Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How to reform the Vatican. (YAWN)

Fr. Thomas Reese SJ in the latest Commonweal proposes six reforms for the Vatican. (Haven't folks gotten tired of this kind of stuff? Check these guys out: church governance = American polity)

Fr. Reese suggests we can learn from other institutions.

Such as ... the Episcopal church?

So that with our collegial (read democratic) organs we can continue to officially eviscerate the faith until it's a harmless veneer covering secular humanism? Despite the current system, we have already done incredible amounts of damage already. Thank goodness we have had Popes with spines who've tried to limit the self-destructive poison of secularism within the church.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not suggesting that the current system of church governance is perfect, or in all its details, divinely willed. I'm sure there's a need for ongoing evaluation and reform (the election of bishops does come to mind, though not in the same way that Fr. Reese is thinking about it, I'm sure). I doubt that anyone would seriously think that we start by treating the Church as if it were solely a human institution. Fr. Reese also thinks so. Of course, it's all about power.
What are the chances of such reforms actually taking place? As a social scientist, I'd have to say they're probably close to zero. The church is now run by a self-perpetuating group of men who know such reform would diminish their power. It is also contrary to their theology of the church. But as a Catholic Christian, I still have to hope.
Well, I'm no expert. But not just contrary to their theology of church. But to a Catholic theology of church.

:: UPDATE :: The Curt Jester does a superb fisk of the article. He's to be commended for responding to each of the proposals and arguments Fr. Reese puts forward.


Jason said...

Actually, I think a major point Fr. Reese is making is that throughout her history the Church's governance has been shaped by secular politics. To think that she has consistently risen above the ordinary ways that governments ruled themselves is inaccurate. That's not to dismiss the work of the Divine in her institutions, but to recognize that she has regularly taken examples from other forms of government as models for her own regular governance.

And I think it's a bit much to say that Fr. Reese thinks the Church is a solely human institution.

Joe Waters said...

I was most amused by Fr Reese's assertion that the Church needs a judiciary independent from the Supreme Pontiff. Perhaps, I am not offering the most charitable reading of his piece, but as I understand it, juridical authority is derived from the power of the keys. To separate juridical power from the pastoral authority of Christ's vicar on Earth would make it even more unjust (because it would be sapped of any relation to Christ's pastoral concern for the Church manifest in the pastoral authority of the Supreme Pontiff or Christ's mercy manifest in the ministry of reconciliation entrusted to the pastors of the Church) than Fr Reese already thinks it is.

L.T. said...

Reese's argument cuts both ways. The borrowing from secular society is largely to blame for the bloated centralized structure he and most liberals reject. The swelling of papal claims to jurisdictional primacy, and later to infallibility, all drew energy and ideas from the paganism of Germanic (Franks & Goths) tribes. We forget that papal centralization was originally advocated, not from Rome, but from the outer Empire which never stably internalized the theological worldview of the Fathers and the Holy Councils. The problem is not with assimilating secular ideas, it's the superficial and reactionary nature of it all. Why does reform always have to mimic Western secularism? Why can't it happen in accord with the discipline and vision of our highest theological traditions? Maybe examples from Byzantine Christianity would be worth noting once in a while. Liberals are never radical enough, so myopic they cannot see what the rest of the world already does: Western civilization is in decay. As Gashwin notes, their blindness is evident in the desire to embrace the decrepitude of Epicopalianism and liberal Protestantism as if they were flourishing gardens of apostolic life. For all of CARA's doom and gloom predictions of Catholic shrinkage, it's nothing compared to the mess that is Liberal Protestantism. Reform, yes. But Rome needs to look to her long-forgotten pre-Schism past and her ancient sister Apostolic Sees more than ever, not to her fickle, heresy-infected, Lord-of-the-Flies children.

Saul said...

Well put, l.t., and this is in line with Pope Benedict's dialogue with the Orthodox. I think he knows the direction things are headed.

I hope that we Orthodox get our act together and help the process along.

Gashwin said...

Jason, that may have been how Fr. Reese started the article, but it devolved very quickly into the same old thing. To me, these various ways to squeeze the government of the Church into a liberal, Western, mold do seem to implicitly deny the divine foundation of the Church. This is not to say that the Church doesn't need checks and balances, or that the Holy Spirit is involved in every little (or big) decision. (Can one say, "Bad Popes?" :)) The model, the details, always boil down to the same old, "let's end up looking like TEC" chant, or some variant.

(This is not to comment at all on Fr. Reese's own beliefs about the divinity or humanity of the Church, or to accuse him of anything. It seemed to me, to be implicit in the point he was making.)

As others (LT, Saul) point out, there are other models. In so many ways, we can learn from the East. Not that things are perfect there either ... nothing's perfect, of course, this side of the Kingdom. But still, I'm for a lot more cross-pollination with the East. Ex oriente lux and all that!