Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ross Telegraphs

Discussing the recent revelations and the corresponding controversy, Ross Douthat appears to arrive at a sweeping indictment of the Church:

The lesson of the American experience, now exhaustively documented, is that almost everyone was complicit in the scandal. From diocese to diocese, the same cover-ups and gross errors of judgment repeated themselves regardless of who found themselves in charge. Neither theology nor geography mattered: the worst offenders were Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles — a conservative and a liberal, on opposite ends of the country.
Regardless of who was in charge, from coast to coast, diocese to diocese, the same abuses and the same cover-ups recurred over and over. This is the definition of an institutional crisis, a systematic failing.

Failures of this scope, magnitude, and human impact would seem to call for sweeping, fundamental, root-and-branch reforms, right? Of course not!
Popes do not resign. But a pope can clean house. And a pope can show contrition, on his own behalf and on behalf of an entire generation of bishops, for what was done and left undone in one of Catholicism’s darkest eras.

This is Holy Week, when the first pope, Peter, broke faith with Christ and wept for shame. There is no better time for repentance. [emphasis mine]
At exactly the point in the column where Douthat might have stepped out of line, he remembers the obedience demanded of him, steps back into line, and begins reciting the catechism of servile, craven submission: "Popes do not resign." There is no argument as to why it should be, let alone continue to be, that "popes do not resign" -- it's just "popes do not resign," unadorned with justification or explanation. He might as well have written it in Latin.

Popes do not resign. Period. What can a faithful follower of Mother Church do or say in the face of this changeless verity? When the Church is shown to have some kind of institutional, systematic rot through which it shelters, enables, and shields child rapists, a bold member of the Catholic laity might dare suggest that the pope should "clean house" -- which, we have learned, means nothing more than "send the bad priests down the road to the next diocese," with predictable results. Moreover, the daring Catholic might propose that the pope should show some contrition, maybe weep a little, and be sure to throw the word "repent" around.

Yep, that should cover it.


Mike said...

Dale, whatever his intent, he did get it right; popes don't resign. They don't resign because they have no reason to do so. The most common reason executives "resign" is to avoid being fired, and there is no legal mechanism for removing a pope.

Recently a co-worker was reading an article entitled "Is the Pope too compromised by the scandals to govern the church effectively?" My reaction to that question was it doesn't matter, because he's in charge unless he wants to leave. Catholics just have to live with that.

Dale said...

Mike, long time no see. Thanks for the comment.

What you say is true, but it suggests the glaring problem at the center of this -- a huge, powerful, influential institution that has no mechanisms for accountability. Popes can't be fired, impeached, recalled, or subjected to "no confidence" votes. So what happens when a Pope turns out to be a rotten old monster? We're looking at it: nothing. (Nothing would actually be preferable to some of the responses we've seen.)

And the Church and its apologists have the audacity to restate this problem as part of the justification: "Popes don't resign," says Douthat, as though that settles rather than begs the question.