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Fearing The Faithful: Catholic Sex Abuse Summit Is Rorschach Test For Pope

Fearing The Faithful: Catholic Sex Abuse Summit Is Rorschach Test For Pope

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On April 27, 2014, it seemed like Pope Francis’ pronouncement to canonize Blessed Pope John Paul II, and Pope John XXIII, commemorated a turning point for the Roman Catholic Church. “These were two men of courage,” Francis declared, “and they bore witness before the church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.” However, a wise fool cannot run from his past when shame trips his own two feet. The earth-shaking resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former Archbishop of Washington D.C., and member of the hierarchy, became a sign of impending divine justice for long-suffering victims at the supplicating hands  of the Catholic Church. Before the world could exhale, less than three weeks later, old wounds tore open for Catholics absorbing the weight of the devastating Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report verifying that 300 priests sexually abused over one thousand children.

History repeated itself.

For the faithful, fresh hot tears unleashed a repressed rage over a never-ending discomfiture. The Roman Catholic Church is still unclean. After seventeen years, the church’s detritus of deceit is an unshakable stigma, dogging the Vatican, and the faithful. Billions of Catholics, now on the warpath, demand unrelenting action from the church as the pope’s first global sexual abuse summit draws near, this February. Restoring confidence with the faithful is now at critical mass for the Catholic Church, and Francis’ Rorschach test as pope.

“They contained credible allegations against over three hundred predator priests. Over one thousand child victims were identifiable, from the Church’s own records. We believe that the real number — of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward — is in the thousands,” states the report. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro displayed no mercy while baring the church’s perfidy to the world. “They protected their institution at all costs. As the grand jury found, the church showed a complete disdain for victims.” Shapiro stressed that the conspiracy to protect predator priests “stretched in some cases all the way up to the Vatican.” To comprehend the depth and overwhelming severity of the Vatican’s treachery, flash back to 2002 with a fresh new set of eyes.

Like the grand jury’s report, the Boston Globe Spotlight team uncovered over 300 cases of clerical sexual abuse, and also that for over thirty years, the Archdiocese of Boston conspired to shuffle pedophile priests like a magician’s card trick, imperiling children throughout the United States. At the present time, forty-five states, along with Pennsylvania, plan to pursue criminal investigations against the archdiocese. Without question, the church’s reputation for integrity among the faithful is dire. Sunday mass attendance shows bald spots in the pews, indicating a threadbare flock willing to punish the parishes by famishing the church’s collection plates. According to the most recent Gallup poll, only 31% of Catholics view the church favorably, an all-time low compared to 49% in 2004 after the first crisis hit the church.

For bruised cradle Catholics like Scott Day of Las Vegas, Nevada, patience over the church’s negligence has worn down to a nub. “[They should] commit to excommunicating and defrocking at a minimum those who protected the guilty.” Even that is not enough for the conservative husband, and father of three. “[Out] the guilty instead of hiding them away at another parish so they can assault [children] again.”

While Day holds onto his faith by a fingernail, baby boomer Laurie Lackey, from Appleton, Wisconsin, recalls growing up Catholic in the sixties. The church’s strict ideology became a traumatizing hell for the Special-Ed teacher. “As an adult, I [now] see the harshness of the messages instilled by the priests, and nuns at my [Catholic] elementary school. Obey without question or explanation was expected.” Lackey calls the sexual abuse scandal in the church “abominable,” affirming her decision to reject Catholic philosophy permanently. “Anyone in any [religion] who abuses someone sexually should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” The Vatican’s inability to hold themselves accountable still remains a most disturbing question. The painful answer lies somewhere in between the laxity of Blessed Pope John Paul II, and the crusade over the third Vatican ecumenical council.

