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The Pope has Left the Building: Benedict XVI Gracefully Departs Amid Cloud of Scandal and Speculation

ITALY-VATICAN-POPE-HELICOPTER

Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger of Bavaria, the first German Pope since Victor who died in 1057 left office in a less than customary manner today. Unlike every one of his predecessors dating back to Celestine V who resigned in 1294 Gregory XII who resigned in 1414 to help end the Avignon schism he did not die in office.

Pope Benedict announced his resignation on February 11th and it stunned the Church and the world. Such an event had not occurred in nearly 600 years, over 700 years for one that resigned that was not under duress. Popes do not resign every day, it is not “normal” for those of us in the modern era. Benedict in his resignation letter cited his “lack of strength of mind and body” as his reason for resigning. After the lengthly suffering of his predecessor Pope John Paul II, who spent the last years of his papacy crushed under the weight of Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses leaving much of the day to day operations of the Church to the Curia led by Ratzinger, his friend and the head of the Office of the Congregation for the Faith, one could understand.

Benedict, now 85 years old, battling health concerns and under the increasing weight of scandals involving sexual abuse by clergy including Cardinal Roger Mahoney and Cardinal Michael Patrick O’Brien of the United Kingdom, the Vatican bank corruption and the “Vatileaks” scandal involving his butler resigned.

We probably know all of the factors that went into the resignation of Benedict. He is both lionized by Roman Catholic conservatives and vilified by those who resented his approach to the Church and its relation to the world. He seemed like a man out of his element as Pope, a contemplative theologian thrust by his office and relationship to his predecessor into the most high profile position in Christendom and for that matter in the religious world.

His legacy and impact will be debated and not really known for years because though no longer Pope he lives and his life story is not yet complete. The verdict of history and faith in the case of Pope Benedict XVI is not complete and it is foolhardy for one to attempt to access his Papacy until that life on this earth is ended. Likewise, it is unlikely baring the release of all information concerning Benedict as well as the various scandals in the church and his relationship to them and actions concerning them that we can know the full story.

I hope that Pope Benedict is able to continue his ministry as a former Pope in a manner that helps the Church heal and also be transparent. In this capacity it is possible that Benedict will have the chance to be a force for good that no Pope has ever had the chance, being the first to resign in so long.

Italy Vatican Pope

A Final Blessing at Castel Gandolfo 

Perhaps his resignation will be an inspiration to his successors as well as his fellow bishops not to simply remain in office because they can but instead attempt to listen to the Holy Spirit and the the people of God have to say. That being said there is the possibility that Benedict will become a “shadow Pope” influencing and dictating the course of the church remaining in a covent in Vatican City. I hope that will not happen. His words on his departure today and arrival at Castel Gandolfo if taken at face value indicate that he will be content to remain on the sidelines, but only time will tell. His story is not yet complete. As of now it appears that his departure is one of graceful humility and I pray that will be his legacy.

That being said it is up to the men that lead the Roman Catholic Church to be honest in dealing with the seemingly unending waves of scandal and corruption that seem to plague the Church. The time for cover ups has to end and the time for new beginnings, starting with repentance and renewal to begin.

Though I am not a Roman Catholic I will pray for Benedict and whoever his successor may be. I do hope that whoever that man is will be able to lead the church through the coming difficult days in an open and transparent manner and help lead the church to the renewal promised by the Gospel and opened again in Vatican II. There are far too many crisis in the Church and the world not to pray for this.

I hope that the next Pope, like Father Andrew Greeley’s fictional contender for the Papacy Luis Emilio Cardinal Menendez y Garcia says in the novel White Smoke: a Novel About the Next Papal Conclave (New York: Tom Doherty, 1996; pp. 140-143)

“It must be admitted honestly that many of our people have a negative impression of our institution, as of course do many who know us only from outside the Church. They view us as harsh and unbending, as narrow and uninformed, as arrogant and unsympathetic. Are we prepared to say that there are no reasons to justify that view of us? Are we prepared to say that there is nothing in our manner, our style, our institutional organization, our narrowness of vision which has given them that impression?

