The Roman Church’s ongoing implosion is accelerated as cardinals call for major doctrinal changes and a former pope tries to save a legacy tied to the ecclesiastical “ancien regime”New signs that the old order is definitely passing away
By Robert Mickens | Vatican City
There was more turbulence in Roman Catholicism this past week — at least on the Old Continent.
A number of recent events verified — to those who are willing to open their eyes and face reality — that the Roman Church’s ongoing implosion is picking up pace.
Here are just a few things that happened when many people were probably not paying attention:
– Two cardinals close to Pope Francis publicly called for radical changes in certain Church teachings and practices
– A bishop in Northern Italy admitted he made a mistake when he took in an American priest that the Vatican had cleared of sexual abuse charges on a legal technicality
– Spain’s government announced it was launching a major investigation into Church related sexual abuse because the country’s Catholic bishops have refused to do so
– And two symbols of the Roman Church’s anachronistic ancien regime paradigm — the Order of Malta and Benedict XVI — were battling to save their respective legacies
Where does one start?
Calls to abolish mandatory priestly celibacy
Perhaps it’s best to begin with the latest comments from Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, one of the pope’s most trusted aides.
The 68-year-old cardinal made a big splash this past week when he said clerical celibacy should be optional.
Marx said it would be better for some priests if there were allowed to be married.And his words carry a lot of weight.
The hefty German is member of the pope’s small group of senior advisors, the Council of Cardinals, and coordinator of the Vatican’s Council for the Economy.
Francis obviously trusts him greatly, having refused his offer to resign as Munich’s archbishop last summer for being part of the Church’s systemic mishandling of sex abuse cases.
A few days before Marx gave his ascent to married priests, Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin also urged an end to mandatory priestly celibacy. And he called for the ordination of women deacons to boot.
What’s notable about this 67-year-old archbishop calling for such major changes is that he was ordained to the episcopate by Cardinal Joachim Meisner.
He served seven years as the hand-picked auxiliary bishop of Cologne’s late cardinal, a doctrinal conservative who was extremely close to Benedict XVI.
Were Meisner alive today, he’d probably be greatly surprised by Koch’s views.”
Change the doctrine on homosexuality
“Then there’s Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg who has actually called for a change in Catholic teaching on homosexuality.”
I believe that the sociological-scientific foundation of this teaching is no longer true,” he said bluntly in interview published February 1 in Germany.
“I think it’s time we make a fundamental revision of the doctrine,” the 63-year-old cardinal continued.Hollerich is not just any cardinal, either.
A Jesuit like Francis, he is arguably Europe’s top Catholic bishop at the moment, at least by the high-profile elected posts he currently holds.
He is president of COMECE (Commission of Bishops Conferences in the European Union) and vice-president of CCEE (Council of European Episcopal Conferences).
Many in the media call him a “liberal cardinal”, but when Benedict XVI appointed him to Luxembourg in 2011 that was not his reputation. In fact, the man Hollerich asked to ordain him to the episcopate was Cardinal Meisner!
If he was actually a closet progressive back then, Hollerich’s views have obviously undergone a “fundamental revision”. He talked about how his faith had evolved over the years in a recent article published by La Croix.
The Vatican keeps “passing the trash”
Meanwhile, the seemingly never-ending clergy sex abuse crisis continues to rattle the cages of the ecclesiastical establishment in various parts of the world.
One of the latest examples comes from Northern Italy where Bishop Ivo Muser of Bolzano admitted publicly last week that he had made a mistake by allowing an American priest to incardinate into his diocese three years ago without informing the diocesan review board that the cleric had confessed to having sex with a 17-year-old boy.
Father Timothy Meehan, a former Legionary of Christ, was denounced in 2013 for sexual involvement with the youth back in the mid-1990s. Meehan, who was a “late vocation” and had not yet been ordained at the time, was assistant formator in the congregation’s novitiate in the United States.
He was already in his mid- to late-30s when he was finally ordained for the Legionaries in 2000 in Rome. And he remained in Italy.
The Legionaries said they informed Bolzano Diocese of the sex abuse incident in 2017 when the priest sought to be incardinated.
But when Bishop Muser consulted the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that deals with abuse cases, he was told that, “according to canon law”, Meehan was not guilty because the age of consent at the time was 16. (It was changed to 18 in 2001.)
Bishops reluctant to open major investigations
Muser removed the ex-Legionary from ministry several months ago, but the bishop admitted this past week that he handled the entire matter very badly amidst calls for a wider investigation into abuse in the Church.
That is something the national episcopal conferences of Italy and Spain have been reluctant to do.
The Spanish prelates have outright refused to set up the sort of independent commission that investigated Church-related sex abuse in France, for instance. And so lawmakers in Spain last week threatened to launch their own government-led investigative team to do the job.
Italy’s bishops, on the other hand, have decided to do what they always do when it comes to doing something they don’t really want do — just stall and do nothing!
That has basically been the episcopal conference’s consistent modus inoperandi regarding sex abuse in the Church. And when stalling tactics have not worked, the bishops have done as little as they could get away with.
But last week they suddenly decided it would probably be better if they do something after several Catholic and civil organizations announced they were taking things into their own hands and would unveil plans to uncover abuse in the Church, during a February 15 video conference titled Oltre il Grande Silenzio (Beyond the Great Silence).
The Italian bishops now say they are “considering” setting up a national commission.
If they do actually carry out an investigation, most Italians would probably see it as a form of damage control unless it were truly and verifiably conducted by upstanding individuals and prominent people that have no ties to the country’s Catholic hierarchy.
The Church’s current paradigm continues to collapse
Everyone knows exactly what independent reports would find in both Spain and Italy. The same thing all serious investigations have shown us — that in diocese after diocese, country after country, Catholic officials — beginning with bishops — all did the exact same thing.
The problem, as Cardinal Marx has been exclaiming, is s-y-s-t-e-m-i-c!
Unfortunately, the system is part of the Church’s current, but crumbling paradigm, which is the last pillar of Europe’s ancien regime.
The Roman Church, despite the major doctrinal shifts that resulted from the Second Vatican Council, continues to be hampered by the anachronistic structure and ethos of monarchism, which can no longer be disguised, as few absolute monarchies still exist.
But like all anachronistic structures the monarchical Church and all its trappings will eventually collapse if it is not reformed.
Tarnished symbols of the ecclesiastical “ancien regime”
Two symbols of this ecclesiastical ancien regime — one a person, the other an institution — saw their legacies further scrutinized and called into question the last several days.
The life and work of Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger, the single most influential figure in the Roman Catholic Church in the post-Vatican II period (at least beginning in the late 1970s), was again being looked at with eyes far more critical than ever before.
Much of this is because it was revealed that the former pope had made faulty judgments and some rather bizarre statements about sexual abuse in an 82-page testimony he gave to the Bavarian law firm that wrote the recently released Munich Report.
(For example, he said a priest who exposed and pleasured himself in front of a child did not commit sexual abuse or warrant removal from ministry.)
Benedict will be 95 in a couple of months and is quite feeble. Perhaps it was an aide, and not he, who wrote that very long testimony. If so that person is not doing the elderly former pope any favors.
Joseph Ratzinger’s legacy as major theologian of reference for the development of the Church risks being reduced to a mere footnote in the Annuario Pontificio — *The first Roman Pontiff to voluntarily resign since 1294.
A sovereign military order with no army
The other symbol of Europe’s ancien regime to find itself in crisis is the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which exists in a monarchical paradigm that encompasses both the temporal and spiritual realms.
Known more commonly as the Knights of Malta, this 12th Century lay religious order does generous and much needed work through a vast network of hospitals and clinics. It also provides social assistance to the poor, refugees, victims of natural disaster and others.
But it, too, has an anachronistic structure, governed by a small group of elderly European aristocrats who take religious vows.
The Order is a stateless sovereign entity under international law (though tightly wed to the Holy See) and enjoys the right to have full diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level with nations and governmental institutions.
But it has been in turmoil the past several years and Pope Francis has taken a number of invasive steps to reform the blueblood-run organization.
His efforts, overseen by delegates, have only exacerbated internal tensions. Although this “military” order has no standing army, its nobles are currently at war with each other.
So the pope last week stopped the work of his current delegate, Cardinal Silvano Tomasi, and has decided to step in to resolve the conflict and complete the reform all by himself.
One wonders if that is what Francis will eventually do with the long, drawn out process of writing the new constitution — still nowhere in sight — for a reformed Roman Curia, which also retains still too many vestiges of a royal court.
If that’s the plan, he could be the first absolute monarch in history to voluntarily abolish his monarchy before it collapses.
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