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May 12, 2009

Pope's New Failures

Roy Meachum

Vatican hypocrisy couldn't be clearer than in the reaction to Notre Dame inviting Barack Obama to address this year's commencement and receive an honorary degree. This president's "mortal sin," in church critics' eyes, derives from his support of abortion rights and for embryonic stem cell research.


Instantly the news from South Bend broke, angry voices roared against the best known Catholic university in America. Some 20 percent of the nation's bishops thundered that the Order of Holy Cross (C.S.C.) school was guilty of apostasy; the prelates did not mean Notre Dame administrators had renounced the faith; instead they were accused of disloyalty to Pope Benedict XVI. The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops backed the critics up; Chicago's Cardinal Francis George called the invitation an "extreme embarrassment."


One by one, American prelates moved to voice agreement with Cardinal George. Then, all of a sudden, silence fell upon the country's national hierarchy; it was comparable to an audience when a few start clapping and the ensuing stillness that follows when most do not. What happened in this instance was the lack of response from the Vatican. The Pope and the curia had bigger fish to fry.


When Catholic Kathleen Sebelius was sworn in as secretary of Health and Human Services, her church did not raise the issue that she supported legalized abortion. Her archbishop proclaimed she could not take the sacraments, including communion. Ms. Sibelius was confirmed for Mr. Obama's cabinet anyway, while the Vatican remained mute.


In my simplistic mind, something is a sin or it is not. The worst modern crime the Vatican committed against humanity was the rush to close a deal with German Nazis; Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII, was the criminal. As Rome's secretary of state, Msgr. Pacelli was rushed to "modernize" Germany, in the sense of eliminating such medieval traditions as the Germans' veto of papally appointed bishops. The future pope failed to recognize that Hitler's shaky regime desperately needed Vatican endorsement; the Austrian's right to rule his adopted country was up for grabs.


As part of the bargain, the church tossed in the nation's Catholic Party which alone possessed the political clout to stand up to the Fuehrer. What I'm saying loud and clear is, forget Pius XII's wartime record, his actions as secretary of state made possible the Holocaust and the other Nazi horrors.


I am not claiming Benedict XVI's waffling on abortion and embryonic stem cell research is comparable in any way, but a papacy that abandons principles for political causes is capable of anything. It will come to readers as no surprise that I neither trust nor have any respect for the former Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, the former head of what once was known as the Holy Office of Inquisition.


By all standards, I could not be more proud of the order that literally brought me up. I started as a 9-year-old at New Orleans' Holy Cross College, the first school the C.S.C. priests and brothers started after Notre Dame. I graduated seven years later as president of several Catholic students' organizations in that most Catholic city. They taught me a religion that inspired a strong faith that finally broke on the Vatican's inconsistencies and broken promises.


Since 1967, as a journalist, I have observed and reported on my church's attempt to tear itself apart. As a French philosopher said in the early 1930s: "Having lost sight of God, man is now in the process of destroying himself trying to find himself."


Called the oldest daughter of Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church is ahead of the destructive curve. With men like German Josef Ratzinger at the controls, a mighty crash can be expected soon. The Pope's failure to support the American bishops on principles he fostered and ferociously fought for is a huge portent of things to come.


As long-time readers know, I enthusiastically support a woman's right to control her reproductive process, including abortion. The Vatican curia must have its collective head plunged into one of Michelangelo's ancient paint buckets to even question the benefits to all humanity from embryonic stem cell research.


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