Thursday, May 17, 2012

Attack on Girl Scouts shows current law isn't working

Comment:  In a true sense, the only Church we know is the church of our time.  We get confused when we say the "universal church" and are taught to think of it as unitative through all ages beginning with Jesus, when in reality the church as we have experienced it began with Pope Pius XII, and was concretized through his emphasis on Canon Law.  Joan says, "Under Pacelli, law became the power of the church; the Gospel, its victim."  She got it right.....Diane Dougherty, ARCWP

Attack on Girl Scouts shows current law isn't working

by Joan Chittister on May. 16, 2012

FromWhere I Stand

This month, it was the Leadership Conference of WomenReligious that bishops were concerned about. Before that, it was CatholicCharities in the United  States. Then it was Caritas, the church'sumbrella organization for the coordination of international charity. And now itis the Girl Scouts. Each of them has been curtailed, "investigated"or put in some kind of canonical receivership because of their reputed lack oforthodoxy on sexual issues or because of association with other groups that,according to the bishops, have the same problem. And all of that in the face ofthe sex abuse debacle of the church itself, still to be resolved, nevermonitored, and totally closed to outside investigation.

The question is, Where has all this energy for empirical destruction come from in a church now projecting its own serious problems with sexual issues onto everything that moves?

In his new book, Pius XII: The Hound of Hitler, noted historian Gerard Noel traces the history of this pope's "Great Design." The material starts with the rise of the young canon lawyer Eugenio Pacelli to a position of power in the Vatican. It winds its way through Pacelli's election as Pius XII and the suppression by Pacelli himself of Germany's Catholic Centre Party and even Catholic social action groups in pre-WWII Germany, the only bodies in Germany strong enough to have checked the rise of Nazism. It concludes with the rise of another man, Adolf Hitler, whose reach for power matched his own but whose rise his very Concordats assured.

Pacelli rose to power, Noel explains, on the arm of a canon law degree in a church still smarting from the loss of the Papal States and the consequent unification of Italy.Pacelli dreamed of using a system of Concordats -- particular legal agreements with the major powers in Europe -- to restore the quasi-imperial power that went with the temporal power and wealth the Papal States had assured. Pacelli's life goal became the centralization of the church, thecontrol of all its organizations. Under Pacelli, law became the power of the church; the Gospel, its victim.

For the first time in history, the Vatican took sole control of episcopal appointments, extended "infallibility" to"definitive" statements like encyclicals and gave the pope the right to declare on universal issues without the advice and consent of episcopal conferences, synods or councils. It was a recipe for monarchical control. And it worked.

Now, as a result, bishops are cut out of common cloth. Theyare chosen to be what the Vaticanwants rather than what the culture or the people need. They are an arm of the Vatican rather than the voice of the flock indialogue with the Vatican.

Have no doubt about it: Such equilibrium might be necessary,but it is also difficult to achieve. How does any international organization,in fact, preserve its values in such a disparate universal situation?Especially at such a distance from center? Given the multiple cultures? In thelight of varying systems in which they themselves are embedded?

But isn't that exactly why a nation's bishops must have aheart for the national culture and tradition and values and respect for theworkings of the society itself in which we are attempting to evangelize?

The American tradition comes out of a commitment to freedom of speech, freedom of thought and democratic participation in the politicalprocess, which, admittedly, the Vaticanhas always suspected; indeed, has never liked. To ask Americans to take on notsimply a European or Eastern European or Asian or African approach to"obedience" or governance or women, but a medieval one at that, isasking for what no law can provide. It is easy, of course, to force obedience;but, never doubt, it is impossible to force belief.

The effects here are beginning to show, as they did inPacelli's Europe. The second-largest religiousdenomination in the United  States, after Catholic, is now ex-Catholic.

The pope wants a smaller, purer church, we're told.Apparently that's what they wanted after the Protestant Reformation in the 16thcentury, as well. And they got it. They lost half of Europe.They are now losing large segments of South America.The Irish Church is listing. Only 5 percent ofinfants born in Europe are now baptized. Andthe United States,once the largest church-going country in the world, in the light of the sexabuse scandal, is teetering, as well.

From where I stand, it seems that law isn't working.

Maybe the Vatican needs to go back to the approach of the loving John XXIII or the patient PaulVI.

Maybe we ought to try the Gospel again, the one that understandspeople who lift their work animals out of a ditch on the sabbath, or get caughtin adultery, or are shunned because of their leprosy, or decide thatcircumcision is only one culture's sign of commitment, not theirs, or are thewrong sex, as was the Woman at the Well, to preach the Word of God. Let's tryagain the one that doesn't use investigations or intimidation or silencing orexcommunications for the sake of control rather than make compassion the markof the church. As they have, for instance, with bishops caught between twodifferent sets of law -- civil law and canon law -- in the sex abuse scandal.

The results cannot possibly be worse than the ones we'regetting. But one thing's clear. I know my own problem now: I was a Girl Scout.

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