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July 20, 2010

More Meaningless Papal Blather

Roy Meachum

Last week I exchanged Email with the priest whose plight plunged me into reporting the tribulations of the Roman Catholic Church, some 43 years ago.


As moral theologian on Catholic University’s faculty, the Rev. Charles Curran had an impeccable background, including a doctorate from Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University. His big mistake, shared by thousands of communicants, was he accepted the modernizing (aggiornomiento) proposals of Vatican II Councils. The curia, Vatican bureaucracy, ordered him fired.


Not like that, of course; but Cardinal Egidio Vagnozzi sitting in an elegant chair in his elegant apartment, atop of one of the fabled seven hills, told me what happened. Before being recalled for the red hat, the cardinal had been the Apostolic Delegate in the impressive palazzo on Washington’s Massachusetts Avenue, across from the official vice president’s residence.


Shortly after the councils ended, the then-archbishop told me he received a message from the Vatican; he was ordered to find a theologian to be made an “example.” The heads of the curia bureaucracy did not want to have the Americans take the proposed councils’ reforms “seriously.” At his superiors’ urging he picked Charlie Curran, little realizing the Pontifical Catholic University of America would explode in demonstrations and class boycotts. I covered the tumultuous week; Charlie and I became friends.


In 1967, division in the church hierarchy, boosted by Boston’s Cardinal Richard Cushing’s outspokenness, resulted in Father Curran keeping his job – temporarily, at least. The present pope finished the curial grudge; in 1986, when still Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, he booted the theologian off the faculty, ordering that the Irish-American priest could not teach in a Catholic institution for the rest of his life. (Charlie’s story has a happy ending: he was selected for an endowed chair at Southern Methodist University, where he continues to lecture on the church’s theology.)


While very beloved Polish Pope John Paul II operated around the world, kissing many airports’ tarmacs, German Cardinal Ratzinger stayed beside the Tiber River; their non-Italian ways of viewing the church and the faithful have much to do with the present mess. They had no grasp on the Italians’ “far niente” – to do nothing; allowing problems to sort themselves out was totally foreign to their foreigners’ concepts.


Priests’ sexual attacks on young boys did not begin in Boston, but because of the America’s free press, it received great publicity here. Then, as is their wont, the public on this side of the Atlantic ignored the outbursts of news from Ireland, Germany and Austria where a cardinal was forced to resign.


Of course the church has never been conducted as a democracy. As you have heard and read, reports – even when carefully balanced – were dismissed by the bishops and curial officials as anti-Catholic. The ruckus didn’t end there. On the subject, the pope and all his men proceeded to imitate crabs on the issue, by walking sideways while clambering in all other directions.


Benedict XVI began to offer ameliorations to the grave situation, pretending His Holiness was concerned with the victims’ loss of innocence, along with other illusions and realities destroyed by the once most-trusted people in the community: priests, brothers and nuns. Public peddling each offer was terminated, in every instance, by slamming the Vatican’s gates closed, and locked.


Finally, over the weekend, the pope deigned to make a proposal that would be all encompassing, church officials said; the statement bound longer periods for survivors to bring their cases with the issue of ordaining women. In essence, they want to make the two problems equal. Anybody who has anything to do with elevating females to the priesthood is to be treated on the par with those guilty of sexual assaults on young parishioners! How ridiculous and sexist, of course!


The proposal was applauded and cheered by church officials who have perpetrated the bait-and-switch bamboozle with very guilty priests. There’s nothing in the proposition that binds a diocese to turn over suspects to secular authorities. In this regard, at least, the American bishops have understood the necessity; their conference called for first-time offenders to be reported to police.


It was never true, as the church taught, Roman Catholicism is a monolithic organization, exactly the same in all countries.


One of Vatican II’s prime recommendations was the need for collegiality, which would allow bishops to establish principles and practices for their own nations. Naturally, the curia fought that tooth-and-nail; it would have meant loosening their absolute control. That’s happening already, e.g., the different way that American bishops treat sexual offenders, as compared to the latest papal “suggestions.”


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