Monday, August 26, 2013

Reforming the Roman Curia

There’s lots of talk these days about Pope Francis reforming the Roman Curia.  O.K.  A quick show of hands – who can name all the Curia organizations?  Their leaders?  What they do?  Their impact on the average person?  Hmmm…. Not a lot of hands out there.  Then how can we know if anything gets reformed and whether it was an improvement or not?

When asked how many people work in the Curia, Blessed Pope John XXIII once retorted, “about half of them.”  The Curia’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) exemplified this with its glacial pace defrocking sexually abusive priests - to the point that one might even think “CDF” actually stands for “Congregation for the Denial of Felonies”.   

Given general global downsizing trends, Pope John’s insight and the Curia’s reputation, maybe reforming the Curia begins by cutting it at least in half.

Since there were so few hands raised to my opening round of questions, let me give a quick overview.  The Curia is the pope’s cabinet and includes over 60 organizations falling into the following categories: 

  • Secretariat
  • Congregations
  • Tribunals
  • Pontifical Councils
  • Bishops’ Synod
  • Offices
  • Pontifical Commissions (not to be confused with Pontifical Councils)
  • Swiss Guard
  • Institutions Connected with the Holy See (such as the scandal-plagued Vatican Bank)
  • Labor
  • Pontifical Academies
  • Pontifical Committees (not to be confused with Pontifical Councils or Pontifical Commissions)

Let’s look more closely at a few of the most influential groups in the Curia – the Secretariat and the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith.

The Secretariat includes the Vatican Secretary of State, Papal Nunciatures (embassies) and Papal Nuncios (ambassadors).  The Secretary of State historically has been somewhat of a papal puppeteer, or the pope’s other self.  Nuncios provide the Vatican with bishop candidate names.  However, “nuncio” is Latin for “messenger” and therefore Nuncios primarily act as middlemen relaying messages between bishops and the Vatican. 

Before express overnight and electronic mail, having a cadre of Nuncios/messengers was important.  But are they now obsolete middlemen?  In the days when the Papal States occupied sizeable geographic areas, having a Secretary of State might have been important too.  But now the Vatican is just 109 acres, smaller than Microsoft’s Redmond, WA campus.  If Microsoft can thrive without a Secretary of State, can’t the Vatican do likewise?  Therefore, rather than reform this group, why not eliminate the entire Secretariat?

The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) was formerly called the Office of the Inquisition.  It was established to defend the church from heresy.  In the olden days the Inquisitors had secular power and could sentence heretics like Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake for the heresy of wearing men’s clothing.  Clearly this office has already undergone some reform because it no longer can impose secular punishments in most countries and it seems to have narrowed focus to just a handful of topics.  Also, after using it to eliminate tens of thousands of "heretics", burning at the stake is no longer a permissible option for the CDF.

The computer scientist in me couldn’t help but use a flowchart to explain my understanding of the CDF’s current approach to dealing with heresy.  For those unfamiliar with reading flowcharts, the green oval is the starting point, diamonds are decision points, rectangles are actions, and the red ovals denote possible end points.

The CDF also handles laicizing (defrocking) sexually abusive priests.  Again, my inner computer scientist couldn’t resist the opportunity to create another flowchart depicting the CDF’s process for handling sexually abusive priests.

My point is this: no matter who leads the CDF, the processes and governance model seem sub-optimal.  If the processes are not going to change, then fire all the CDF employees and just write some programs with mobile app interfaces.  Bishops can send in information from their smartphones to cloud-based applications.  This can’t possibly be any more impersonal to abuse victims than the CDF is now.  Furthermore, it actually might be more responsive as I truly believe it would be impossible to be any less responsive.

Zealots wishing to report their fellow-Catholics as potential heretics could use the same interface as the bishops for heretic reporting.  This would just streamline the whole witch hunt process.  By Christmas, we could be down to just the self-acclaimed pious people deluded by their superior calls to holiness – and all this accomplished with substantially lower costs than paying the current CDF staff. 

Laypeople could be required to take an online quiz about the CDF's five favorite subjects at SurveyMonkey and be issued a QR code (photo below for those unsure what a QR code is) which clergy and Eucharistic ministers can scan to determine eligibility for communion.  Obviously clergy would need the authority to issue new QR codes in the confessional following repentance.  

“Absurd!” you might think.  If automating the current CDF processes seems absurd, then the processes themselves are absurd because automation only alters the pace not the decision criteria or outcome.  Maybe imagining automated versions of all current Curia processes is precisely what we need to do to identify what needs to be reformed.

What reforms are needed in the church and the Curia? What can you do to help inspire appropriate reform?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What is a "theology of women?"

Sorry for the delay writing.  I have again been traveling due to work.  While I was traveling, Pope Frank was busy traveling too.  Unlike me, he held a press conference amidst his travels when he was returning from World Youth Day.  During that interview he offered some comments about women.

A church without women would be like the apostolic college without Mary. The Madonna is more important than the apostles, and the church herself is feminine, the spouse of Christ and a mother.

