Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Who's For Better Bishops?

OK, so I've gotten e.mails asking for my whereabouts.... Well, as the college loan people have come hunting after me, I have to actually do some pay work to get them off my back. Forgive my absence, hope everyone had a great Halloween. And Happy All Saints' -- it's a public holiday in Rome.

This wasn't posted online, but I've received permission from my paper, The Tablet, to publish its lead editorial from this week's edition on the Synod of Bishops just concluded. It makes for thought-provoking reading.


The International Synod of Bishops of 2005 was a piece of business left over from the papacy of Pope John Paul II, and perhaps happened too soon to be regarded as characteristic of the emerging papacy of Benedict XVI. For many Catholics looking to their leaders for vision, courage and imagination in response to the problems the Church faces, its risk-averse message of “no change” will be a big disappointment. The problems remain, but seem further than ever from solution.

A clear message to come from the upheaval the Church inevitably went through earlier this year, with the death of the last Pope and the election of his successor, was that the mechanisms for international consultation and collaboration in the government of the world-wide Church were inadequate. Six months on, this synod seems to have been dominated by conservative curial officials, mostly cardinals and virtually all of them appointed by the previous Pope, who were determined to defend the status quo. They will be pleased with their work. But as a result the inadequacy of the synod’s rules and procedures is even more apparent. The synod ought not to be an extension of curial government, but a real check and balance to it, and a means for the voice of bishops from around the world, to be heard, honestly and clearly.

The central paradox of this synod’s deliberations is that, while it affirmed the centrality of the Eucharist in the spiritual life of Catholics, it failed to see the contradiction between that and, say, the growing shortage of priests resulting from mandatory celibacy, or the rules intended to stop divorced or remarried Catholics from receiving Holy Communion. A parish cannot make the Eucharist central to its life without a priest to say Mass. Divorced and remarried Catholics cannot make the Eucharist central to their lives if they are barred from it. In both cases the synod members seemed preoccupied with rule-keeping, as if that way lay salvation - notwithstanding Jesus’s warnings to the contrary. Yet Christ came to call sinners, not the pure, as he repeatedly reminded his disciples.

The resounding endorsement of the status quo by this synod is bound to provoke fundamental questions about the quality of leadership in the Catholic Church, not just in the Vatican but worldwide. There are clearly outstanding pastors among the bishops of the Church, but for too long and too often, safe but second-rate men have also been promoted: men whose mediocrity caused them to be perceived as safe by control-minded curial officials.

The instinct of the mediocre is to sweep problems under the carpet, and pretend all is well. The English and Welsh Church has done better in this respect than many, as a glance at the Irish situation makes startlingly clear. Scandal after scandal has been mismanaged by its safe but sorry bishops, to the extent that the entire authority and credibility of the Catholic Church itself is now in jeopardy.

Is that moral credibility likely to be regained, in Ireland or anywhere else, when church leaders at the synod tell those with Aids that their condition is their own fault and thus they ought not to be regarded as “sufferers”, as one contributor is reported to have said; or that divorced and remarried people should not be regarded as “suffering” from their exclusion from Communion as they have brought it on themselves, as another contributor suggested?

The Irish Government’s report into clerical child abuse in the diocese of Ferns, said to be the worst in the world but by no means unique in Ireland, is a searing indictment of a rule-bound culture of episcopal mismanagement, incompetence and fear of exposure. As at the recent synod, priority was given time and again to evading and avoiding problems rather than dealing with them. The damage that resulted is incalculable. The People of God are surely entitled to something better.


Blogger Disgusted in DC said...

This editorial unintentionally highlights one of the weaknesses of the liberal Catholic plea for episcopal collegiality and consultation. Many complained bitterly that JPII scripted and stagemanaged the episcopal synods so that they were - at worst - more like meetings of the Supreme Soviet. But, now that Benedict has loosened the reigns and permitted bishops to speak their minds more or less freely, lo and behold, some of them say incredibly mind-bogglingly stupid things.

1/11/05 14:20  
Blogger Todd said...

A couple marries. It's a mistake. They divorce. They remarry. Is it serious sin? If so, which was the serious sin? And if the latter is the most serious, is there forgiveness?

The Orthodox have perfectly valid sacraments in a perfectly apostolic tradition, yet they would permit a second marriage to be blessed.

Maybe the wisdom of the East should be considered. It's obviously ideal that the one man, one woman, one marriage, one family picture is ideal. But if that is too high an ideal for some, at what point do we strive for the best that can be borne at the present?

1/11/05 16:10  
Blogger Venerable Aussie said...

"The central paradox of this synod’s deliberations is that, while it affirmed the centrality of the Eucharist in the spiritual life of Catholics, it failed to see the contradiction between that and, say, the growing shortage of priests resulting from mandatory celibacy..."

So, RESULTING from mandatory celibacy eh?

I just don't think it's worth spending my lunch hour here at work responding to that old discredited canard.

Back to my Vegemite sandwich...


1/11/05 20:54  
Blogger Todd said...

It's not big boys and big girls so much as good little boys and good little girls.

But I know it's tough to compute:

Orthodox: absolutely valid sacraments, but they don't do administration the way we do it.