I for one am not ready to say those things. I candidly believe that we are our own worst enemies because we have often seem to worship not the Father in heaven but our own institutional being. We should not, my fellow Catholics, worship the Church, we should not make the Church an end in itself. The Church clearly is only a means. When the means gets in the way of the end it has become the object of idolatry. When we seem to want to impose that idolatry on others, we appear to many to be religious imperialists. Are we so sure that we never act like idolaters and religious imperialists?”

I think that the new Pope needs to be able to admit this and in doing so liberate the Church to do the work of the Gospel.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Bishop Jenky’s Obama and Hitler, Stalin, Bismarck and Clemenceau Comparison: Bad History, Bad Theology and Bad Politics

Bishop Daniel Jenky 

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.” Thomas Jefferson

I normally would not criticize a Roman Catholic Bishop for speaking out on he through were legitimate threats to the Catholic faith. However, when a fellow Christian cleric of any rank or denomination chooses to become a bad historian and use historical lies and distortions to demonize an opponent I as a clergyman and American must point it out. I have waited several days to publish this post and reworked it a number of times simply because I do, even if I disagree with them respect their office.

What sparked my ire was when Roman Catholic Bishop of the diocese of Peoria Illinois, Bishop Daniel Jenky wildly and stupidly overstepped his knowledge of history and American Religious Freedom. Bishop Jenky in his homily to a Catholic Men’s group during the Second Sunday of Easter Mass made this comment:

“In the late 19th century, Bismark (sic) waged his “Kulturkamf,” a culture war against the Roman Catholic Church, closing down every Catholic school and hospital, convent and monastery in Imperial Germany. Clemenceau, nicknamed “the priest eater,” tried the same thing in France in the first decade of the 20th Century. 

Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care. 

In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, President Obama – with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.

Now things have come to such a pass in our beloved country that this is a battle that we could lose, but before the awesome judgement seat of Almighty God this is not a war where any believing Catholic may remain neutral.”

I am a big defender of all religious freedom, even that of the prelates of the Roman Catholic Church to state the beliefs of their church clearly and without even the slightest fear of persecution. However I am not a fan of clerics using their pastoral role to become the partisan voice of any religious party. Bishop Jenky’s comments in his homily go well beyond voicing his disagreement with the Obama Administration, or for that matter with the policies of the Reagan and both Bush administrations who actually enunciated similar policies.  Likewise even more importantly he used the most vile of historical distortions to buttress his partisan opinion.

If President Obama was a Republican grousing for “pro-life” votes by giving lip-service to Evangelicals and Roman Catholics Jenky would never have said a word. However Obama’s problem is that he does not give the same deferential lip service to the anti-abortion groups in the Republican party that neither of the Bush’s or Reagan did. People forget that Ronald Reagan signed into law the most liberal abortion laws in the country prior to Roe v. Wade. George H.W. Bush was not only pro-choice but was a big backer of Planned Parenthood and despite some of his policies against abortion in the settings of military healthcare and in foreign aid programs did almost nothing other than to mouth empty platitudes in support of Pro-Life policies.

I find it fascinating to find the major Catholic figures in in conservative American politics, Paul Ryan and John Boehner are just as selective in their support of official Catholic teachings as are their Liberal counterparts that Bishop Jenky so roundly condemns.  It is what I call Conservative Cafeteria Catholicism. It was reported today that the American Council of Catholic Bishops wrote to express their concern about Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget plan. The believe that it contradicts church teaching regarding the responsibility of the Government to provide adequate services to the poor. Ryan claims that this budget based on his “Catholic Faith” but it stands in total opposition to Papal Encyclicals such as Renum Novarum (On Capital and Labor) issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 and the Second Vatican Council regarding the care for the poor. This was reiterated in 1991 on the 100th anniversary of Renum Novarum by Pope John Paul II. He called the church to advocate for the “preferential option for the poor.”  Today Speaker of the House John Boehner basically told the the Bishops to pound sand and that they, the Bishops “needed to see the big picture.” So I guess it really isn’t about defending the rights of the Church to such politicians just using selective parts of Church teaching to buttress their political support. But I don’t see Bishop Jenky calling either Boehner or Ryan “Judas.”

