Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI's latest controversy

I've never liked the current Pope Benedict XVI, either as Pope or as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the long-time head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), known in earlier times as the Sacred Congregation of the Universal Inquisition. He has been a theological reactionary and still is, although in his younger days he was a liberal partisan of the Third Vatican Council reforms. Or maybe that was just opportunism. In any case, his story goes that the rowdy and baudy youth rebellion of the 1960s in Germany and elsewhere horrified his tender soul so much that he became a rightwinger.

I particularly have held it against him that as head of the CDF, he removed the Catholic franchise from Hans Küng, who I consider the leading living Christian theologian. Removing the authority to teach as a Catholic from your time's leading Christian theologian is a dubious legacy, and a dubious qualification for the Papacy. The particular issue over which Küng was sanctioned was Küng's criticisms of the doctrine of Papal infallibility. (Which doesn't mean everything the Pope says and does is infallible; it means that the Pope has the authority to designate certain pronouncements on doctrines as infallible.)

Küng met with him not long after Ratzinger became Pope. As I recall the interview, he said that he wasn't interested in pursuing a reinstatement of his Catholic teaching authority. But his comments about the new Pope were generous for someone who had been seriously wronged by him.

I'm not terribly surprised to see Benedict XVI now involved in a big controversy over handling priestly sexual abuse cases. That was a big issue in the United States two decades ago and then again more recently in the 2000s. The Archbishop of Vienna, Hans Hermann Groër (1919-2003), had to resign his position in 1995 over mishandling of sexual abuse cases in the Austrian Church. The case sparked a popular reform movement by the Austrian laity to make the Church more accountable.


A similar issue later lead the Austrian Bishop Kurt Krenn to leave his post. Groër and Krenn were both reactionaries, and both were much favored by the previous Pope John Paul XI and Ratzinger, who was known when head of the CDF as "the Pope's Rotweiler". Pope Benedict XVI sent the disgraced former bishop a gushing letter on the occasion of Krenn's 70th birthday, emphasizing his closeness to Krenn and comparing Krenn's suffering from illness at the time to Jesus' anguish on the Mount of Olives.

I haven't commented on the current scandal, not least because the "ick" factor on it is so high. But after reading Maureen Dowd's second consecutive column taking the current scandal as the opportunity to make what she probably thinks are delightfully clever wordplays, I decided to at least post a couple of links that give more reality-based perspective that MoDo's latest dingy column, Should There Be an Inquisition for the Pope? New York Times 03/30/10.

The Christian Science Monitor (not a Catholic publication) spells out the basic elements of the controversy in Catholic sex abuse scandals: Three key cases facing Pope Benedict by Jason Walsh.

The liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal, editorially no big fan of the current Pope's direction generally, presents and editorial on the current scandal, Benedict in the Dock 03/30/10, for the 04/09/10 number of the print magazine. It gives a serious, critical-minded look at the scandal and concludes:

Some are now calling for Benedict’s resignation. That seems very unlikely. But an act of penitence on the part of the pope and the world’s bishops, one that goes well beyond pro forma apologies to victims, is desperately needed.
Religion Dispatches presents these two pieces: The Year of the Abusive Priest by Anthea Butler 03/30/10 and Abuse of Power is at the Heart of Catholic Church Scandal by Louis Ruprecht 03/29/10.

Butler writes, with perhaps an excessive touch of pessimism (or maybe she means it as optimism?) about the long-term viability of the Catholic Church:

In a sense, the Vatican has known, but has never completely grasped as an organizational entity, the scope of the scandal worldwide. The ponderously top heavy organizational Church structure prevents it from acting quickly and decisively. Hence the Vatican doublespeak and rustling cassocks rushing to declare the Pope’s bravery and determination. Meanwhile, it is left up to the secular world to judge and find wanting the ramblings of a dying institution whose complicity in its own demise is astounding.
Ruprecht argues:

I suggested in a previous post that the abuse at issue here is the abuse of power, not sexual abuse per se. I hope it is clear that, in saying this, I am not unaware of the enormous damage that is done to young children when they are sexualized before their time. But I am concerned that the Left, to the degree that it participates in the sexual obsessions of the media and the culture, runs the risk of diluting the real cause for outrage here.

The paradox at issue in these cases is that sexual abuse of children, like rape, is not primarily a sexual offense. It is primarily an exertion of power.
I really think columns like Maureen Dowd's serve to trivialize the very real issues and exhibit a cynical indifference to the victims and to the problems the Church urgently needs to address.

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