By Jerry Slevin
Note: This article was originally published on Jerry Slevin's blog Christian Catholicism.
Will a taboo bring down the 'Roman Holy Empire'?
The escalating scandal of priests sexually abusing children, and the resulting increasing legal pressures on the Vatican, appears to be threatening the very survival of the “Roman Holy Empire”. This mythical medieval concept supports the essential foundational claim that seeks unsuccessfully to justify historically Vatican hierarchical power. The Pope, as “Supreme Pontiff” for life and the “semi-divine infallible Vicar of Christ”, along with his “Imperial Staff” of Vatican Cardinals, have evidently pursued an imperial “top-down” policy for centuries, in secrecy and despite the rule of law, that seems directed too often at enhancing the power and wealth of senior Vatican officials and their subservient Cardinals and Bishops worldwide.
The Vatican implements this strategy mainly at the expense of trusting and generous lay Catholics, including their many children who continue to suffer from priest sexual abuse. Various prosecutors and survivors’ lawyers internationally are now increasingly challenging the Roman Holy Empire’s strategy with enhanced prospects for more success, in national courts and governmental investigations, as well as at the independent International Criminal Court.
The Vatican’s strategy centers on claiming monopolistic control over a “unique Eucharist” that purportedly can be offered to Catholics only by “ontologically pure celibate male priests”. These priests receive long theological preparation, but work for low wages, under the rigid control of well rewarded and exceedingly obedient Cardinals and Bishops. These hierarchs also usually serve for life in very comfortable surroundings, provided they zealously follow Vatican orders, including those relating to punishing prophetic voices among priests and nuns that could undercut absolute papal authority. A Jesuit from South America, for example, was just silenced for recently questioning a point in the Pope’s new Jesus book, even though the Jesuit relied for his point on the work of the same Scriptural scholar the Pope refers to favorably in his book. So much for the papal pleas for “religious liberty”! Liberty for anonymous Vatican officials, but not for Jesuit scholars. Really?
“Pure priests” are absolutely essential for promoting hierarchical fundraising and political influence among the docile Catholic faithful; hence, Bishops are pressured by the Vatican to supply and protect a continuous stream of priests at all costs to sustain this desired fundraising and influence. Indeed, the resulting absolute priest protection policies, apparently even some that employ illegal cover-ups at the expense of innocent child sexual abuse victims, are at the heart of the growing threat to the Roman Holy Empire.
Bishops in many countries must staff parishes with a diminishing domestic priest pool. Bishops are forbidden by the Vatican from seeking available married or female Catholic priests, since permitting these “impure priests” risks undercutting papal “mystical power claims” to infallibility, given prior papal statements by the current Pope and his immediate predecessor on the purported “divine mandate” requiring the “pure priesthood of celibate males” only. Apparently, the need for more priests, especially very “obedient” ones, helps explain the Pope’s disproportionate efforts to solicit support from rigid and controversial groups of “traditionalist” priests, like those involved in Opus Dei, the Legion of Christ and the Society of St. Pius X, as well as the Pope’s unecumenical efforts to “poach” dissident Anglican priests.
Hence, notwithstanding the decades’ old worldwide scandal of priest sexual abuse of children, Bishops still are effectively, and even increasingly, under Vatican pressure to accept some questionable seminarians and many unsuitable foreign priests, and shockingly still to retain suspected sexual predators, whenever feasible, it appears. This blatant clericalism was just reinforced by the appointment of a new Vatican chief prosecutor of predatory priests, who had served under Boston’s infamous Cardinal Law. The new prosecutor reportedly has a reputation for being more “pro accused priest” than many other canon lawyers.
Moreover, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Chaput appears still to be carrying accused priests that his predecessor, Cardinal Rigali, suspended over a year and a half ago. And Cardinal Rigali surely was not one that suspended priests lightly, as amply shown at the recent criminal trial convicting his long time subordinate, Monsignor Lynn, of child endangerment.
The billions of dollars expended by U.S. Bishops relating to legal claims of abuse survivors that result, at least in material part, from the Vatican’s “anti-children” policy appear currently to be just another “cost of doing business” for Bishops to be funded either by trusting Catholics’ contributions or by cost-savings from closing more Catholic churches and schools. Paying large settlements that keep Bishops’ incriminating files sealed appears acceptable to survivors’ lawyers, not too surprisingly given their usual percentage fee arrangements, but also apparently to many Bishops, so long as the Bishops can be assured of avoiding criminal prosecution for child endangerment by making the large payments.
Avoiding criminal prosecution appears, however, to be becoming more difficult for Bishops to do. This prospect potentially poses a very serious threat to the Roman Holy Empire. For example, Philadelphia’s Cardinal Bevilacqua apparently avoided prosecution recently only by being terminally ill, not a “first choice defense” for most hierarchs presumably. Boston’s Cardinal Law apparently only avoided local prosecutors earlier by fleeing to Rome and getting immunity protection from the Vatican, not likely to be available any longer to many other hierarchs. Kansas City’s Bishop Finn was, of course, recently convicted, but got a “soft plea deal” and still seems, nevertheless, to remain for now in good standing with the Vatican.
Will a new pope save the church?
Voting Cardinals know that a new Pope is on the horizon, ending an era of Popes who attended the Second Vatican Council but were beholden for their elections to powerful Vatican Cardinals who thwarted key Council structural reforms overwhelmingly approved by over 2,000 Cardinals and Bishops from around the world. The present providential opportunity may now enable these Cardinals and all Catholics, as the People of God revitalized by the Council, to implement Council structural reforms that Vatican Cardinals have effectively blocked for a half-century.
The recent October Roman Synod was fully “Vatican orchestrated” with carefully pre-selected Cardinals’ and Bishops’, who generally and amazingly ducked the monumental abuse scandal. This Synod was the latest example of the Vatican Cardinals’ success in neutralizing the power-sharing arrangements between the Pope and worldwide Bishops that over 2.000 “Vatican II Fathers” naively thought they had overwhelmingly and definitively approved in 1965 before leaving the Council.
Will voting Cardinals soon act to save the Catholic Church from its present shameful and deteriorating condition, even if some Cardinals may do so mainly to assure their own survival? Or will they instead foolishly choose to remain subject to the control of a corrupt and ruthless Vatican administration that increasingly scandalizes Catholics worldwide, while also intimidating and/or picking off isolated Cardinals, Bishops, priests and members of religious orders, especially female ones, who object to the Vatican’s self-serving strategy?
The world’s Catholics will be watching closely the Cardinals’ actions in choosing a new Pope. If the Cardinals fail to act decisively here, many of the world’s Catholics will likely vote with their feet, as many other millions of Catholics who have left the Catholic Church in disgust in recent years already have? Many of these Catholics will likely also demand governmental investigations following the lead of almost 90 % of Australian Catholics who, according to polls, are supporting their Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in her bold establishment of a national royal commission to investigate organizational child sexual abuse, including in the Australian Catholic Church.
Recently, also, many U.S. Catholics and other U.S. citizens have begun the inevitable push to get President Obama to set up a comparable national investigation commission in the U.S.A. Following the Pope’s disastrous misstep recently in trying to help tax-avoiding Republican plutocrats defeat the President in his recent re-election campaign, why would President Obama, who has spoken out strongly against the organizational sexual abuse of defenseless children, not act here? Moreover, the Pope’s U.S. plutocrat allies just received a major tax increase and may not be returning Vatican calls these days, given the electoral defeat they just received relying too heavily on the Pope’s well funded, but very counter-productive, anti-contraception crusade, it appears.
The Catholic Church likely will soon either reform itself voluntarily or be reformed involuntarily by prosecutors applying international human rights law to protect defenseless children. Either way, it will likely be reformed soon. Worldwide Cardinals sadly and unwisely may again let their Vatican counterparts dictate to them. Notwithstanding, Catholic parents are fed up with priests with impunity raping their children, while insensitive and childless celibates in the Vatican waft mystical smokescreens about the “ontological superiority” of priests. It is time to end this pernicious scholastic nonsense and to protect innocent children honestly and effectively.
Catholics may soon finally eliminate their Church’s coercive and corrupt imperial structure and return to the Church’s original consensual and credible democratic structure with leaders who are once again accountable to the faithful. The consensual Catholic Church structure the Apostles left behind served the original Catholics well. This structure also reflects much better the spirit of God’s loving rule that Jesus revealed to the Apostles than does the hierarchical structure imposed coercively by Roman Emperors in the Fourth Century and that still shamefully continues in Rome. Moreover, modern technology among Bishops themselves, as well as with the Catholic faithful, can make this restored consensual leadership structure function even more efficaciously than it did for Catholics in the post-Apostolic era.
This may be the last chance for any Pope and the Cardinals and Bishops to salvage their rapidly disappearing moral authority that most Catholics once respected. Even in countries with large numbers of Catholic voters, perceptive political leaders have begun to challenge increasingly previously mandated papal positions, for example, on contraception and same sex marriage. These political leaders know well that more Catholic voters are regularly disregarding papal mandates, as respect for the Vatican declines in light of the ceaseless media reports of child abuse scandal cover-ups and financial corruption and incompetence at the Vatican Bank.
The Roman Holy Empire has survived since Emperor Constantine for almost 1,700 years. It has survived despite the violently executed Reformation that failed to reform the Church sufficiently. But the taboo against sexually abusing children is more powerful than opposition to selling indulgences. This Holy Empire has even survived democratically inspired Revolutions that by 1918 helped end all other European absolute monarchies, but still left the papal monarchy intact. The democratic revolution has now reached the Vatican.
It clearly appears that the Roman Holy Empire may now be in its final days as the mandates of the democratic rule of law are being applied increasingly to alleged Vatican misconduct relating to endangering children. The previously unaccountable Vatican administration is facing growing challenges from the application of international human rights laws. These challenges are likely to compel the Vatican and worldwide Cardinals and Bishops against their personal preference, but in their legal self-interest, to reform radically the Catholic Church’s centralized hierarchical structure and to discard the contrived theological and clearly unhistorical positions underpinning it.
The Vatican’s administration’s failure to address the abuse problem effectively to date, and the prevalence of the current code of silence, or “omerta”, on child abuse matters, reported last February by the Vatican’s former chief prosecutor before he was “promoted out” to Malta, suggest that the Vatican administration is incapable of curtailing abuse sufficiently itself, unless legally compelled to do so. If Vatican officials will not even discuss the priest child abuse problem openly among themselves and with their own prosecutor, how can they possibly resolve this continuing problem?
Of course, these Vatican officials likely are aware their abuse related discussions could come back to haunt them in a future criminal proceeding. Presumably, their lawyers have so advised them. For example, Philadelphia’s Monsignor Lynn testified extensively about his boss, Cardinal Bevilacqua’s misdeeds. Perhaps someone, for example, even the Pope’s mistreated butler, may testify against senior Vatican officials, possibly even against the Pope himself. For example, what more does the butler know about the documents the Pope reportedly marked, “Destroy!”
Will Catholics be able soon to select leaders who they can really respect, and who will listen to them even if they are not major donors? Will Jesus’ clear mandate of the “First” serving the “Last” finally be the Catholic Church’s policy once again soon, by force of international law no less? Will Catholic Church leaders now be able again boldly and widely to speak “truth to power” on behalf of victims of injustice in all forms, without having to soften their message for some questionable organizational or plutocratic advantage pushed by Vatican intimidation?
Until now, an unaccountable papal monarch generally has ruled this Holy Empire. Often during the last millennium, he has been selected to rule the Catholic Church absolutely for life by an opportunistic and self-interested elite “male club” dominated by a clique of Roman Cardinals. Is this hierarchical structure about to end? Will the Catholic Church finally return to its original consensual Gospel structure that the Apostles left behind and that was mainly followed for almost three centuries, until Constantine and his successors began to coercively commandeer the Church for Roman imperial purposes beginning in the Fourth Century?
To be continued.
Related Off-site Links:
In Los Angeles, a Victory for Truth – National Catholic Reporter (February 2, 2013).
Mahony Defends Legacy on Church Abuse in Blog – Gillian Flaccus (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, February 2, 2013).