Bishop Jenky is a bad historian, but then that goes for the vast majority of clerics. He compares the Health Care Mandate in regard to contraception with the Kulturkampf  of Otto Von Bismarck.  In fact the the Kulturkampf was not just something that Bismarck and German philosophical and theological Liberals (Classic Liberalism) dreamed up simply because they opposed the theology of the Catholic Church.

What Jenky fails to mention is was the period of German Unification and Germany was opposed by Austria-Hungary which was a Catholic Empire hugely supported by the Vatican. The Catholic Church opposed the Protestant Kingdom of Prussia because it was weakening the power of Catholic Kingdoms throughout German speaking lands. It might be noted that at the same time the Vatican, which around the same time period was fighting the unification of Italy and the dissolution of the Vatican States.  It seems that throughout the 19th Century that the Popes, especially Pius IX and Pius X were constantly fighting the right of people to their own government and were willing to fund and support the Hapsburg Dynasty of Austria which was the direct descendant of the Holy Roman Empire.

Bishop Jenky’s comparison of President Obama with Hitler and Stalin is an act of demagoguery that other Bishops as well as politicians should condemn. They were dictators that launched wars of aggression on other nations as well as murdered millions of their own people. What Jenky condemns President Obama for is not in the same league.  The same is true about the comparisons to Clemenceau and Bismarck is also wrong headed and a selective and distorted use of history to demonize a political opponent. To compare President Obama to Hitler and Stalin is the tactic of the religious despots of Europe that our Founders so rightly rejected.

Our founders were quite right to push back hard against the church denominations of their day that strove to enhance their power and privilege by attempting to become state churches or become the privileged denominations.  Bishop Jenky seems to forget that the United States was not founded to be the vassal state of the Roman Catholic or for that matter any other Church denomination.  If we actually value religious liberty or for that matter the Gospel itself we need to remember little things like that no matter what men like Bishop Jenky say.

John Leland, the Baptist leader who fought for the separation of Church and State that both Jefferson and Madison enunciated said:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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High Crimes and “Miss” Demeanors: The Catholic Church Equates Women’s Ordination with Pedophilia

Note: This is a serious post that unfortunately has been on my mind for some time and I have not written about it until now.  It is important enough for me to interrupt my latest baseball post and I realize that some readers will not like what I say; I might even get some hate mail as I have gotten it for much less but here it goes.

It seems that the Roman Catholic Church is finally making some changes to policy and possibly Canon Law to ensure that clergy that are convicted of sexual assault, rape or pedophilia receive faster censure or maybe even punishment in the Church outside of what various national or state governments do.  Of course this came after years, albeit decades of chicanery where the Church either through omission or commission aided and abetted many of the men suspected, charged or convicted of sexual abuse, assault or other crimes against children as well as adults entrusted to their spiritual and sometimes their physical care.  It is a policy decision that moves in the right direction but seems to be perfunctory and in light of the actions of the church hierarchy over many decades to cover up crimes committed by clergy seem hollow and unrepentant and an insult to victims who still desire justice even as the Vatican continues to fight to keep clergy from being prosecuted by the courts of various nations.  To make matters worse it uses the same letter to equate the ordination of women as a “major crime against the Church” or in other words equivalent to pedophilia, child sexual abuse and a host of other crimes whose victims cry out for justice.  I just don’t get it.

Now before the reader thinks that I am on an anti-Catholic crusade be assured I am most assuredly not. I find even with all of its faults as well as recent retrenchment on many initiatives that were once heralded by Catholics and Protestants alike, much to be commended in the Roman Catholic Church. In fact in the late 1990s I explored the possibility of “crossing the Tiber” and wrote two very orthodox and even serious articles on the Church in the New Oxford Review. Those articles actually got me banned from writing for several years by a former Archbishop in my church who is now coincidently a Roman Catholic Layman who writes for Catholic Online.  Back then stuff was too Catholic for him, seems almost like Karma to me, now he defends the Curia and I question it.  Things have changed over the years.  Many of my closest friends in ministry have been and are Roman Catholic Priests, many of who feel as I do and fear retribution if they speak up on any of this.  Needless to say I am dumbfounded at the statements and actions coming out of the Vatican or directly from Pope Benedict XVI.  It almost seems that these actions and statements occur on a weekly basis. If you ask me such statements and attitudes make the Church hierarchy appear to be defensive, vengeful, arrogant, isolated, vindictive, petty and completely unaware of how these actions make the Church look to a watching world.  But then I wonder if they really care about this.

To be honest I don’t know what to make of this. The Church has survived 2000 years or so and survived a lot worse crisis than it is experiencing in this new millennium however it seems that the present administration in the Vatican has built a wall to “protect” itself from actual accountability and responsibility for the criminal acts of some of its clergy which in turn victimizes the victims of these men again and again.  The whole attitude and action seems without grace and heartless despite the formal statements from the Pope and other prelates, however as my old sophomore football coach Duke Pasquini used to say “your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”  Words are cheap and the Vatican’s failure to first discipline its own and second to turn them over to the state for temporal judgment is arrogance that Jesus would have condemned the Pharisees and Sadducees for, not what he expects of his Church to practice.  Actions speak louder than words and the Vatican’s actions damn it in the eyes of a watching world and this friends  is nothing to rejoice over or gloat about even for those that have an ax to grind against the church.  It is cause mourning for it taints people’s view of God in a decidedly negative way both believers and unbelievers, God gets the blame more often than not for the sins of his people.  If Benedict is serious about wanting a leaner church he will get it as ordinary Catholics, especially in the west will vote with their feet leaving only those that agree with this perverted view of the Church’s role in the world.

There are two things that I want to note before I end this little essay.  The first was the censure of Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna and the driving force behind the current Catechism of the Catholic Church, a renowned theologian, pastor who was considered as a potential Pope.  Schoenborn accused retired Cardinal Angelo Soldano, the former Vatican Secretary of State of blocking investigations requested by him of clerics accused or suspected of criminal sexual activity.  He also said that Soldano had caused “massive harm” when he dismissed claims of clerical abuse as “petty gossip” in his Easter sermon.  In censuring Schoenborn the Vatican announced that brother Cardinals could not criticize one another but only the Pope.  I am sorry but when the Church, any church silences dissent and even constructive criticism from its highest ranking prelates then there is a problem because it demonstrates that the leadership views the preservation hierarchy and the rights of the Papal state as more important than the Gospel and justice for the people of God.  Somehow I can hear Jesus call out “woe to you Scribes and Pharisees and all that.”  Rome is burning and the Pope and the Curia continue to try to douse the fire with gasoline.  No wait, napalm it’s stickier and burns better.  They are a disaster.

The second came the same day and in the same document that the Vatican will in making it easier to investigate sexual abuse in the church. The document declared it a Major crime against the Church” to ordain a woman as a Priest. Now this is not new the Vatican has been excommunicating women and those that ordained them for years.  However, declaring it to be a major crime puts it at the same level as pedophilia and other sexual crimes of clergy.  How do they compare?  Oh wait, female Priests put the souls of their parishioners in mortal danger even more so than male Priests who physically, emotionally and sexually abuse those in their charge.

The ordination of women may not be allowed by the Roman Catholic or for that matter my Church but to call it a major crime against the Church and equate it with pedophilia and sexual abuse of minors is abhorrent.  When the Roman Catholic Church hides behind diplomatic immunity as a nation state and claims religious persecution when someone inside or outside of its walls calls it to account it shows a cold and ruthless face to the world.  It says that it wants to punish those guilty of such heinous crimes but at the same time it shields them from criminal prosecution by the state without providing any discipline of its own.  The Vatican claims to be a state with all the rights and privileges thereof but refuses to put these criminals in its own jails and punish them.  In fact I say hire more Swiss Guards, open up a jail in the basement of the Vatican do a little rendition and torture in some third world dictatorship put them on the Papal G5 send them to Rome and give these criminals a life sentence in the catacombs somewhere.  Well that won’t happen so were left with the Vatican continuing to protect the guilty and if it does anything try them in ecclesiastical courts which do nothing more than mete out spiritual judgments that do absolutely nothing to help the victims.

Jesus I’m sure would be really welcome especially by hanging out with people like Mary Magdalene and even the Apostle Paul who seemed to allow women to have a lot of authority in places that he visited, people like Lydia in Philippi as well as Priscilla of Priscilla and Aquila fame. Interestingly enough many commentators and Scripture Scholars believe that Priscilla may have written the book of Hebrews and some make a very convincing case for this.  My Lord it is no wonder that people don’t want to have anything to do with the Christian faith when the mother Church of the west engages in such activities.

I really don’t know what to say when Catholics come to me about such things because I do not ever want to be accused of leading Catholics away from their Church or faith. As an Anglo-Catholic with strong pro-Roman leanings I encourage them to stay and be salt and light knowing that all Papacy’s end and magisterial eras come and go and that the Church has somehow made it 2000 years through worse crisis than the current day.  That is cold comfort to them and I wish that I could do better but it is what it is and unfortunately Rome continues to burn as the Pope and Curia call for more napalm with which to further engulf the church that they pretend to defend.  It seems that they are about to destroy the church in order to save it and I cannot understand where that fits in the context of God’s love and care for his people, especially the lost, the least and the lonely, those whose prayers like those of the sinner versus the Pharisee are heard by God.  God help the Roman Catholic Church and even more those victimized by its clergy in such ungodly ways.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Randall Terry and the Death of the Pro-Life Movement

Randall Terry continued his reckless campaign of self-promotion today following the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas City.  While continuing to refer to Tiller as a mass-murderer Terry spoke of the tactics that he believed were necessary for the anti-abortion movement to succeed.  At the National Press Club Terry is quoted by the Washington Post as saying:

Terry said abortion opponents “have to be confrontational” and “have to use highly-charged rhetoric” to advance their movement.

“The pro-life movement right now is at a crossroads,” Terry said at a midday news conference at the National Press Club. “We have become steadily politically irrelevant, our leadership is graying, retiring and dying, and many of the new leaders do not have the fortitude and clarity of thought to not flinch in an hour of crisis like this. So the words that I’m going to say today are specifically geared towards shoring up the pro-life movement.”

Terry has become a liability to the Pro-Life movement.  His actions and statements convey sentiments that are harming the movement as a whole.  He has driven those in the middle of the country who are pivotal to the success of legislative efforts away from mainstream and non-violent pro-life groups because all people see is Terry.  These groups have had some measure of success in their lawful and peaceful efforts to enact laws to limit abortion at the state level.

Terry’s comments today show that he is either totally ignorant of the effects of his rhetoric or is desperate to keep himself in the limelight.  I do not believe the Mr. Terry is ignorant of anything. He is a shrewd political operator who has kept himself in the limelight for over 20 years.  From his actions over the past few months in which he has protested Catholic Bishops in Washington DC and Baltimore being arrested for “leafleting” at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Washington DC.  Following this Terry went to Rome interviewed Archbishop Burke and then came back to the US to misuse the footage of Archbishop Burke against his fellow bishops, something for which Burke had to apologize to them. (Catholic News Agency Column at:  http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=717 )  His actions showed a callous disregard of his own Church and make me wonder if Terry believes himself superior to the Bishops of the Catholic Church.  I am wondering why he has not been silenced or censured by them for these actions.

Terry’s actions at Notre Dame to attempt to disrupt the graduation speech of President Obama only made Obama look more reasonable to many people than Terry.  Since Terry has been the “face” of the pro-life movement his every action, positive or negative affects the movement as a whole.  His protests at Notre Dame, where he and others attempted to shout down the President showed a reckless disrespect for the office of the President.  There was a time that Christians held the office of the President in respect even if they disagreed with the policies of the man in office.  This too, an interruption of the graduation of college students showed a lack of civility that has been his trademark.

Likewise fellow travelers in the anti-abortion movement including past and current leaders of Operation Rescue, the group that Terry founded and then left in 1991 years ago.  They and Terry have had a running battle of words which moved into to courts in 2008 when Terry sued them over the rights to the name Operation Rescue.  I will not weigh in on the merits of either side, except to note that this seems to be the battle over a name that brings with it real and potential monetary donors.

I do believe that Terry is wrong in stating that the pro-life movement must “be confrontational” and “have to use highly-charged rhetoric” to advance their movement. It is clear to me that the most successful tactics of the pro-life movement have been genuine efforts to provide alternative services to women undergoing unplanned pregnancies.  The best of these include actual care for the woman after delivery.  The other is the use of the legislative process.  While slow this is the legal way to change things in the United States.  As an example the actions of William Wilberforce to eliminate slavery in England used the parliamentary process.  It took time but slavery was eliminated without the trauma of the Civil War.

It is my belief that the type of protests favored by Terry to include the confrontation and highly charged rhetoric has contributed to the violence that occurred this week.  As such he is contributing to the marginalization and “political irrelevancy” of the pro-life movement.  In light of his actions I hope that Catholic Bishops will silence him for the good of the movement as a whole.  Fellow pro-life activists should distance themselves from him and find alternatives to the strategy of confrontation which do not compromise their beliefs but find a way to be redemptive and forgiving to those that practice abortions.

Unfortunately I think that what happened on Sunday was a watershed.  The Rubicon has been crossed.  As I said in my post yesterday, it will be the end of the pro-life movement because Terry and people like him will keep pushing until the entire movement is declared a domestic terrorist organization.  It is incumbent upon leaders of the pro-life movement to try to correct course now, if they do not it will be too late.  Daniel Kupelian or World Net Daily, with whom I seldom find any agreement states the danger quite well and pro-life leaders should take this and quickly change the tactics of their organizations.

“pretty soon some group may decide it can’t take it anymore. Its members might become so enraged that they conclude it’s time to start the next armed revolution. Seeing their nation being raped and envisioning no solution other than violence, they delude themselves that they’re the modern counterparts of America’s revolutionary founders. Making explosives and conspiring in secret – all the while quoting Jefferson to each other about “watering the tree of liberty” from time to time with “the blood of patriots and tyrants” – they murder some federal judges or blow up a government office building in an attempt to fight back. In reality, all they succeed in doing is murdering and maiming a bunch of their fellow Americans (or, as McVeigh did in Oklahoma City, massacring a room full of toddlers in daycare – which he later coldly termed “collateral damage”).

And what would follow? A massive official crackdown on “domestic terrorists” and a severe assault on freedom in America.

Amazing what hatred can accomplish, isn’t it? Exactly the opposite of what was supposedly intended. The “dark side of the force” is very clever.

As the blood-drenched, vengeance-driven French Revolution proved, when “patriots” are full of hate, they’re no better than the corrupt government they’re rebelling against – and maybe worse. Therefore, whether their uprising succeeds or fails, either way they usher in a new “reign of terror.” (See World Net Daily: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=99787 )

Peace, Steve+

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