What’s the greatest threat to the Roman Catholic Church today – a schism? Or the rise in power of fundamentalist clericalists?
José María Castillo, himself a priest, believes it’s the latter.
The 90-year-old Spaniard was one of the most influential theologians in Latin America and elsewhere during the first couple of decades following the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). His books, published in the dozens, were mandatory reading in many Spanish-speaking seminaries and universities immediately after the Council.
Then they weren’t.
Not long after his election in 1978, John Paul II put the brakes on the push for further ecclesial reform (as theologians like Castillo were advocating) and began his restorationist project of carefully narrowing the interpretation and application of the Vatican II documents.
One way the Polish pope did this was by appointing compliant and doctrinally conservative (and unimaginative) bishops. They, in turn, with the support of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, began silencing and marginalizing theologians like Castillo.
A return of the early post-Vatican II theologians
These theologians have found a new lease on their ecclesial lives since Jorge Mario Bergoglio SJ was elected Bishop of Rome in 2013.
The man we now call Pope Francis, even without any formal writ of rehabilitation, has allowed them to begin contributing again to the discussions, debates and process of discernment that his pontificate has re-introduced in the Church.
It is nothing short of amazing how much the atmosphere inside the Church has changed in just seven years.
Archbishop Piero Marini, the longtime Vatican official most identified with the post-conciliar liturgical reforms, said just after Francis’ election that we had been “breathing the air of a swamp.”
Unfortunately, the Argentine pope, who is famous even beyond Church circles for being one of the world’s most outspoken defenders of the environment, has not been able to completely clean up the old, stifling atmosphere within centralized Catholicism.
There are priests, bishops and cardinals in places of influence and power – in Rome and abroad – who are doing everything they can to stop the 83-year-old pope from making any changes that might threaten their clericalist privileges.
The clericalists strike back
And one of the sinister methods they are using to try halt him in his tracks is to constantly raise the specter of a Church schism.
Some commentators believe this was at least a factor in the pope’s decision not to mention, in his recent exhortation on the Amazon, the issue of married priests and women deacons.
“At the Vatican the ideas and interests of the cardinals, bishops and monsignors that represent the conservative clergy far outweigh the deprived needs of the hundreds of thousands of Catholics who live in the Amazon region,” José María Castillo has observed.
In an article published Feb. 17 on the site Religión Digital, he said the threat posed by the continued, lopsided influence of such clericalists is much more serious than any possible schism.
And the reason is simple. The clericalists, just a miniscule part of the 1.2 billion-member Church, are seriously violating the rights of the Catholic faithful.
Castillo cited paragraph 37 of Lumen gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
“The laity have the right, as do all Christians, to receive in abundance from their spiritual shepherds the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the assistance of the word of God and of the sacraments,” that Vatican II text says.
The obligation to feed God’s people
With every right there is an obligation. And here it is the obligation and responsibility of the Church’s spiritual pastors (first and foremost its bishops) to provide the Catholic people with the sacraments.
But the bishops are not doing that in the Amazon. Nor are they doing it in many other places of the world where there are not enough ordained presbyters to lead Eucharistic celebrations – i.e. to validly consecrate the hosts.
“It is a pressing obligation of Church authority to adequately respond to this right of the faithful,” Castillo wrote.
“It’s a duty the pope must respond to despite the arguments and interests of the fundamentalist and conservative clergy,” he continued.
“In the Church of the early centuries every community had the recognized right to elect its ministers. And even the right to remove them when the ministers’ behavior was not in conformity with their mission,” he noted.
He cited the acts from a synod held in Spain in the 3rdcentury to show that even Rome upheld this right. And, thus, the Church consisted in the community more than in the clergy.
Priorities upside down
But today, he said, the situation is totally reversed.
“That which is imposed is what’s in the interest and convenience of the clergy, even when that leads to the religious and evangelical abandonment of hundreds of thousands of Catholics,” he wrote.
“It’s extremely important to underline very clearly that this situation will only be resolved when two, ever more pressing decisions are made: 1.) allow the presbyteral ordination of married men; 2.) establish equal rights for men and women in the Church,” he said.
