Monday, November 21, 2011

More on the Decline of Papal Authority under John Paul II

Arnolfo di Cambio's statue of Saint
Peter in the Vatican Basilica robed
and crowned for the Feast of Saints
Peter and Paul (June 29th)
Last week I was doing a series of postings about the deterioration of papal authority in the reign of Blessed John Paul II.  I want to go back to that topic—we detoured with the Benetton Ad featuring Pope Benedict kissing an imam, a quote from Peter Rollins, and some reflections on Catholicism and what is termed  “post- modern” society.  Actually it is not much of a jump to go from the challenges to the Church (or religion itself) presented by post-modernism’ back  to the subject of the deterioration of papal authority because post-modernism is linked to the crisis of authority in contemporary society.  I think one could say that a feature of post-modernism (and I am not an expert here) is its dismissal of authoritative structures but I don’t want to imply that it is post-modernism that is causing the implosion of authority within the Church.  I think the Church is just one of many institutions today that it is having its foundations washed away from beneath it by this cultural shift.  And I also should clarify that as I do believe that the Church will survive the post-modern tsunami though I am not so confident about Church structures.  At the end of the day there will still be a community of communities of Christians who take bread and wine and proclaim the death and resurrection of the Lord until he comes.  But I think triple tiaras and scarlet stockings might be in museums.  But then who knows, when that day comes there might be women in the College of Cardinals who favor red stockings.  That is if the College of Cardinals survives.  Again, as a historian, one knows that all things except God have a beginning and have an end.  Well, back to John Paul and various reasons why papal authority was eroded on his watch.  I mentioned the challenge he inherited from Paul VI concerning Humanae Vitae.  I also mentioned the phenomenon of a well educated laity not accepting the opinions of a less well-educated clergy without criticism.  And I mentioned that bishops and laity alike felt shut-out by the recentralization of authority in the Roman Curia after the respective decrees—Christus Dominus (bishops) and Apostolicam Actuositatem (laity)—were gutted by forty years of curial reinterpretation that has left both bishops and laity alike with less influence than they had before the Council.  I would like to look at three more reasons.  
     One of these reasons is linked to the issue of the poor quality of clerical education but is far broader and that is that there is sometimes, far too often in fact, a tension between the theological truths proclaimed by the magisterium and the scientific facts and theories established by credible researchers, especially in the fields of medicine, psychiatry, psychology, genetics, embryonics, anthropology, sociology, and other disciplines.  I am not saying that the theological teachings are always wrong because in the sciences “facts” are not always “facts.”  There are hypotheses and educated guesses and theories and what might be called “facts-in-progress” that are not yet definitive findings.  But there is not always the respectful dialogue between the sciences and theology that is needed for sound doctrinal formulation to develop.  Sometimes the poisoned well is being contaminated from those in the scientific community that have a bias against religion.  Sometimes the fault lies with the religious authorities.  But gone is the day when theology is Queen of the Sciences and can trump any other knowledge.  Without scientific credibility magisterial credibility is nil.  Just ask Galileo.  
      This brings up the need for better educated clergy and a more urbane clergy that can discuss intelligently and not just rant about those who do not agree with them.  Seminary training today is pitiful.  Candidates for the priesthood, for the most part, are not taught to think for themselves but to follow magisterial authority without necessarily understanding the broader picture.  Of course, I think that American education is in shambles with a specialization in areas such as the sciences, public life, or business that leaves a basic philosophical (including ethical) foundation unaddressed.  Candidates for the ministry in all Christian Churches need a good philosophical base but they also need a broad liberal education that includes the secular sciences and disciplines and which is taught from a secular perspective and not only from within the narrow bounds of Catholic doctrine.  The whole Notre Dame debacle two and a half years ago shows that many American Catholics, including many of our bishops, have no understanding of the role that Catholic Universities have traditionally played as the forum for intellectual investigation necessary before the magisterium could proclaim.  Today the magisterium too often goes off half-cocked and makes an intellectual fool of itself and of the Church of Christ because it thinks that scholars are there only to provide a rationale for the theological views expressed and not to make sure they are well developed and articulated before they are proclaimed.  
     I will save my final reason for the deterioration of Church authority for another entry as it is now time to go and make the stuffing for Thursday.  Bread or sausage, that is always the debate.  Ah, for infallibility to guide us in these important questions.    

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