The Grand Inquisitor (from the
opera, Don Carlo)
Well Francis finally scored some points with the Katholic Krazies—the American nuns are back on the hotseat. The only problem is that it isn’t Francis turning up the voltage, but Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Everyone had presumed that with Francis’ remarks to the Conference of Latin American Religious (CLARR) last June the Pope had given a clear signal that the Holy See was backing off the harassment of the American Religious Women. Francis said, rather pointedly:
They will make mistakes, they will make a blunder, this will pass! Perhaps even a letter of the Congregation for the Doctrine (of the Faith) will arrive for you, telling you that you said such or such thing... But do not worry. Explain whatever you have to explain, but move forward... Open the doors, do something there where life calls for it. I would rather have a Church that makes mistakes for doing something than one that gets sick for being closed up...
“Perhaps even a letter form the CDF will arrive for you…but do not worry…move forward.” Pretty clear message. So what was this latest fuss about when Cardinal Müller called the LCWR leadership on the carpet last week? Does this indicate a change in Vatican policy, a renewal of the campaign against the nuns?
By no means. The nuns are collateral damage to the infighting going on the Roman Curia at this time. Cardinal Kasper spoke up almost immediately saying that the problem was the conflict between the “more narrow” view of some Vatican officials and the more open policies that the Holy Father is trying to establish in the Church. It cannot be presumed, of course, that either Cardinal speaks for the Holy Father, but of the two Kasper is certainly the closer collaborator. Pope Francis has used Cardinal Kasper as a trial balloon for a more open approach to divorced and remarried Catholics and the Cardinal has gotten quite a bit of grief for it from his peers in the Sacred College as well as from various bishops around the world—not to mention the Katholic Krazies and their blogs. Yet it is clear that, at least in regards to the pastoral care of the divorced and remarried, Kasper speaks for the Pope. Müller, on the other hand, is part of the camp that is fighting Pope Francis in his efforts to reform the Roman Curia. Müller is a Benedict XVI appointment as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Francis gave Müller the Cardinal’s hat—the CDF Prefect is always a Cardinal and Benedict had not had a chance to name any Cardinals after appointing Müller to the post—but has not paid him much attention since. Cardinals Burke and Law, both out of favor and sidelined in this papacy, had been the original evil geniuses on the attack on the nuns and when the Congregation for the Institutes of the Consecrated Life and Societies of the Apostolic Life gave the American nuns a clean bill of health two years ago, Law and Burke pushed the American Cardinal Levada, then head of the CDF, to take up the fight. Levada did but then retired before the hatchet job was done. Müller took over the CDF and originally didn’t press matters, but despite Francis’ remarks to CLARR renewed the battle in part of the Francis/anti-Francis infighting going on in Rome as the Pope tries to clear out that rats’ nest of pezzi-grossi monsignori and reform the Curia. So Müller rapped the nuns on the knuckles (we call that karma) for inviting Sister Elizabeth Johnson to receive their annual leadership prize. Doctor Johnson has angered, nay infuriated, the Katholic Krazies because her feminist hermeneutic has raised questions that threaten the dominant patriarchy that is woven through not only the Church but our very culture. Without denying the heritage passed on in the Scriptures or the Patristic Tradition, she has tried to move beyond the frozen confines of dogma to explore the Mystery of God from new perspectives that attempt to transcend the limitations of a culture and tradition that was shaped and articulated by the male mind. One may or may not like her approach, but one can’t be afraid of what is behind the doors her questions seek to open and explore. In my own field of history, feminist scholars have made us take a further—and deeper—look at how we understand certain personalities, movements, and events and this hermeneutic has brought out new and more complex understandings of our past. We do not need to be afraid of new perspectives and the questions they raise about God and God’s plan for us. If the questions are not sound, our exploration will eventually dismiss them; if they are sound they will lead us to healthy change. But faith does not permit us to stand frozen, afraid to go further lest our eyes be opened to new and deeper realities and our lives and the structures of our institutions have to change.
In any event, I don’t think this kerfuffle Cardinal Müller has gotten into with the LCWR is about faith. The good sisters still hold great credibility among the American public—Catholic and non-Catholic. The moral integrity squandered by the bishops these last thirty years is still borne by the seventy and eighty year olds who once taught us arithmetic and geography and spelling. If they are asking questions about why women can’t be ordained, we will begin asking questions about why women can’t be ordained. And God forbid that women ever be ordained, because once women are priests the old boys network will crumble into dust and the rules that have permitted these second-stringers to attain their miters and the perks that go along with the job will be forever changed.
And I think that is what the old guard in the Curia is fighting for—not to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ but to protect the structures of power which give them their pride of place in the Institutional Church. The Gospel and its mission is secondary to them. To refer to Dulles’ Models of the Church, they represent the tenaciousness of the Institution hanging on when so many of us want to move to the kerygmatic and servant models. Elizabeth Johnson is simply the Joan of Arc in this drama. The LCWR are the collateral damage of war between men. And there are too many prelates who want to be the Grand Inquisitor.