The bishops should not wait for the pope to do this. Nor should they expect him to do so, at least not on his own.
They can take action now to fulfill their responsibility to provide their people with the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. The first step is to formally petition the pope to allow the ordination of married men.
The legal way forward
The bishops at the Synod assembly on the Amazon “proposed” this, but – technically – they did use the canonical language over which people like Cardinal Baldisseri love to split hairs.
In fact, there is a canonical process that a bishop or conference of bishops (or perhaps a Synod assembly) can follow to request the ordination of married men.
The Code of Canon Law actually foresees this possibility.
While it states that “a man who has a wife” is simply impeded from receiving holy orders (Can. 1042, no. 1), it also says – quite specifically – that the Holy See can dispense of this impediment (cf. Can. 1047 § 2, no. 3).
We often say it’s easier to get what you want if you ask nicely.
In the Catholic Church – yes, also in the pontificate of Pope Francis – it’s even better if you ask “canonically.”
Pope Francis attends a meeting with indigenous people of the Amazon region in the Coliseo Regional Madre de Dios, Puerto Maldonado, Peru, Jan. 19, 2018. (Photo by EPA/LUCA ZENNARO/MaxPPP)
In his new apostolic exhortation on the Church in the Amazonian region, Pope Francis has refused a request by bishops at last October’s Synod assembly to formally approve the ordination of married priests and women deacons.
In Querida Amazonia (Beloved Amazon) the pope pretty much ignores these two issues all together.
And this, of course, has provoked predictable responses throughout the variegated world of Roman Catholicism.
Traditionalists and doctrinal conservatives, for the most part, are breathing a sigh of relief. Some are even jumping for joy.
They are satisfied the pope did not open the door to what, in their minds, would be a slippery slope towards the total unraveling of the Church as we know it.
Most progressives, reformers and Vatican II types – on the other hand – are deeply disappointed. Some, especially women, are extremely hurt and angry.
They believe Francis missed a golden opportunity to take a decisive step towards eradicating the misogynist and clericalist attitudes and practices that have conditioned the Church’s internal life and structures for centuries.
And there is also that not so minor problem of people being deprived of the Eucharist, sometimes for several months at a time, just because there are not enough priests (i.e. men willing to remain celibate for life, according to the current discipline).
For opposite reasons, neither traditionalists nor progressives are happy about this.
Missing the point completely
But if you’ve read some of the commentary on Pope Francis’s decision not to change the discipline of priestly celibacy or approve women deacons, you probably have the impression that this is a “win” for old-time Catholicism and a “loss” for the Church’s reformers.
Actually, it might be just the other way around.
And you don’t have to look at the fine print or obscure footnotes at the bottom of the page to discover why. Francis tells us so right at the beginning of Queried Amazonia.
Remember, this is an apostolic exhortation.
And as such it is considered to be the pope’s response to the final document of last year’s Synod assembly, including the bishops’ specific requests for concrete changes and new initiative.
But in the very first lines, Francis explains that this apostolic exhortation is going to be different.
“I will not go into all of the issues treated at length in the final document. Nor do I claim to replace that text or to duplicate it,” he says.
Rather, he explains that his exhortation will be merely “a brief framework for reflection… that can help guide us to a harmonious, creative and fruitful reception of the entire synodal process.”
In other words, the papal text is only partof the process. Francis is not pronouncing the final word or making final decisions with this exhortation.
That should have been clear to anyone who read even just the first page of Querida Amazonia.
And the pope goes further.
I’m Pope Francis, and I approve this message
“At the same time, I would like to officially present the Final Document, which sets forth the conclusions of the Synod,” he says.
What does officially present mean? The final document has been available to the public since the day it was presented to the pope at the Amazon Synod.
It sure sounds like the pope is giving his approval to the final document, especially when he then says this:
“May the pastors, consecrated men and women and lay faithful of the Amazon region strive to apply it, and may it inspire in some way every person of good will.”
Would the pope urge Catholics to apply a document, or encourage them to draw inspiration from it, if it did not conform to sound teaching and right belief?
In the 2018 apostolic constitution to reform the Synod of Bishops, Episcopalis communio, the pope says:
“Once the approval of the members has been obtained, the Final Document of the Assembly is presented to the Roman Pontiff, who decides on its publication.
“If it is expressly approved(my emphasis) by the Roman Pontiff, the Final Document participates in the ordinary Magisterium of the Successor of Peter” (Art. 18 § 1).
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the outgoing secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, split hairs over semantics when asked if this is what Francis had done in his exhortation concerning the final document of the Amazon Synod.
The 79-year-old cardinal said the phrase “officially present” was not the proper canonical language.
The Amazon Synod has ended, but it’s only just begun
But, in the end, that really doesn’t matter. The pope has clearly not stopped discussion on any of the issues raised in the final document or the Synod process, which he sees as ongoing.
Not only is he encouraging further discussion. He is also encouraging a further and deeper development and experience of synodality.
Bishop Erwin Kräutler, an Austrian-born missionary in Brazil, remains convinced that Francis is willing to approve the ordination of married priests, something the pope told him back in 2014.
But Francis will not take the action on his own initiative, the now-retired bishop said.
However, if a national or regional conference of bishops comes to an overwhelming consensus on the need to ordain married priests, what would the pope do?
Kräutler and others believe he would say yes.
It may be only a matter of months before we find out if they’re right.
The shadow pontificate is drawing to a close
Pope Francis removes Archbishop Georg Gänswein, private secretary to Benedict XVI, from important Vatican duties
Pope Francis next to Archbishop Georg Gänswein, during the Wednesday General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, at the Vatican, Oct. 2, 2019. (Photo by EFE/EPA/CLAUDIO PERI/MaxPPP)
It was only a matter of time.
Pope Francis has finally lost his patience and gotten rid of Archbishop Georg Gänswein as prefect of the Papal Household.
According to the German weekly, Die Tagespost, the pope put the 63-year-old on “indefinite administrative leave.”
He did so, the paper said, because of the German prefect’s involvement in a controversial book that Benedict XVI co-authored with Cardinal Robert Sarah. It was a slim volume that most people saw as a warning to Francis, that he dare not even consider allowing the ordination of married priests.
Gänswein, who lives with Benedict and is his longtime personal secretary, was seen – rightly or wrongly – as the man ultimately responsible for dragging the retired pope into the book project.
Of course, Pope Francis did not officiallysack the German archbishop. He could hardly do so, given Gänswein’s close relationship to Benedict. That would shatter the myth that the former pope and current pope are in perfect sync and harmony.
They are not. The truer reality is that these two men in white have been living respectfully towards each other under an unwritten (and unspoken) non-aggression treaty. Firing the man some call “Gorgeous George” would fuel speculation that this pact has been annulled.
A Kremlin-style purge
The Vatican’s spokespersons have been embarrassed by the media’s reaction to the sideling of Gänswein. The Holy See Press Office explained that there had simply been “an ordinary redistribution” of the prefect’s “various commitments and duties.”
It actually looked suspiciously more like a purge, according to Italian colleague Francesco Peloso, who described the press office’s explanation as reminiscent of the “golden years of the Kremlin.”
So what is really going on here?
The Tagespost article, which first broke the news of Gänswein’s administrative leave, seems extremely credible for no other reason than the fact that the politically conservative paper is close to Benedict XVI and his inner circle (i.e. his private secretary). Last December the former pope launched something called, “The Tagespost School for Catholic Journalism.”
In its recent article, the paper said Gänswein would now be able to devote all his energies to helping the 92-year-old Benedict who is in declining health. This has led to further speculation that the former pope is now in the last stage of his earthly life.
We do not know for sure, but it is possible. One Italian newspaper gave further credence to that by reporting that the German archbishop has just been assigned a new apartment inside the Vatican.
Obviously, he will need another place to live once Benedict has died.
What’s next for “Don Giorgio”?
There have been rumors over the past several months that, once the new constitution for the reformed Roman Curia is published (likely within the next few months), Gänswein would be transferred to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
He would replace the current secretary, Archbishop Marcello Bartolucci, who is already past the retirement age of 75.
That was before the kerfuffle over the Sarah-Benedict book.
But where else could Francis assign him? It is inconceivable that he would send Gänswein back to Germany to head a diocese, since there has been vocal resistance from the priests and people there every time the possibility has been raised.
Parking “Don Giorgio” at a desk job in Rome looks to be about the best alternative. It’s hard to imagine that he’d voluntarily seek to return to parish ministry, of which he has only limited experience, or volunteer to serve in the missions.
This was not supposed to happen
Ironically, it was Benedict XVI who caused this predicament.
He did so quite unintentionally. In fact, he believed he had done everything possible to ensure his personal secretary would hold important posts the rest of his priestly life, perhaps even rising to the rank of cardinal.
Of course, that is still possible. But only if there is a backlash to Francis’ pontificate at the next conclave (or the one after that) and a loyalist to Benedict is elected.
And that’s where Gänswein future has always rested.
The fact of the matter is that neither he nor Benedict believed Jorge Mario Bergoglio would be pope today. It wasn’t supposed to happen.
When the conclave got underway in March 2013 there was every indication that a Benedict loyalist would be elected.
The top candidates were believed to be Angelo Scola of Italy, Marc Ouellet of Quebec, Odilo Scherer of Brazil, Peter Erdöof Hungary or, possibly, Christoph Schönborn of Austria.
Carefully planning a seamless papal transition
But leaving nothing to chance, Benedict took several precautionary steps before he resigned the papacy to guarantee that his successor, whomever that was, would continue to lead the Church in seamless continuity with his own pontificate.
In the months before announcing in February 2013 his decision to step down from the papacy, which he had already decided privately the previous spring, he carefully made several moves to protect his legacy and reward those close to him.
One of them was the June 2012 appointment of Gerhard Ludwig Müller, curator of the theological writings of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, as head of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation.
Another was to hold a final consistory on the following Nov. 24 to create new cardinals, principally for the purpose of giving then-Archbishop James Harvey the red hat.
The American, just 63 at the time, was prefect of the Papal Household, a job he had held since 1998. Benedict re-assigned him as archpriest of the Papal Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls.
Harvey, like all the men who served as prefect before him, had become a cardinal. But now his post was vacant. It would be filled two weeks later.
Putting all the final pieces in place
On Dec. 7, just 75 days before stunning the world with the announcement of his resignation, Benedict appointed his personal secretary, Monsignor George Gänswein, then 56, as prefect of the Papal Household.
The pope consecrated him titular Archbishop of Urbisaglia a month later on the Feast of the Epiphany.
All the pieces were now in place.
Benedict had already begun refurbishing a building in the Vatican Gardens that had been used the previous two decades as a nunnery.
John Paul II had established the Mater Ecclessiae Monastery in the 1990s to be occupied by a different community of contemplative nuns every five years.
When the last group completed its term in 2012, Benedict decided he’d make the monastery his retirement home. He would live there with his private secretary and a small group of consecrated women who would serve as his staff.
Their plans that day came to nothing
There was nothing terribly unusual about the arrangement except for one thing – Gänswein would be living with the retired pope while running the household (being the gatekeeper) of the current pope. Seamless transition and continuity from one pontificate to another was guaranteed.
But then Francis got elected. It would have been difficult for him to replace Gänswein, given that the German had been in the post only a few months. Instead, the new pope decided to live at the Santa Marta Residence where the cardinals lodged during the conclave.
The old guard from Benedict’s pontificate was dumbfounded. And the now-retired pope’s well-laid plans came to nothing.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Gänswein looked out of place and sullen in the early days and weeks of the papal transition. He was, in effect, the prefect of an empty household.
Initially, he scheduled meetings and engagements for Francis without coordinating them first with the new pope. On at least two or three occasions the Jesuit pope refused to go by claiming to be sick or ill disposed.
It only took the prefect a couple of months to get the message. And Francis kept him on the job.
Francis is not everybody’s darling
But just around the first anniversary of the pontificate in March 2014 the archbishop gave an interview to a German television network in which he said that Pope Francis was “not everybody’s darling.”
He also revealed that neither he nor Benedict had expected Bergoglio to be elected pope. And, furthermore, he gave the impression that the former pope was proof-checking the orthodoxy of at least some of Francis’ talks.
The reaction was predictable.
“Pope Francis has kept Gänswein at arm’s length by choosing to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae rather than Apostolic Palace where the prefect of the Papal Household holds sway. Looked at with hindsight that was a wise decision,” said Elena Curti, deputy editor of the Tablet.
“It would be even better if Archbishop Gänswein were now to devote himself exclusively to serving the pope emeritus – or leave Rome altogether,” she said.
It has taken almost six years, but it looks like that is finally happening.
Obsession with sexual morality
By sticking to a naturalist version of sex, the Church left many Catholics in the lurch
The civil unrest in France in May 1968 (maxppp.com) French writer Gabriel Matzneff, now 83, wrote unabashedly for years about having sex with underage boys and girls, and no one raised an eyebrow.
But that changed recently when one of his victims leveled charges against him.
Should the complacency shown towards a man who hid behind his status as a writer to justify his worst predatory perversions lead to the questioning of everything that came out of the French civil unrest in May 1968?
Our era is characterized by hatred for what was cherished a short time ago. At least some people are not far from thinking so.
First of all, child abuse does not originate with 1968, but much before it.
However, one wonders how the “freedom generation”, which has been at the forefront of the media, was forced into submission.
Benedict XVI, in a recent text, notes that the crushing of morals contributed to the pedophilia crisis in the Church.
The former German pope thus explains that the “absence of God”, the loss of religious meaning, which invaded in the 1970s up to the seminaries, would have made priests powerless in the face of temptations, by inculcating a “spirit of permissiveness and relativism”.
Historically, that’s not true, we’ve seen it. Moreover, those in the Church in the early days of John Paul II’s pontificate sought to fight against the spirit of 1968, and this so-called “permissiveness”, was not spared by the crisis of sexual abuse.
In these cases, there are no winners. On the other hand, it is that some people did indeed want to retain only one thing in May 1968. The great wind of change and emancipation, forgetting that this also marked the rejection of arbitrary domination, be it masculine, social, political and intellectual.
The least that can be said is that Matzneff and his people, by a kind of intellectual arrogance, hardly took it into account. From this point of view, they embody the excesses of a society of mad individualism, where each seeks his own pleasure, without questioning the other, where moral certainties seem so dilapidated and inaudible that there is no longer a taboo worthy of the name.
In the Church, criticism of this excessive liberalism was quick from the 1980s onwards.
By turning against everything that could seem to be loosening the taboos of sexuality, by sticking to a very “naturalist” version, which ignored the contributions of sciences and psychology, by considering sexual act as something to be reserved for procreation, the Church left many Catholics of the time destitute and without reference in the face of changes in society.
No doubt the obsession with moral sexuality, which took hold of the institution from the 1970s onwards, by placing on the same level any sexual act which did not fall within the traditional norms (homosexuality, paedophilia, adultery, relations outside marriage, etc.), did not help them to see clearly and to think according to situations, ages, rules of authority and the dignity of the persons.
In order to avoid falling back into these defects, in the face of the abysmal evolution of procreation techniques that we know today and of the great upheavals in sexual relations, it is undoubtedly necessary to do this work of morality, taking into account, as Pope Francis says, “the complexity of human realities and situations.”
Social justice is not a spectator sport
It involves personal reflection on how far its insistence on respect for the dignity of persons and of the natural world are embodied in our personal relationships
It is both tempting and risky to name significant events as watersheds in their effect on public attitudes. Tempting, because they have such immediate impact; risky because in many cases nothing seems to change.
