Inquisition revisited

November 13, 2012
I received a message showing the power of the hierarchy to intimidate. Fear is gripping some Catholics. This came home to me in a personal way when I learned more this past week about how a community I love is restricting its educational outreach for fear of reprisals from the hierarchy. Signs of this growing fright have been dribbling out during the past months as we wait to see who will be appointed the new bishop.

I wish I could give details but they are not mine to give. Think fear of the Inquisition and you will be in the neighborhood. This is overblown because the Inquisition carried out physical punishment. But parallels exist, and ultimately leading the charge is the pope who used to be Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, head of the Vatican office formerly called the Inquisition. Pope John Paul II began the campaign to reverse the fresh-air reforms of Vatican II, his chief ally Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI. These two popes repudiated the Council, refused to share power, and appointed bishops they knew would carry out their repressive agenda. Fear of such a bishop infects this monastery.

I was studying for my masters at the School of Theology from 1986 to 1988 and was fortunate to have as an instructor the renowned Fr. Godfrey Dieckmann, one of the periti or experts educating bishops at Vatican II. Among the memorable moments in that class were Godfrey’s admissions that some of his views would not be approved by the Vatican and frankly asking for our silence regarding them.

“Epistemic closure.” This is the phrase David Brooks, conservative commentator on National Public Radio, used to describe his own conservative side. “Epistemology” is the science of knowing and this phrase means closing one’s eyes to what one does not want to know. He was referring to the pre-election Republican conviction that Romney would win, despite the polls indicating an imminent Obama victory. E.J. Dionne, the liberal counterpart in the conversation on NPR, applied Brooks’ phrase also to the Republicans’ denial of global warming despite the evidence produced by science.

I apply it to the Christian right’s denial of evidence refuting traditional beliefs on a wide range of issues—biblical interpretation, the rise of women, the legitimacy of non-Christian religions, and advances in moral awareness, particularly gay rights.

Catholic bishops campaigned against gay rights and greater access to contraception before the last political election. They were defeated. Contributing to the defeat were religious leaders who campaigned against the repressive amendment in Minnesota. Especially courageous were prominent Catholics who spoke out for justice. They won. The bent of history is clear.
Another sign of history’s direction is the flourishing Catholic womanpriest movement, which has the only liturgies that do not suggest God is exclusively male.

Would that my beloved monastic community placed itself on the side of history and of courage! Fear never rewards. It diminishes us as it cramps more and more. It robs our integrity, thus alienating us from our Beloved Source. I plead with you to release the resources of intelligence, learning, wisdom, and compassion in your community to educate, to model, to inspire, to spread the true message of Jesus of Nazareth.  Let creativity and freedom ring!

Inquisition revisited, December 9
Every time I hear about another punishment meted out by the Vatican for acts of grace and courage I wonder what it will take for the Church universal to finally unite in opposition against the tyranny. Now it’s a 92-year-old Jesuit who is barred from priestly service for supporting a womanpriest. The Province of Jesuits “regrets” Brennan’s act. It chose the wrong act to regret. What will it take?

Inquisition, December 5
The Vatican takes ever bolder control of Catholic lives. The latest jaw-dropping move of this increasingly oppressive regime was to expel Roy Bourgeois from his Maryknoll community because he supports the priestly ordination of women.  Bourgeois has been internationally acclaimed for his peace and human rights activities. The Maryknoll superior general from 2002 to 2008, Fr. John Sivalon, decried the Vatican’s order as meddling in Maryknoll affairs and interfering in the integrity of the society. How will Maryknollers around the world, both men and women, respond?

I would like to see the society publicly, calmly, and courageously embrace Bourgeois as one of their own and commend him publicly, calmly, and courageously for his heroic actions in behalf of peace and justice.
He won a purple heart for his service in Vietnam.
He lived and worked among the poor in Bolivia for five years.
When his friends, Maryknoll sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, along with two other women, were raped and murdered in El Salvador, he became an outspoken opponent of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.
He has served nearly five years in federal prison for non-violent protests.
His courageous stand for women priests against the sexist stance of the Vatican continues this heroic action. No greater prophet or saint lives among Catholics today. And it is no surprise that the Vatican opposes such a person. Bourgeois acknowledges that many priests fear losing their jobs, pensions, and sacramental power if they speak out about the ordination of women. But, he said,
I’d rather eat at a soup kitchen and be free rather than not do something that I’m called to do.
There are parallels between our time today and the reign of the Inquisition. This was a tribunal searching for and combating heresy during the twelfth through fifteenth centuries when Roman Catholicism dominated in Europe. Heresy was any belief different from the prevailing opinion held by the hierarchy of the day. In our popular consciousness, torture and the Inquisition go together, and this association is not without justification. Today we do not see the rack or thumbscrews; we do see banishment, excommunication, and financial hardship.

Also fear and excessive caution. I am angry that the greater Church lets itself be bullied by the Vatican, but I understand that the majority of “the faithful” still live in a Catholic culture of exaggerated respect for orders from the hierarchy. It’s of one piece with awe and respect for the Sacred, which hierarchs presume to define. Those who know better, who are aware of hierarchical abuse, have given their lives to the institution and see no practical way to oppose it without incurring the painful consequences that Bourgeois appears willing to accept. Would I be as courageous?  I don’t know.

Free of institutional ties, I would abandon this religion if I did not have dear personal ties to it and spunky articles in the National Catholic Reporter that model integrity and courage. Often it’s the editorial, such as the latest one explaining why the Vatican’s stance against women’s ordination is untenable.
NCR joins its voice with Roy Bourgeois and calls for the Catholic church to correct this unjust teaching.
In another NCR article, AnthonyRuff responds to the clumsy Mass translation imposed by the Vatican after refusing to accept a well-crafted one. He writes,
When it comes to liturgy, Catholics are quite patient. Most Catholics have no reason to track the dirty politics behind the scenes of how the Vatican centralized and micromanaged the translation process beginning in 2001, threw away 17 years of transparent and collegial work on a very fine revised English translation, and botched the new missal by making some 10,000 mostly ill-advised changes at the last moment.

And when they're attending liturgy, most Catholics are probably also not tracking the convoluted and inelegant language of the new missal. . . . people's reduced attention to liturgical texts is a significant piece of why "it worked."

The new missal has shown us how a secretive central authority, absent mechanisms of accountability, can impose its will.
My disgust with liturgical language centers on sexist God-talk, which reduces the Holy Source of All to a set of humanlike males. I was hoping that the linguists and other experts working for 17 years would come up with language that conveyed a truly exalted sense of the Divine. We never got to see the fruits of their work. Instead, the Vatican imposed words even more worshipful of male gods.

Vatican attacks on fresh, evolving developments in spiritual awareness are increasing rancor between hierarchy and Church universal. But its attempts to hold the Church in the traditional mindset will not stunt spiritual growth. Spirit does not take orders from the pope.


Florian said…
You shouldn't place yourself on the side of history and courage if it is opposite from the side of goodness and truth.

Popular posts from this blog

Goddess in the Bible

Eckhart's Trinity