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> Response to "The Hinge of Morality"
Paul Dixon, July 3, 2013 at 12:22 PM
I wanted to take a moment and let you know that I have visited the site and find it to be a wonderful, thought-provoking, and well-designed web site.
Today I read your essay on the "Hinge of Morality" and I was gratified to see that you did not shrink from the most egregious example available to us today, that of the Nazi Holocaust. How you described the necessity of even this tremendous moral failing makes more sense than many of the Christian apologists, and neatly avoids the trap of "if God is the Author of all, then He is, by logical extension, the Author of evil as well." It is a much more uplifting explanation than, say-Elie Wiesel's "Night".
That last comment might seem as if you're being "damned with faint praise", but that is not how I intend it. One can not really expect that a man of Wiesel's life experience could have come up with a positive interpretation of the Holocaust in any event.
Responses by Readers
>Response to "Bishop Ratzinger in the Pasture"
Richard Grant, Feb 20, 2013 at 1:44 PM
The ideal pope would an administrator/politician with better credentials in that capacity than any President of the United States since the founding of the republic, a pastor who invites comparisons to Christ Himself, a theologian who combines the gifts of Thomas Aquinas, and Teilhard de Chardin, a better businessman than any one of the legendary titans of global industry, and the self- effacing saintliness of Mother Theresa. Unfortunately, as yet, no such creature has been vouchsafed the human race let alone the papacy.
The Pope must be a visionary and a manager, priest and disciplinarian, authority and medium. While the work of Christianity involves the care and salvation of souls, the work of churches is to effect this mission in a world adrift in tainted human nature. The evaluation of any church leader must take this into consideration. The real world, as opposed to our idealized one, requires progress with what is possible as opposed to failure in pursuit of the ideal. So the success of any papacy will depend ultimately on how best suited the strengths of a given pontiff are to the particular demands of the times and peoples he serves. This is not the message of Christianity, it is the message of life..
Of the modern Popes, Pius XII was the diplomat administrator, John XXIII the great Pastor, Paul VI the worthy caretaker, John-Paul II, the great Politician (and possibly saint) and Benedict XVI the great Theologian. Pius was an icon to me, but the very human John XXIII was my favorite. He was a terrible administrator and left the Church's finances, ecumenical, charitable, and evangelical work, and theology in a terrible state, one not yet completely sorted out even now. Perhaps, had he lived longer... but he didn't and we must deal with that reality. Still, I loved him and cherish his memory.
During the reign of Paul VI, I was too busy living my life - devout but not pious - to pay much attention. I think he deserves much credit for keeping things together after the whirlwind of John XXIII and may ultimately be judged by history to have been the great administrator Pope.
I never warmed to John-Paul II, rock star, evangelist, and the man who finally answered Stalin's rude and cynical question ("The Pope? How many divisions does he have?"). Formed in the twin crucibles of the anti-Nazism of WWII and the anti-Communism of the Cold War he was always too partisan for me and too unwilling to compromise, even where compromise meant opening dialogue without abandoning principles. It should be mentioned too that he may well have been a saint ( discussion for another forum?) He certainly bore his sufferings in saintly courage and dignity.
The ONLY other pope to whom I've ever felt any personal connection, affection even, was Benedict XVI. When he was elected I knew little about him, so I called our classmate, Spencer Edwards, who has lived in Bavaria for the last 25 years to ask what he knew. He described Benedict as a humorless, conservative bureaucratic scholar of Theology who, it was rumored, was running the Vatican in the waning days of JPII. I decided to read his theology, and that was not the man I found. What I found was a gentle, non-judgmental, traditionalist who had devoted his life and his life's work to the study of the divine mystery, purpose, and influence in the life of humankind and who wanted nothing more than to continue that work. He was, in his work, passionate but understated. Firm in his belief's but not averse to debating them, with an eye to establishing their weaknesses and strengths, he is the only person I ever met who when he said," I hate the sin and not the sinner" made me believe it without even a soupcon of doubt or suspicion as to his sincerity or motives. I suspect you have not read much of Benedict's theology. I commend it to you. It is wide and deep, and in places, beautiful enough to move the open heart to tears. More importantly, at its own heart it is quintessentially Christian.
I cannot imagine what you could be possibly thinking when you say that the Pope wanted "a return to the glory days of the Renaissance Church" The Renaissance was one of the most corrupt, dissolute, and troubled periods in the Church's history. Surely you know that. And if you are referring to his very modest and tentative steps to allow the Latin Liturgy back in the panoply of present day forms of worship, so what? Is a Mass in Swahili or Folk tunes fine but a Mass in Latin somehow Right Wing, and subversive? Like you I first learned the Mass in Latin, apparently unlike you I'd still like to put the 12 years I spent studying the language to some occasional liturgical use. If you have other more substantial evidence of the Holy Father's desire to return to the failed Church of the Renaissance, I should be happy if you would share it.
And speaking of "Charity" where is this most prized of Christian virtues, as so described in scripture by Christ Himself, in the orgy of abuse and calumny that is heaped on the heads of the pedophile priests and their enablers? You might think from the hysterical outrage that pedophilia was some new plague concocted by the Vatican to subdue the known universe to its evil sway, rather than a sexual practice that has been present in all human societies since the beginning of recorded human history, both pictorial and written.
We have decided in our society that below a certain age the requisite consent to engage in human sexual intercourse cannot be lawfully given. Now whatever anyone may think of that it's the law and it must be obeyed on pain of reprisal and loss of liberty and property. So any priest, scoutmaster, rabbi, Mormon, Holy Roller, Hells Angel, Hootnanny host, or football coach who breaks this law must be prepared to be punished in consequence. And anyone who aids, abets, enables, suborns, or supports this breach of the law should be likewise punished. But let's not react to it as if it were a scourge worse than genocide, mass murder, genital mutilation, and destruction of the environment combined - any and all of which we, as practicing Christian would be required by an even higher law to forgive - from our hearts - were we so asked by a truly repentant penitent.
I have never understood the lurid fascination of the religious community with sexual acts and the control over same that has so wracked and wrecked human communities since Adam and Eve discovered they were naked and Pandora opened her box. This most beautiful of human experiences, in which at the height of our pleasure we find ourselves commensurately at the height of vulnerability seems to have evoked more passionate debate, condemnation, confusion, and desire to contain, control and define than any other human activity. Why? I do not know.
But I know this: That in the 2000 year history of the institution known as the Roman Catholic Church, as in all human endeavers there will be found much that is foul and much that is fair. There will be monsters and Magi. There will be wars for treasure and land, and blood spilled for both lust and labor, betrayal and loyalty, enlightenment and ignorance, triumphs and defeats. That’s not just the story of the Roman Catholic Church – a human institution - that's the human story, and only when we refuse to insist on viewing the whole picture, all the time, do we endanger the requisite understanding of that humanity and how we may best employ it.
Whatever may be your personal differences with “His Holiness Benedict XVI, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the state of the Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God (He dropped “Patriarch of the West” in order to improve relations with the Eastern Orthodox Churches), you have revealed no sound basis for your “distrust” of the man. In what have you found him to be a liar or a felon? Wherein has he betrayed you personally? What trustworthy accounts do you have from others that he is not worthy of your trust?
In comparing the reasons for his assuming and leaving office with your accepting and eventually stepping down from the chairmanship of your school department, I must point out salient differences: Presumably you accepted the chairmanship of the English Department with no one positing the direct intercession of the Holy Spirit. Was there ever a moment when you felt that by refusing you might be ignoring your call to duty by God and the Church wherein you profess to worship? Had you spent a decade working beside and being groomed by your predecessor with the understanding that you would succeed him or her?When you resigned was there lurid speculation in the press and among your colleagues about hidden motives and as yet un-surfaced enormities that might have made your exit inevitable and different from what you expressed? I suspect that unless you worked at a place far different from the snake-pits of Academia with which I am familiar, the one thing you might have had in common with Benedict’s resignation was the lip-smacking attention and crocodile tears of those of your colleagues eager to take your place.
Ours is a Church in crisis and transition. We must not look at this as a chance to settle old scores or take advantage of the temporary weakness of one’s doctrinal adversaries. Our dialogue should not be to score points and engage in reckless sloganeering but to indulge the acts of charity and attempts to understand each other that our Christian dogma commands. The former will result in an even more debilitated and divided institution than the one we’re working to reform. The latter I believe is our best hope. I do not profess to know the mind of God, but what I profess to be his word I think is clear.
“REND YOUR HEARTS, NOT YOUR GARMENTS…”
Feb 20, 2013 at 1:44 PM
> Response to 'Bishop Ratzinger in the Pasture"
Mahanth Joishy, 2/21/13 8:33 PM
Richard and Matt,
Thanks both for your thoughts. Very informative.
I am not a Christian, but have attended Catholic middle school and a Jesuit university. In both cases I enjoyed the company of priests and nuns and have attended numerous masses and learned from bible passages. I think the bible has some very clever and symbolic life lessons in it. My family always attended midnight mass at Christmas time with our Christian family friends.
Though I'm a practicing Hindu I have found myself quite disappointed by organized religion in Hindu society as in elsewhere.
I do not follow the popes closely but would do so with great interest if one did any (and preferably all) of the following:
- Allowed fathers and nuns to marry and have open sexual relations (consensually)
- Dealt with the child abuse scandal more swiftly, openly, and severely
- Allowed women and homosexuals to become priests if they passed all the other tests
- Accepted that birth control, contraception, condoms, and premarital sex are not sins and do not require guilt
- Accepted that homosexuality is not a sin or a disease either.
- Lived in more simple quarters, wearing simple clothes, riding in basic cars, proving that even the Catholic hierarchy sets an example of poverty and simplicity for others inside and outside the priesthood.
- Took on the earth's environmental protection as a primary religious and moral obligation and a personal priority of the office.
If such a person came about, and I expect it to happen in my lifetime, I will be glad to see it. Of course I don't have a say in this matter, and I am defining my interests very narrowly, but these are my priorities, however irrelevant and misplaced as an outsider.
2/21/13 8:33 PM
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> Response to "Bishop Ratzinger in the Pasture"
Richard Grant, 2/26/13
There is not a single thing on your list that I would not also support - with all my heart, especially since, as we all learn increasingly, many of these things are the practices of devout priests (even popes) and lay Catholics already - and have been for centuries. I would add only one thing whose important charge to Christians that you as a non Christian might not understand (and many Christians forget): to forgive any repentant sinner from the heart. It is by this act of charity that Christ informed us we shall astound the world with how much we love one another - and God.
> Response to "Bishop Ratzinger in the Pasture"
F. S. Edwards, 3/1/2013 10:46 AM:
The link below, another point of view for your discussion.
May I correct a point of fact in Richard's account of what I said? I have only lived in Munich for the past 11 years and so had and have no 'personal' experience of the then Cardinal Ratzinger. I can only repeat what others say, briefly, that his short time (just a few years until JP II called him to Rome to be Grand Inquisitor) as Cardinal Archbishop of Munich-Fresing was/ is regarded as unsuccessful. He was however such a successful Grand Inquisitor ("God's Rottweiler" as the English call him without affection) that I was surprised to discover that the young Ratzinger had held other views. A selection of these was published last year in the SZ with the comment, "If he had continued to believe and write such things he would have ended up in an obscure parish." His years as Grand Inquisitor did not make him beloved north of the Alps. My allusion to those years may have colored Richard's impressions of what I said about him when contrary to the 'rule' ("The cardinals never chose a Grand Inquisitor to be pope") he was indeed selected. Whether he was a successful pope -- an office which requires great pastoral and administrative and diplomatic skill (to take a few from Richard's email) only time will decide. The quick answer north of the Alps where the church continues its decline is that he was not. Or as my mother said two weeks ago in Florida, "I'm glad he's going. I never liked that man."
