effectively address the abuse crisis, she has decided to hope against hope.

Doyle isolates three critical signs that will quickly allow those of us watching these events unfold to know whether our hope for an effective response to the abuse crisis in the Catholic church has any foundation at all:

We’ll know which it will be by three signs.  We’ll have some reason for hope if: 1) Activists and strong public critics are included in the guest list, 2) Before the meeting, action is taken to remove complicit bishops, to declare reporting to civil authorities a blanket church requirement, and to respond honestly to the UN calls for transparency and responsibility, and 3) the format for the meeting includes a frank and open press conference afterward, where differences can be publicly aired.

I agree. I agree with the extreme skepticism of SNAP leaders who have seen one publicity stunt after another from church leaders in the past, each designed to give the public the impression that things will change, while nothing at all changes in the hardball legal games church leaders play with abuse survivors, or the way they cover for priests abusing minors while keeping these priests in ministry. I also agree that we have an obligation to hope, since what's anything worth without hope?

But as I try to muster hope against hope, I also intend to keep mulling over in my heart Colleen Baker's wise and insightful conclusion that Francis "seems bent on keeping the laity religiously infantilized and dependent on the clergy," and her insight that all the talk about the devil and Holy Mother Church — most recently, at a huge gathering of Catholics involved in the charismatic renewal at which Francis said that the devil is out to destroy families, rhetoric long employed by the U.S. religious right to demonize gay folks — is more than a little worrisome.

It's indicative, in fact, of a theological universe stuck in medieval assumptions about the holiness of priests and their indispensability in meting out salvation to lay Christians. It's indicative, too, of the long willingness of the church's clerical elite to target and demonize certain groups within the church and the human community, in order to shore up its power anytime that power appears to be waning or threatened.

Many of us expected far more than warmed-over medieval theology and loose talk about the devil  and threats to the family from this "reforming" pope.

The photo was taken by blogger Thou San at Shaolin Temple in China, and appears at the A Thousand Reasons blog as an illustration of Emily Dickinson's poem "Hope Is the Thing with Feathers."

No comments: