Saturday, March 02, 2019

A Church Impotent

Sorry atheists, another religious post.

This is St Paul thundering at the early Christians telling them to get their act together.

Dare any of you, having a matter against his neighbor, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?  Or know ye not that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world is judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?  Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more, things that pertain to this life?  If then ye have to judge things pertaining to this life, do ye set them to judge who are of no account in the church?  I say this to move you to shame. What, cannot there be found among you one wise man who shall be able to decide between his brethren,  but brother goeth to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? [ED] Nay, already it is altogether a defect in you, that ye have lawsuits one with another. Why not rather take wrong? why not rather be defrauded?  Nay, but ye yourselves do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.

1 Corinthians 6:1-8

I put up this post a few days ago quoting St Thomas on the relationship of Justice to Mercy with the implication that a lot of the Church's problems in dealing with sin in its ranks was due to the progressive theological emphasis on mercy at the expense of justice. This theological shift, largely under the watch of conservative Popes, reached it's definitive expression in the Church's recent change in the Catechism, effectively outlawing the death penalty. The other aspect to this theological shift has been a diminshing sense of the social dimension of sin. A theology which which emphaises mercy to the criminal at the expense of justice to the victim is going to be one that ends up being soft on crime.

Understanding the institutionalised failure of the Catholic Church to combat sexual abuse is much easier when you look at the situation through this perspective. When crimes were reported to Church authorities their primary aim was the rehabilitation of the criminal and not the restitution due to the victim. The problem with this theological approach is that it paralyses the administration of justice.  The Church becomes effectively incapable of punishing crime in its ranks. While there is no doubt a large element of sin present the core of the Catholic Church's  problems is not malice, it's theology.

I'm bringing up this subject again because Massimo Faggioli recently penned a good article in the local news following the conviction of Cardinal Pell for sex abuse*, showing just how bad things have gotten. Massimo is what many Americans would call a liberal, but he's an honest one, and while I disagree with him on a lot of issues I can't really find much to fault in this piece. I thought this was pertinent:

And both Church and State are repositioning themselves in response to this crisis. With the pontificate of Francis, there is no question that the institutional Catholic Church no longer fights against secular justice or shields alleged criminals from prosecution by the civil authorities. The Church actually welcomes secular justice, knowing now that without the intervention of public prosecutors many cases of sexual abuse in the Church would have never been addressed, investigated and punished.[ED] The Catholic Church is now totally on the defensive [ED] ― locally and globally; in Australia and in the Vatican; in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion. And it is on the defensive because of an uncovered history of the indefensible practices of covering up abusers, re-victimising victims, vilifying the media investigating the cases and shielding top clerics from justice ― sometimes by shipping them to the Vatican (beginning with the Archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, in 2004).

The point worth emphasising here is that the Catholic Church is now structurally, even if not explicitly, reliant on the verdicts of the secular courts to make determinations about the firing (and the hiring) of its cardinals and bishops[ED] This is why any talk of "zero tolerance" for abusers in the Church ― in the Church's ministries as well as among the Catholic clergy as ordained members ― becomes meaningless if it does not consider who determines if a member of the Church is a sexual abuser. The fact is that the fight against sexual abuse in the Church is, to a large extent, only as good as the rule of law in a given country or state.[ED]


Read that carefully and realise we've reached the situation deplored by St Paul. We need pagan courts to police the ranks.  We can't do it ourselves. Francis has had to call in the cops because the clergy institution has been unable to administer justice.


Now, also notice that the all the lurid stuff which transfixes the minds of the shallow is a secondary phenomenon to the primary evil, which has been the mutilation of justice, all under the high principle of Mercy. Also note, that it was a doctrine emphasised especially during the pontificate of JPII, so you can't stick this on Francis.

Chesterton understood what was going on. In Orthodoxy he wrote:
The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful. 

This was the big fact about Christian ethics; the discovery of the new balance. Paganism had been like a pillar of marble, upright because proportioned with symmetry. Christianity was like a huge and ragged and romantic rock, which, though it sways on its pedestal at a touch, yet, because its exaggerated excrescences exactly balance each other, is enthroned there for a thousand years........ .......Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the Pagan empire would have said, "You shall all be Roman citizens, and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent; the Frenchmen less experimental and swift." But the instinct of Christian Europe says, "Let the German remain slow and reverent, that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental. We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France."
Last and most important, it is exactly this which explains what is so inexplicable to all the modern critics of the history of Christianity. I mean the monstrous wars about small points of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word. It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you are balancing. The Church could not afford to swerve a hair's breadth on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of the irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful and some other idea would become too powerful.[ED] ....... Of these theological equalisations I have to speak afterwards. Here it is enough to notice that if some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness. A sentence phrased wrong about the nature of symbolism would have broken all the best statues in Europe. A slip in the definitions might stop all the dances; might wither all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter eggs. Doctrines had to be defined within strict limits, even in order that man might enjoy general human liberties. The Church had to be careful, if only that the world might be careless.

The Church has been careless and has become unbalanced. There is no doubt that the sexual abuse crisis has resulted in a crisis of faith among many. But here's the question, given a choice, is it better for God to let people lose the faith and become pagans that punish child abuse, or "faithful Christians" that are incapable of dealing with it because of "principled" forgiveness. Better the Samaritan than the Pharisee.

 What would a loving God do in such a circumstance?

For the Christian, any understanding of the secularisation process has to involve some element of Divine agency. From the Christian perspective God is not passive but active in human affairs. It may not be that the Church is dying because of modernism, it may be because there is something wrong with it, and God is mighty displeased. Modernism is a merely a correlate.

*BTW, George Pell is innocent. It was a stitch up.