Thursday, June 03, 2021

Intermission: Some Developments in the Catholic Church

Most people might not be aware that the Catholic Church has just updated its code of Canon Law. In itself it's not really a big deal but the reasons for doing so are very interesting. As I see it, it represents a  development in the thinking of some members of the hierarchy. Francis writes (via Google Translate):

In the past, the lack of perception of the intimate relationship existing in the Church between the exercise of charity and the recourse - where circumstances and justice so require - to sanctioning discipline has caused much damage. [ED: Understatement of the year!] This way of thinking - experience teaches - risks leading to living with behaviors contrary to the discipline of morals, whose remedy is not only exhortations or suggestions. This situation often carries with it the danger that with the passage of time, such behaviors become consolidated to the point of making it more difficult to correct and in many cases creating scandal and confusion among the faithful. This is why the application of penalties becomes necessary on the part of Pastors and Superiors.The negligence of a Pastor in having recourse to the penal system makes it clear that he does not fulfill his function correctly and faithfully, as I have expressly warned in recent documents, including the Apostolic Letters given in the form of a "Motu Proprio" 

Executive Summary: The Church emphasised Mercy to the criminal at the expense of Justice to the victims, with the predictable, to anyone with half a brain, consequences. This is the "theology" behind the sexual abuse saga in the Church.

Some of the commentary about the changes is also interesting. As one of the Vatican spokesmen said with regard to previous version of the code:

In many places, punishments were mentioned only as a possibility, and the whole text gave the impression that it was almost merciless to apply punishments.
John Paul II used to talk about the "contraceptive mentality" when dealing with his opponents on matters of sexual morals but here we have a clear example of the "kenotic mentality" when being applied matters of Justice and Mercy.  While the new changes are a welcome development, the problem is that this mentality is still strongly entrenched throughout all layers of the Catholic hierarchy and it is part of the "operating culture" of the institution. Francis himself, while to be applauded for this move, has internalised much of the spirit, especially with his attempts at  delegitimising the death penalty.  It's also an attitude also prevails in many other Christian denominations.

Justice and Mercy are fundamentally opposed concepts because mercy means sparing the criminal some of his just deserts, and the victim something that is owed to him.  The Church seems to have forgotten that Justice is always obligatory, while Mercy, discretionary, and only to be applied in the context of a greater good. 

Now what needs to be understood is that what produced this change in the Church's hierarchy was not "deep reflection, prayer and spiritual retreats", but a hostile secular world exposing plain the hypocrisy between belief and practice in the clergy. i.e. the Clergy had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this realisation.