I’m a non-Catholic will a high Roman Catholic theological viewpoint 68-71% (according to the online quiz, “What’s your theological world viewpoint?” ) I have a good number of Catholic relatives and friends. As a kid, and often as an adult, I found much deeper theological and spiritual grounding in Christmas Eve masses sponsored by Catholic churches than almost anything put forth by Protestant groups I was exposed to. I admired a steadfast commitment to many aspects of Catholic teaching on social justice, from poverty to race to war. As many as half of the spiritually-based books I’ve treasured have been authored by Roman Catholics. I’ve long felt that there is a place for showing Christ still on the cross. I’ve admired the use of rosary beads. Though I don’t agree with the Roman Catholic understanding of transubstantiation, I think that doctrine at least offers vital encouragement for seeing the elements as something beyond mere symbols such that I can offer myself as a “living and holy sacrifice.” I’ve detested the anti-Catholic bias still found in so many parts of the nation, and particularly still in large sections of Oklahoma. I’ve found myself concerned with the use of the phrase, “Christians, Catholics and Jews”, although I can at least attest that it has a more benign intent than many other phrases used. As a political supporter of Robert Kennedy and other Catholics, just knowing that JFK’s poor showing in Oklahoma in 1960 was significantly due to his faith really pained me.
In other areas, my heart has long been troubled by certain Roman Catholic positions. I never agreed with the ban on women priests, nor the ban, at least for modern times on clergy marriage (granting those few areas of exception to the latter). I believed that Nuns were often horribly mistreated and frequently under-appreciated. I have not, and will not, understand well or at all the Roman Catholic theology regarding the Eucharist — who is invited to the Table, along with the whole practice of ex-communication. I abhor the increasing practice of the Catholic Church in the United States to threaten excommunication, or to carry it out, against politicians for some of their legislative votes or positions. Still, I was enthralled by the election of Pope John Paul II in 1978 and captivated by his visit to the United States in 1979. I found new energy in my own faith, along with a greater yearning that I would better discern God’s will for my life. And ever in the back of my mind was the memory of Nuns who made their way quietly in downtown Ponca City, or who joyfully went about their duties at the Ponca City Sisters of St. Joseph Hospital. I was proud to have been born at St. Patrick (now called Christus St. Patrick)Hospital in Lake Charles, Louisiana. From their website history: [John Greene Martin, M.D., president of the local medical society, and Rev. Hubert Cramers, rector of Immaculate Conception Church] approached the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word in Galveston, Texas, for help in setting up a hospital in Lake Charles like the one the sisters had established in Galveston.”
While Pope John Paul II, Benedict’s immediate predecessor, disappointed me in several areas, I have certainly let down more than a few individuals or churches myself. John Paul’s unwavering opposition to war with Iraq both humbled and awed me. Little prepared me, though for the election of Joseph A. Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005, followed by his celebration of the Papal Inauguration Mass on April 24, 2005. As a non-Catholic, my first instinct was to simply more sharply criticize the Pope for a long history of missteps, poor judgments in recent matters, and long-standing lack of compassion for gays. Back in ‘05, I took issue with the Catholic Church’s pronouncement that adoption of children by gays does violence to them and got into some heated discussions. On the other hand, my view that where possible children should be placed for adoption in the more traditional setting of a female mother and male father has also met with pointed criticism. The use of the term “violence” against children seems all-the-more out-of-place in light of strong evidence that Pope Benedict XVI, before or after his election, has taken a weak position in protecting children and young adults from sexual molestation and rape. As Joseph Ratzinger, he wrote in his 1986 letter on pastoral care for homosexuals that, “When homosexual activity is… condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.” Ratzinger made it clear that the Catholic Church should not be on the side of civil rights activists who were often trying to do little more than establish fair housing and employment laws for homosexuals. Ratzinger would not lift a finger to speak on behalf of workers fired because of their sexual orientation or consenting adult practices.