F. S. Edwards, 3/3/2013 1:51 PM:
F. S. Edwards, 3/5/2013 8:42 AM:
I don't remember having seen a discussion of this in the Times. Briefly, to make sense of one of the concerns mentioned in the article below: at the time of B XVI's election, the SZ wrote that one of his principal responsibilities would be the reform of the curia which had gotten out of hand during the final years of JP II's papacy. It was assumed that B XVI, having spent over a decade in Rome, would know how to do this. This reform/ cleaning up has not occurred -- B was no better an administrator than his predecessor -- the papers here were written about that even before Vatileaks.
> Response to Richard Grant
Matthew, 3/6/2013 3:30 AM:
We have to be straightforward about what’s happening in the Catholic Church, which we pour so much energy and attention into trying to understand and give our hearts to.
I agree with your description of the ideal pope in the current structure of the Catholic Church. In order to be entirely effective, he would have to possess all the attributes you describe. But we’re not discussing the ideal Church or the ideal pope. We’re discussing, as you say, the “message of life” in the real Catholic Church. We’re discussing the real leadership of the Church and how they’ve not only besmirched in the cynical eyes of the world the image of the crucified Christ, but how they’ve conspired to betray the faithful flock whom God appointed them to protect.
This dark project of theirs—which apparently includes among the conspirators the previous two popes—is not some minor character flaw of the leaders of the Church. It is a heinous crime against the People of God. It is a traitorous act against the Catholic Community. Our bishops worldwide have lied to the people who put their trust in them, have set out predators among the trusting and the innocent flock again and again, have hidden these predations from the people and have protected the predators from the civil authorities. And when they were caught doing this, they have fought for years, even to the Supreme Court of the United States, to keep the documentary evidence of the crimes of the predators—and of their own crimes—from civil prosecutors, in spite of the Dallas Accords, which promised their cooperation with the civil authorities. And they have gone—and continue to go—to extraordinary lengths to hide diocesan money from the courts which have the authority to penalize them for their crimes and to compensate their victims.
Are the previous two popes innocent bystanders in this Vatican conspiracy? I don’t know, although the evidence against them is damaging. But if they claim innocence, I ask them (or in John Paul’s case, those who knew him best) to explain satisfactorily their roles in the suspicious cases: for John Paul II, the case of Maciel, and the appointment of Cardinal Law (a fugitive from the courts in the United States) to a prominent position in the Vatican; and for Benedict XVI, the Hellermann case in Munich.
The global nature of the hierarchy's crimes—and their similarity in every country in which they have been discovered—lead me to wonder how long this sort of clerical and episcopal behavior has been going on. Again, I don’t know. But I personally knew a woman who went to Catholic elementary school in the 1920s, who told me that when she was eight years old, she was told by a thirteen year old girl in her school, “Don’t ever accept a ride from Father ___ unless I’m in the car with you.”
I suspect, though, that these predatory attacks on young children are not a recent phenomenon. I suspect that pedophilia is a commonplace aspect of the culture of the Roman Church, and that it goes back centuries. Certainly, the depravity of the Borgia popes in the 15th and 16th Centuries, particularly, Alexander VI, and the need for the Cluniac Monastic Reforms in the 10th Century, suggest that sexual license among the Catholic clergy, even to the highest offices, is a long-term phenomenon, although perhaps varying in intensity from era to era.
In my mind, there has been no obstacle to the inclusion of sexual license in the operative Church culture since for a thousand years and more the Roman Church was the most powerful institution in the world. So it is no wonder to me that the discovery and broadcasting of these crimes by the Western press took the hierarchy by surprise. The hierarchy had been handling the twentieth century crimes as they always had. When they encountered in the modern media an investigative force more formidable than any they had previously encountered, they were paralyzed and set to confusion.
Whether that is the case or not, the bishops—in a clearly organized way—deceived the people and betrayed their trust. Can they be forgiven by the faithful? Should they be forgiven? The answer to both questions is Yes. And I among so many others have striven to do so.
Forgiving our individual brothers in Christ is one thing—and a truly Christian thing. But we should not confuse forgiveness with blindness. If a man were to rape my daughter, as a Christian I would be bound—and would open myself—to forgive him. But I would not then pretend that there was no further threat. Rather, I would never allow her to be alone with him.
Likewise, although we forgive the perpetrators, we cannot forget the crimes. We must remain vigilant, remembering that as long as the Church's structure and hierarchy’s worldview remain what it is, this predation on the innocent can resume--or continue-- globally at any time.
Moving on to the next point, some priests with whom I have discussed the issue approve the return to the “glory days of the Church.” They want the splendor, the ceremony, the Latin, and I suspect, the docile laity. They want the old authoritarian structure, the reverence, the deference, the final word. They want to be able to decide to obey rather than to decide whether the theological argument is true. And they want to be obeyed rather than to be questioned.
When I referred to the “glory days of the Renaissance Church,” I was referring to the doctrinaire certainty of the Council of Trent, to the evident ecclesial splendor of the Late Gothic and Baroque architecture, and to the rigid authority of the papacy.
I was in fact referring to the idealized image of the imperial Church held by the priests who desire its return—those priests and their bishops who want to revise the Spirit-filled redirection which the Second Vatican Council took. It’s true that they want the Mass in Latin and would prefer never again to preside at “Folk tunes” masses. To that I say, Celebrate the mass in the language of the people so that the prayers (as poorly expressed as they are in the new translation) can be understood by the people. Latina lingua mortua est.
I apologize to you if I mis-read you, but your comments on pedophilia seem to suggest that pedophilia is society’s hang-up rather than an offense to the victim. (“We have decided in our society that below a certain age the requisite consent to engage in human sexual intercourse cannot be lawfully given. “) Of course, I don’t know your personal history on this issue, but you do not seem to speak as one who has been violated in this way. Pedophilia is rape. It has a profound impact on the emotional and spiritual/psychological formation of the victim. It begets fear, insecurity, perhaps terror, self-worthlessness, identity uncertainty, grief, guilt, depression, anger, hatred, aggression, and later, violence against others. True, pedophilia is not the equal to genocide or environmental destruction. But that is not the important point. The main issue is simply this: the victim is scarred and damaged for life by the selfishness of another human being. No Christian can justify that or belittle it.
That’s why we cannot forget the crime, even as we strive to forgive the perpetrator.
A final response: It will not do to justify the sins of our leaders with “they’re only human” or “the Church is an ‘earthen vessel’ that contains the precious treasure of the faith.” Our Church has given itself a code—some of it comes from Jesus, such as the teaching on the dignity of each human being; some of it comes from piety perhaps overzealous, such as mandatory celibacy among clergy. What is the point of teaching these truths and these disciplines if they go unheeded by the teachers themselves? It makes a mockery of the teachings and of the God whom we all say we are dedicated to serving.
If our leaders cannot be honest with us, and if they cannot exemplify the life they are teaching us to lead, and if they conspire against us, why do we need leaders like this? To teach us the foundational Truth that they themselves have not made the foundation of their own lives?
If the Holy Spirit has chosen these leaders for us, then perhaps we ought to pray to that same Spirit for guidance to understand what the Spirit’s intentions are. It seems to me that drastic and far-reaching re-formation of the institutional Church is the only explanation.
Responses by Readers