With that qualification, later Australian historians may see the bushfires as a turning point in people’s attitudes to the environment and to what they demand of politicians.
At a more abstract level, too, they may mark a shift in the way we think about social justice. As we commemorate the International Day of Social Justice on the 20th of February, leading to the Catholic Social Justice Council conference, this bears reflection.
Thought about social justice has developed over many centuries, as can be seen even in a broad and vastly over-simplified summary.
In the pre-modern world justice was set in the context of relationships between individual persons.
It explored what was due to and from people in their relationships, taking account of the differences in status of the parties from commoners to kings, women to men, adults to children, and slaves to free. Today the ways in which their conclusions reflected the unspoken values of their societies are evident.
Thought about social justice as we know it developed in the nineteenth century when theorists like Karl Marx responded to the appalling conditions of the poor by demonstrating the power of institutions and public attitudes that perpetuated poverty and locked in wealth.
Reflection about justice then needed to take into account not only the persons involved but the ‘it’: the social structures that shaped their relationships and often denied the dignity of the poor.
As Catholic reflection on such topics as war, labor relationships, regulation of large corporations and the treatment of refugees developed, it insisted on the inalienable dignity of each person made and the importance of personal responsibility, but set this dignity in the context of the institutional relationships that affirmed or denied it.
This led to the recognition of social as well as personal rights. Their extent and importance are disputed among Catholics as well as in the larger society.
Some still see justice primarily in terms of personal relationships; others give greater importance to the institutional relationships that implicitly affirm or deny personal dignity.
More recently the ecological crisis has pointed to a further set of relationships that shape us as persons, societies and world citizens. These are our relationships with the natural world of which we are part, and particularly with the non-human and inanimate world.
The bushfires (which burned 20% of Australian forests in one season) have burned into our consciousness that our world is threatened by global warming, and that we are unlikely to pass on to our descendants a nurturing and fruitful place.
This threat arises from uncontrolled exploitation of the world for private gain, and is fed by the failure of political leaders to take it seriously.
The dignity of each human person within community
This reality underlies the further development of reflection on social justice to embrace our personal, communal and institutional relationships with the world, our home.
Catholic reflection on social justice has been supercharged by Pope Francis, who in his encyclical Laudato Si declared the Cry of the Poor and the Cry of the Earth to be central to faith.
He also insisted that neither could be addressed simply by technological fixes but required personal conversion to see the world as gift to be respected, a home, and not as a prison or a mine.
In Catholic thinking about social justice, the future challenge is to hold together the three calls revealed in its history. The first dimension is always to focus on the inalienable dignity of each human person within community.
This implies both standing with people whose dignity is violated and insisting that people are not isolated and competitive individuals but are defined by the relationships in communities.
The second call is to respect the dignity of each human being within all the group and institutional relationships that shape our lives — in work, migration, international relationships, economic settings, freedom of speech and of religion, respect for diversity and so on.
This involves standing with people whose dignity is violated institutionally, and insisting that governments and institutions and their representatives be accountable for what they do.
The third call is to respect the dignity of each human being and of all beings, seeing them in their interconnections, personal, institutional and ecological. This involves considering the effect for good or ill upon the world of the way all human enterprises are conducted, including those in which we have a part.
Thinking about social justice is not a spectator sport. It involves personal reflection on how far its insistence on respect for the dignity of persons and of the natural world are embodied in our personal relationships and practices, in the working relationships and practices in our own institutions, and in our relationships with the public world and its institutions.
That challenge can be faced as a burden, and wielded against others like the scythe of the Grim Reaper.
If so it will not be met. It must be nurtured by developing a vision of a splendid and interrelated world whose health will lighten, not darken our lives. That sense is found in the theme of the Catholic Social Justice Conference: ‘serving communities with courage and compassion’.
Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street. He will co-present a workshop on eco-justice during the Catholic Social Services Conference ‘Serving Communities with Courage and Compassion’ with Dr Bronwyn Lay, Ecological Justice Coordinator for Jesuit Social Services. Isabelle de Gaulmyn is an editor at La Croix and its former Vatican correspondent.