Pope Benedict’s style of church governance appears to involve almost no idea of “servant leadership.” Indeed, the Pope seems to confuse keeping firm grasp on power with maintaining moral and religious authority. The Pope cannot be forced to resign, as I understand, and I doubt that he will ever give up his post. But in imitation of the Christ who gave up all semblance of worldly goods and divine power and made himself last, the Pope could benefit all of Christendom by voluntarily stripping himself of all that he has tainted, accepting God’s liberation not just for the Church, but for himself. In the legal profession, we are told to avoid not only impropriety, but the appearance of impropriety. The level of corruptness that has touched Pope Benedict has not been entirely determined, and he is presumed innocent as to any possible legal charges, but the appearance of the condoning of widespread corruption is so overwhelming that Pope Benedict has insufficient time to both dispute the accusations against him and serve as spiritual leader, let alone lead the Catholic Church to truly embrace reforms many had understood as already accomplished.
As a younger man, including as a both a teacher and student of theology, Ratzinger had encouraged open discussions, even thoughtful dissent. He was known as a reformist, often aligned with Hans Küng, including Küng’s criticism of Papal infallibility, and supportive of freedom and civil rights movements. He was properly turned off by the violent tendencies of many in the Marxist-socialist movements, but he seemed to let his quite logical repulsion against violence and disorder descend into general opposition to almost all liberation and reform movements. Over time, he was frequently the inflexible opponent of anything other than the status quo and increasingly moved away from his prior criticisms of Papal infallibility. And not satisfied with viewing homosexual conduct as perverse, he abandoned the idea that it was enough to say that homosexual orientation of itself is not sinful to insisting that such orientation itself represents a serious pathology to be treated.
And yet at the time he should have been the most intransigent in his thinking, that being the protection of children who often had no voice except the very church of whom elements were their tormenters. This one story alone, from the New York Times, March 24, 2010, is but one small example of Pope Benedict’s blind eye toward the evil knocking on doors at the highest levels. So now I go from a less-than-concrete view that I would prefer someone else as Pope even though I’m not sure it is my business, to believing in my heart that he cannot, must not remain as Pope, even though my logic tells me he will stay regardless of my fondest wishes. (I will not debase the profound nature of prayer by invoking same for a particular leadership outcome, but reserve it instead for all those now seeking escape and/or healing from a massive failure of the will.)
Every day that Pope Benedict XVI remains in office undermines the integrity of the entire Christian Church and sends a message to children, in effect, don’t count on Christ’s modern disciples to protect you from those who would prey on both your bodies and minds. Protestant denominations, and I belong to the one known as The United Methodist Church, have also wallowed in the sewer in our victimization of children, but the Roman Catholic Church leader is set apart, in many ways, by the doctrine of infallibility, even as same applies only to dogmatic teaching on faith or morals as understood as encased in divine revelation, and not to clearly mortal pronunciations on other issues. Still, that doctrine elevates the Pope in terms of the gravitas accorded to his words and actions in general. No other Christian leader presides over both the Church and a Church City/State in the manner of any elected Pope.
Christianity and the Church, being of the divine, will survive the avalanche of bad publicity attendant to the latest revelations. But we Church leaders, whether well-known or toiling more anonymously at the local level should remind ourselves daily that we are at most “masters of the divine” and/or “divinely appointed.” God makes no errors in anointing, but let us cast off forever the idea that discipleship is immune to corruption. And let us mourn that in the circling-of-the-wagons we may discourage a child or young person from accepting the call placed on their life, whether to lay ministry or to the ordained office.
Note: It goes without saying that in posting to Richard’s blog I make no claim that either he, nor any of my fellow guest bloggers, are in accord with my thinking or conclusions, in whole or part. However, for a United Methodist ordained elder such as myself to suggest such a drastic action as the Pope’s resignation, as I now have done, I find it particularly important to emphasize that I speak for absolutely no one except myself. And I do feel some twinge about my recommendation coming at this time, particularly as we are in the Lenten season, and approaching Holy Week, both of which call for a great sense of humiliation and taking into account one’s own times of falling short.