“I think there was an information gap, particularly between the United States and the Holy See in the first months of 2002,” said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Paul II’s former press adviser in 2014. In the face of his massive, global popularity, God’s athlete, far removed from grasping the unending abuse crisis in America, debased himself, and the Church’s tenuous image. Looking back, Navarro-Valls’ unforced elucidations to shield the not-so-saintly-Blessed John Paul II from the scandal turned out to be low-hanging fruit. “So, the pope was not living this crisis in real time as we were in the United States, but once he became fully informed in April 2002, he acted decisively to deal with these problems.” Navarro-Walls’ justification for the unconscionable negligence proves to be problematic now that the grand jury’s destructive report contradicts the Vatican’s acts of contrition.

“We know that the bulk of the discussion in this report concerns events that occurred before the early 2000s. That is simply because the bulk of the material we received from the dioceses concerned those events. The information in these documents was previously kept hidden from those whom it most affected. It is exposed now only because of the existence of this grand jury.”

At the Dallas Charter for The Protection of Children and Young People in 2002, U.S. bishops swore to a zero tolerance policy to report abusive priests, end the cover-up of clerical abuse, and raise public awareness throughout the church. Yet some of the bishops in the hierarchy shillyshallied in pledging themselves to the same zero tolerance policy. “Our impression is that quite a few bishops did move very quickly after Dallas to remove abusive priests who were in the ministry, others have said they want to see the Vatican’s reaction,” said Msgr. Francis Maniscalco at the time. “But that shouldn’t leave the impression that priests are being left in situations where they can harm children.” Au contraire. The grand jury’s devastating account proves the admissions from Msgr. Maniscalco were less than truthful. “Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Until that changes, we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal.”

The overwhelming evidence against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ incessant, and intentional, deception is a compelling indictment against the church. Clearly, if Pope Francis is sincere in rebuilding trust among the lay faithful, he must gut the hierarchy after the summit. Maniscalco’s comments from 2002 tarnish Blessed John Paul II’s legacy as pope, and cast a black cloud over Francis’ papacy. What did the pope know and when did he know it? “One of the important decisions was to give the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responsibility for handling the cases,” said Navarro-Valls. However, the caveat for the church to operate only on good faith was doomed to fail because one of the charter’s draftees was none other than the disgraced former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Like a Machiavellian, mustache-twirling villain, McCarrick shrewdly added his assistance to inscribing the rules of the charter, leaving himself, and the church hierarchy, immune from any consequence. Only the pope holds authority to discipline a member of the hierarchy. The revelations of McCarrick as one of the architects of the charter to protect young children, is the equivalent of leaving a fox to guard the henhouse. “The New York Times revealed that some in the church hierarchy had known for decades about accusations that he had preyed on men who wanted to become priests, sexually harassing and touching them.”

Benedict XVI during his ill-timed reign never punished anyone in the hierarchy. “These cases and others require more than apologies,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, said after McCarrick’s resignation. “They raise up the fact that when charges are brought regarding a bishop or a cardinal, a major gap still exists in the church’s policies on sexual conduct and sexual abuse.”

In 2010, abused Irish Catholics fervently scolded Benedict’s miscarriages of justice, prompting him to state in a in a seven-page letter the church’s disgrace and repetitive inaction. “I know nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed, and your dignity violated,” Benedict acknowledged. Although Benedict openly condemned culpable bishops by stating “grave errors of judgment were made, and failures of leadership occurred,” the church’s infinite duplicity to shield the Lord’s flock is a lasting stain on their legacy.

By 2012, under the direction of Benedict, church communities schooled over 2.1 million Catholics on sexual abuse prevention by submitting staff and volunteers to FBI criminal background checks and educating roughly 5.2 million children. Because of guardrails in place, allegations of clerical abuse had dropped, spearheading a new philosophy that the Catholic Church took responsibility for its sins. The laity carried the brunt of the church’s shame by trusting its vow to end the secrecy and safeguard children. It had appeared at face value that the Vatican’s quest to re-establish trust proved successful, until now. The question asked, time and again, is why is the church protecting pedophiles within the church? The intolerable answer is like venturing into a labyrinth, blindfolded in pitch darkness.

The Vatican is a government, with the Roman Curia as the central agency of directorial establishments for the Holy See. They manage affairs and daily operations while acting in the pope’s name for the Catholic Church. “The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary: the Pope’s ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God’s Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism…”~ Pope Benedict XVI.

The Doctrine of Faith stands as eternal power to modify the church’s policy on morality. In 1959, Blessed Pope John XXIII stunned the hierarchy and astonished Catholics by establishing Vatican II, the first ecumenical council virtually in a hundred years. The council’s objective: to modernize the church’s future primarily by ending Catholic anti-Semitism post World War II. The pope’s reasoning was to “throw open the windows and let the fresh air of the Spirit blow through.”

In hopes of restoring faith with the laity, critics outside and inside the church are press-ganging Francis to ratify Vatican III, so that the church, at last, ends clergy abuse secrecy, and ushers in a new era of change. Francis’ credence for the third Vatican counsel means, “The time has come to abandon all intolerance. We must recognize that religious truth evolves and changes.” Francis asserts, “Truth is not absolute or set in stone.”

However, like the polarizing culture wars in the west, inside the Holy See, there’s an ongoing civil war within the Roman Curia. Two ideological tribes clash over the soul of the Catholic Church. Progressive cardinals side with Pope Francis while conservative hard-liners side with American Cardinal Raymond Burke, and Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former papal nuncio to Washington D.C. In the aftermath of Pennsylvania’s grand jury’s report, Vigano, a prickly detractor of Francis’, transcribed an eleven-page account, alleging that the pope himself suppressed sexual abuse cases connected to former Archbishop Donald Wuerl, and disgraced former Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Although unproven, Vigano’s declaration set off a conflagration through Rome by challenging the pope to resign. He claims that members of the Roman Curia are, “in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality,” and “belong to the same current, albeit with a different ideology.” Supporters of Francis believe that since Vigano resigned in April 2016, his unfounded accusations embody a longstanding resentment for Francis and the progressive wing of the church. So, what could bring on such suspicious innuendo, and baying acrimony inside the haunted halls of the Vatican? Enter Pope Francis’ most astute critic, American Cardinal Burke, and rabble-rouser, former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

“We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which, if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with out beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s startling.” Bannon, on Skype, continued: “A barbarity that would completely eradicate everything we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.”

As U.S. attorneys-general move to open criminal investigations similar to Pennsylvania’s grand jury, the embattled pope dropped a tack hammer on the hierarchy at his Christmas address. “To those who abuse minors, I would say this: Convert and hand yourself over to human justice and prepare for divine justice,” he warned. “The church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case…that must never happen again.” The pope did not stop there. In January, Francis sent a seven-page letter to the Conference of U.S. Bishops’s summit in Chicago. With unruffled leadership, Francis’ epistle acts act more like a proclamation, priming the bishops to settle their cultural differences for the sake of catholicity, in order to move towards a new direction for the church. There are two valuable passages where Francis hints at just that. “A personal and collective awareness of our limitations reminds us, as Saint John XXIII said, it must not be imagined that authority knows no bounds. It cannot be aloof in its discernment and in its efforts to pursue the common good,” and, “This approach demands of us the decision to abandon a modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or scold in our relationships, and instead to make room for the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer.”

Whether Francis’ aptitude for change transpires remains to be seen. However, there’s a reason to believe; he plans to use the summit as a starting point for his vision for the Catholic Church’s future. “Pope Francis is calling for a change of culture, that is, a reform in how we approach ministry, for, in addition to being a crime, sexual abuse of minors by clerics is about the corruption of our ministry,” reveals Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago in an exclusive interview with Cruxnow. “This is why this meeting has to be understood as part of a long-term commitment to reform, realizing that one meeting will not solve every issue.”

For the aggrieved faithful, like Scott Day, the church must take active measures against predators. “[They should] turn over all evidence of wrongdoing to law enforcement, as a minimum, but I would be okay with chemical and physical castrations as well.”

Pope Francis’ sexual abuse summit in Rome takes place February 21-24, 2019.


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27 thoughts on “Fearing The Faithful: Catholic Sex Abuse Summit Is Rorschach Test For Pope

  1. I am, as an interested outsider, fascinated to see the Roman church working so hard to self-immolate. It has driven my niece to swim the channel to Canterbury. I suspect that a lot of liberal Catholics will do the same, while Evangelical churches will merrily poach from the conservative wing.

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  2. I’m genuinely unsure what we are Rorschaching here… but two things.

    One, we can’t talk about the February summit as some sort of significant Papal undertaking without accounting for the 2013 Papal Commission on Sexual Abuse that has mostly fallen apart; perhaps most pathetically with Cardinal Sean O’Malley deferring on letters sent to him on the McCarrick affair because they didn’t involve Children.

    Again, I’m not sure what that Rorschachs as, but I’m also not sure what you’re reporting on… unless its just to let us know there’s another committee getting together to “Start” the journey… again… But, the Pope also wants us to downplay what it is we’re doing

    There are certainly things afoot, and factions at play… but the article doesn’t come close to touching on them.

    And second, can you help me understand this paragraph?

    In hopes of restoring faith with the laity, critics outside and inside the church are press-ganging Francis to ratify Vatican III, so that the church, at last, ends clergy abuse secrecy, and ushers in a new era of change. Francis’ credence for the third Vatican counsel means, “The time has come to abandon all intolerance. We must recognize that religious truth evolves and changes.” Francis asserts, “Truth is not absolute or set in stone.”

    Among my pet peeves are internet articles that use links to bolster claims that are contravened by the link… to whit, the CWR article’s very next sentence is “I first heard of this satirical piece, published on the Diversity Chronicle site (which carries this descriptive/disclaimer: “The original content on this blog is largely satirical”), about two weeks ago. A friend forwarded me the link, and explained that several of his non-Catholic friends and co-workers were touting it as real “news”

    Divsersity Chronical original satirical article. Are you doubling down on the satire ironically? I’m genuinely confused.

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    • “…Cardinal Sean O’Malley deferring on letters sent to him on the McCarrick affair because they didn’t involve Children.”

      This is where a lot of people get confused. Is the issue sexual impropriety in general, sexual abuse of minors, or covering up sexual abuse of minors? This seems to be an example of the first. This article seems to toggle back and forth between the second and third. For example, the PA investigation, IIRC, found only three suspected abusers active since the reforms of the early 2000’s. Now, that’s not to say that abuse has stopped since then – people typically take years to come forward. And I personally want to punch myself for typing “only three”. But there’s very little to indicate an ongoing pattern of abuse and cover-up rather than an ongoing lack of accountability for those who did cover things up.

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      • That’s right; the dawning understanding among the laity that clerical sexual incontinence is widespread (much more so than we thought), includes the hierarchy, is quite possibly tolerated, and maybe even encouraged… that is the post-2002 revelation.

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    • Re: 2013 Papal Commission on Sexual Abuse, of course we can. The commission failed to address that the hierarchy concealed abuse within the clergy-primarily Donald Wuerl, and McCarrick. You cannot have a commission without detailing that those in charge absolve themselves or their “brothers” by leaving it to Francis to ask for their resignation.

      Second: aside from your personal feelings, there’s this article from 2013

      And here is this one from just a week ago. Which, I agree.

      No satire, just serious discussion. Thank you for your comments.:)

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  3. I’m not sure they’re in enough pain yet to really reform. The core issues aren’t just that priests-are-human-and-ergo-sexual-creations, but also due process.

    Due process is the opposite of everything they believe in and have built for the last 2000 years. You have due process because people (specifically including priests) are failable (i.e. can’t be trusted), prone to weaponize everything they can get their hands on, the leadership became leadership by wanting power and doing good things for the institution, and various people inside the institution will want to cover for their allies.

    Accepting civil due process would mean subordinating themselves and god to the civil authorities because the church and god can’t deal with this correctly. It’d also be giving up huge amounts of intuitional and personal power.

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      • My general impression is the civil system wants to deal with this better. It certainly has people whose full time jobs are to deal with this.

        The church still wants to have its own system separate from that. The Priests should be in charge of dealing with this, which instantly means extremely serious conflicts of interest and lack of skill. The Church and it’s interests wouldn’t just have a seat at the table, it’d be the primary consideration. This is the same problem Universities have when the U administration has to deal with this issue.

        I don’t see much difference between the Church wanting to do it’s own thing and the Church wanting the entire problem to just go away because it’s not a serious issue to them.

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    • Agreed, which is why critics of the church want Vatican III to implement those changes to due process. Only way it can be done is through the ecumenical council. The last time was 1959 when Pope John XXIII implemented the council to end Catholic anti-Semitism. In regards to clergy abuse within the hierarchy, Francis uses similar context In his letter to the U.S. Conference of Bishops at their retreat in Chicago. I think the parallels between Francis and Blessed John XXIII are striking.

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  4. Though it doesn’t solve the problem that’s been festering, for years I’ve been saying the Catholic Church needs to start allowing ordination of women and married men. The priesthood has been seen for years as a haven for men with such inclinations, and increasing the ranks as suggested will allow the Church to me more selective about who it ordains.

    This problem is of a piece with campus rapes. Why are these institutions allowed to handle accusations of crimes internally? Are there not mandatory reporter laws that cover this sort of stuff?

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    • Catholic theology presents serious barriers to ordaining women. The church could, however, start ordaining married men without a theological hiccup. This is essentially a matter of financial policy, with the decision having been made going on a millennium back. That being said, this would require some serious rethinking of finances. The entire system is set up on the assumption that the clergy have no offspring (or at least, as the old joke goes, none to speak of).

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      • There’s been a soft undercurrent suggesting that perhaps ordaining older men (post-50) would provide a transitory compromise. I can’t say that it is a groundswell, but my wife brought it up unbidden just last week. Pope Francis is not onboard at this time… except to alleviate extreme priest shortages in *very* far away places. Presumably places further away than far, far away. But not, so far, as a remdedial step for priestly incontinence. Coming from the Eastern Church, I don’t have the same ‘fear’ of a married clergy as most of my Western compatriots, so I’m of the opinion that some married clergy will enter the ranks over the next 100 years.

        {I personally suspect that BXVI thought the Ordinariate would accomplish this – and more – but that baby seems to have gone missing in a perhaps fatal way}

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        • Regarding the Ordinariate, that was an interesting failed attempt at poaching. While there has long been a trickle of Anglicans swimming the Tiber, it always received more attention than merited by its size. There are two obstacles to its growing larger.

          One is that, in the American context, Episcopalian parishes have a lot of freedom within certain limits. Leaving the Episcopal church is beyond those limits, and given that the diocese usually holds the deed to the real property, any parish that tries to leave will learn a lesson in real estate law that they won’t like. But short of that, if the parish is financially sound the diocese doesn’t have a lot of leverage over it. This is pretty much entirely unlike how the Roman Catholic church is organized (and why the two differ greatly, even though the organizational structures look almost identical on paper). So any Episcopal priest contemplating converting to Catholicism is contemplating putting himself under much stricter discipline. The appeal of this turns out not to be widespread.

          The second is that the conservative Anglicans are mostly upset over culture war sexuality issues: priests and bishops who are insufficiently hetero and/or have too many X chromosomes. Now look at the most Roman-like wing of the Anglican church, the “Anglo-Catholics” a/k/a the Oxford movement. This is not the wing leaving the Episcopal church over culture war issues. Why not? Ever been to an Anglo-Catholic service? I commend it. It is absolutely fabulous ecclesiastical theater. Anti-gay culture war fights do not resonate with this group.

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        • …so I’m of the opinion that some married clergy will enter the ranks over the next 100 years.

          Does the Church have that long? https://news.gallup.com/poll/232226/church-attendance-among-catholics-resumes-downward-slide.aspx

          Also, I’ve read of some married Episcopal priests converting to Catholicism and remaining in the priesthood. Here’s an article about one: https://www.uscatholic.org/church/2012/06/how-i-met-your-father-married-episcopalians-becoming-catholic-priests.

          Ironically, he left the C of E for conservative reasons (objection to ordination of women and gays), only to enter the Catholic priesthood in the most liberal of ways.

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          • Does the Church have that long?
            Yes.

            Regarding married clergy, yes again… the Western Church already has married clergy… the entire Ukrainian Catholic Church, for example… plus the Ordinariate I mentioned above, and all miscellany of converted former clergy. There’s no doctrinal requirement for a celibate clergy… it was an act of prudence to cleanse and purify the dissolution of the clergy in the 12th century. If we need to return to a married clergy to cleanse and purify the dissolution of the clergy in the 21st century, we could do by Papal decree. No council required, but likely a council would be called to express unity in changing a 1,000 year old practice.

            I’ll also note that support for/against a married clergy isn’t a liberal/conservative divide… I think there’s a liberal/conservative divide on *what* a married clergy would *do* for the Church (somewhat unknowable) or *how* a married clergy would come to be (i.e. simply ordaining existing deacons vs. a new training path in addition to being a deacon, etc.) or *why* we should have a married clergy. But those are more divisions over what the priesthood is in general, what we might characterize as open (easy) vs. controlled (difficult) paths to the priesthood.

            So, to clarify, when I say we’ll have “some married clergy” I mean regularized paths for Secular Clergy in the Western Church as a whole.

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      • Catholic theology presents serious barriers to ordaining women.

        Time for Francis to write a decree and fall back on infallibility if called into question. I’m sure he could whip up something, backed by scripture, that would pass the smell test.

        His papacy, of course, would be remembered mostly for the ensuing schism.

        Honestly, is there any other solution for the American Catholic church than the death penalty?

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        • An argument, maybe, but definitely not one that passes the smell test.

          There are, roughly speaking, two kinds of infallibility, one that relies on the ordinary magisterium and one that relies on the extraordinary magisterium. The former is the principle that something has been taught at all times and everywhere, and thus carries certainty. The latter involves a specific invocation of papal authority (sometimes in accord with an ecumenical council, but not always). Francis and previous popes have said that the male priesthood is a universal constant. For Francis to take it back, he’d have to say that they cited the ordinary magisterium but without invoking the extraordinary magisterium. By so doing, he’d be calling into question every statement ever made by a pope in an ordinary capacity. Of course, if he did this without invoking infallibility, the statement would be self-negating.

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          • The road I see open to the church is the marginalization of the priesthood from daily parish life. The ratio of priests to laity is already fantastically low compared with Protestant churches. A lot of daily functions are performed by lay staff that in a Protestant church would be done by clergy. Add in deacons, who typically are those middle aged married men that aren’t getting ordained as priests, and the question is what do they actually need priests for? The answer is sacramental functions, but the priest doesn’t always need to be physically present. The eucharistic elements can be pre-consecrated and distributed without the priest present. So you could in principle have a circuit riding priest, popping in occasionally to impress the faithful and consecrate the elements.

            I foresee this developing gradually in response to necessity. The time will come when there are two parishes and only one priest available, then one priest for three parishes, etc.

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  5. “the not-so-saintly-Blessed John Paul II”

    Can a person be a saint and a screw-up? I personally was against the quick canonization of John Paul because I think there’s a tendency to see the canonization of a pope as a full endorsement of his pontificate. But that tendency is unfounded. I still object to the way that some people refer to him as “John Paul the Great”, because I think you need historical perspective to make that kind of judgment. I’m not sure how original his Theology of the Body was, and I don’t think that what replaced Soviet communism is particularly praiseworthy.

    As for Benedict, this article completely misreads his pontificate. He personally drove Maciel and probably McCarrick out of the leadership. He defrocked hundreds of priests. He couldn’t have ordered Cardinal Law back to the US to stand trial, because there were never any charges filed. The article implies that the Irish cracked down on Benedict, but it was more like Benedict cracked down on the Irish.

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