Barry, I thought I heard it too. That's part of what I see as my ministry at St Blog's: I send the self-styuled orthodox to bed with nice thoughts.

Or is it steaming coals?

1/11/05 21:08  
Blogger Todd said...

Nice try, Ben, but your understanding of East-West ecclesiology is totally wrong.

The Orthodox are catholic, if not Catholic; and we Catholics are orthodox, but not Orthodox, if you catch my drift.

Roman Catholics are bound, of course, to our traditions and Tradition, but the Orthodox remain with a perfectly valid set of sacraments, including marriage, and they are in Communion with Christ through these sacraments.

Ask someone if Eastern practices with the Sacrament of Marriage are the big ticket items on the table for West-East ecumenical discussions.

2/11/05 11:45  
Blogger Todd said...

Ben, another game try. For the record, I am Catholic.

"Do you believe in the indissoubilty of marriage?"

Certainly. But this discussion began with the notion of divorced and remarried taking Communion. I wouldn't necessarily connect the dots to suggest that taking Communion validates a current marriage. I'm aware of the current Roman administrative practice not permitting divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. I'm not advocating disobedience. I'm bringing up the notion of Churches separate from Rome, possessing valid sacraments, having a different approach. An approach, by the way, that might be schismatic, but is not heretical.

"Tell me how the eastern understanding of second or third marriages fit into the indissolubility of marriage doctrine."

It's my understanding that second marriages are not sacramental.

"The Orthodox are not catholic and Catholics are the only fully orthodox."

They say the same about us.

"Protestants share the sacrament of marriage with us also, does that make there belief about it right?"

A few things. Most Protestants don't see marriage as a sacrament. What the Catholic Church recognizes is the personal and civil intent in a Protestant (or even a non-Christian) marriage. Again, we're not talking about the marriage, so much as the Communion issue. Rome keeps them tightly yoked. I wonder if there's not an orthodox or Orthodox approach that would help resolve the current dilemma.

As for the rest of your post, spoken like a true Roman. Not sure it was absolutely Orthodox (or even orthodox) but there it is.

2/11/05 13:31  
Blogger Todd said...

Ben, I think you're catching on a bit.

First, I don't think that divorced and remarried Catholics are perpetual adulterers. The social and moral institution of marriage predates its elevation to sacramentality by Christ. A husband and a wife can end a marriage: that's a civil reality the Church cannot change. You or I might not recognize the sacramentality of a remarriage in such a case, but both the couple and the state do. There is no adultery. Ther is a violation of the laws of the Church. So I'd say the people in question are disobedient. But they might not be adulterers.

"If someone is say married to a second person and confesses their sin and then has no sexual relations with their supposed second wife, then they can recieve."

That might be a theoretical point some self-styled orthodox Catholics might disagree with you on. To some, even contracting a second marriage gives the appearance of scandal.

"What part of this doesn't make sense or do you think the Church has the power to change."

It makes sense: I never said it didn't. The Church has the power to review its practice on communion for the divorced and remarried. What the Church cannot do is claim a particular sin is unforgiveable. That's where the basic conflict is.

"The only way this can be resolved is for the first 'marriage' to be declared NULL FROM THE BEGINNING."

Your use of CAPS is cute, but not terribly more persuasive. Ther eis some history to this issue:
- Some patristic era bishops permitted remarriage, though keep in mind the Church hadn't yet settled on Marriage as a sacrament until centuries later.
- Basil of Caesaria commented in a few of his letters (ca 380) on the custom of permitting an abandoned husband to remarry, but not an abandoned wife. He suggested it was hard to see why such a difference in practice would be sensible, but he acknowledged it as customary for his time.
- In the East, divorce and remarriage for adultery was permitted in many places, but often with a period of penance.
- Some bishops were opposed to second marriages for the widowed, so it's clear that for the first several centuries, local, not universal customs were in play, and the fathers of the Church were literally, all over the map.

It would be interesting to review the substantial body of patristic and other historical literature on divorce and remarriage. The Church has by no means ever celebrated it unconditionally. And I think that modernist rigidity isn't the only valid way to go.

3/11/05 15:38  
Blogger Todd said...

Honestly, Jeff, my concern is more that conservatives don't come off looking like typical American school-educated hicks who can't spell. You can wear suspenders and a belt for all I care.

But I'm glad a lesson in Church history has brought out the modern grammar commentators and storytellers. At least you know how to consult books to prop up your end of the conversation. Problem is when people still can't spell in spite of that. It's tough at cocktail hour, balancing your drink while trying to page through the CCC with the other hand. Bet the women love it.

4/11/05 12:25  
Blogger Todd said...

Jeff, your practical piety and loyalty would play better if you withheld things like your slippery story. What was that all about, anyway? You weren't even in the discussion, and you come barging in with insults you can't even claim were a response to something directed at you.

I suggest we form a truce of some sort. At the very least, this situation deserves some time away to ponder the basic virtue of charity interposed with a basic avoidance of angry reaction when someone doesn't toe the party line.

5/11/05 13:34  
Blogger Todd said...

Four days, no response. I think we can take that as a "no," and that the Jeff-Crew is still on the loose. Hold on to your hats, people.

9/11/05 11:42  

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