The role of women doesn't end just with being a mother and with housework ... we don't yet have a truly deep theology of women in the church. We talk about whether they can do this or that, can they be altar boys, can they be lectors, about a woman as president of Caritas, but we don't have a deep theology of women in the church.

On the ordination of women, the church has spoken and said no. John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed.

I read his statements and didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, roll my eyes in disbelief at the utter stupidity, or undertake primal scream therapy.  I found myself imitating my dad by uttering, “What the hell is a theology of women?”  Yes, just what exactly is a “theology of women” and why do we not hear talk of “theology of men” and why would these be different?   

The word “theology” derives from two Greek words, “theos” meaning “god” and “logia” meaning “words” or “the study of.”  Thus, “theology” means “The study of the nature of God and religious belief. Religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed such as ‘Christian theology’.” 

I’m going to go slowly with this in case the pope or any bishops are reading.  “Christian theology” is the system of beliefs about God from the perspective of Christians.  So, to say “theology of women”, one can assume that this is the system of beliefs about God from the perspective of women.  Frank, just how many women will you be contracting to write the female’s perspective about God?  It seems to me when women undertake such efforts they tend to suffer sanctions unless they echo the men’s perspectives about what they think women’s perspective should be.  Thus the current “theology of women” is really a “theology of men.” 

Let me provide an analogy.  Men writing women’s perspective about God is like asking a Hindu to write the Christian’s perspective about God.  Though it will have some interesting insights, it is unlikely to be accurate or complete.  Maybe this analogy would drive the point home better.  Would you like only women to write the “theology of men?”  

Let us not overlook the other absurd statements Frank made about women.  He packed many in those three short paragraphs to the point it is one of the highest concentrations of absurdities I've seen in a while.

Anita Bryant used to have a famous trite tagline about orange juice in her 11 years as the pitch woman for Florida orange juice, “A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.”  Frank, were you channeling Anita Bryant with your opening salvo about women?  “A church without women is like a church without sunshine?” 

Anita had another famous trite tagline about orange juice, “Orange juice, it isn’t just for breakfast.”  And later in Frank’s statement this sentiment rang through too, “Women, they aren’t just for housework.”  Anita’s just a few years younger than Pope Frank.  Maybe he’s had a thing for her since their youth?

Anyway, so women can do more than housework and bear children?  Wow, I need to write that one down.  Thanks, Pope Einstein the First!  The words, “Captain Obvious” keep rattling around my head.

Newsflash Frank: it seems women run countries, begin religious organizations, run hospitals, run businesses, play professional sports, write books, invent things, lead militaries, and do just about every job except those of pope and pro football player.  Furthermore, women at least are permitted to play sports though a professional league might not exist for every sport.  Thus, religious institutions seem to be the last if not only remaining stronghold of sexist devaluation of women by excluding them from certain roles.

At this point Frank and those similarly minded typically say that women are actually more important than men by uttering such drivel as he did in his press conference, “A church without women would be like the apostolic college without Mary. The Madonna is more important than the apostles, and the church herself is feminine, the spouse of Christ and a mother.” 

O.K. Frank, et al, please explain how exclusion from decision making is a sign of greater importance and stature?  Does the U.S. Congress feel immigrants in this country are more important than them?  Do slaveholders feel their slaves are more important than them?   Do pimps feel their gaggle of prostitutes is more important than them?  No, in each case the people in power look upon the other groups as pawns - low-paid dispensable, easily replaceable workers upon whose backs they profit.   I’m struggling to describe your statement in a way that doesn’t involve using the letters, “B” and “S.”

 A church without women is like the apostolic college without Mary?  The apostolic college does not include Mary and perhaps you say the apostolic club acts only upon Mary’s far-superior directives, but your collective track record indicates power and money are often your major motivators.  Please don’t blame that on Jesus’ mother.  Please don’t blame your lack of accountability with regards to child rapists on any mother either.  If your behavior caring for children is actually guided by Mary, may I and the children I encounter never be so cursed as to have me imitate her.   

Perhaps instead of attributing your actions to an ethereal woman whose directives are only verifiable by your recounting what only you hear in the empire of your own minds, you might try just being accountable for your actions.  Accountability, it isn’t just for breakfast either.  Please don’t blame your sexism and other sins on a woman who when she speaks to me says your words about women flow like diarrhea after eating tainted food.

Finally, I cannot end without commenting on Frank’s statement regarding women’s ordination.  He said the church has spoken and said no.  Frank, read your catechism; the church is the people of God.  They, and thus the church, overwhelmingly say they want women priests.  The hierarchy has spoken and that is a small, shrinking faction of the church.  At last count, the entire clergy numbered around 413,000 out of 1.2 Billion Catholics worldwide.  That’s less than three one hundredths of a percent. 

But even though this small faction of the church monotonously repeats falsehoods and sexist statements to preserve its sexist stronghold of power, Frank’s statement is comical by the sheer fact that in the same interview he offered a 180 degree different viewpoint than Pope Bennie’s views on homosexual priests.  Frank, you know what Mary told me when you said that.  “Frank’s just using an old trick of flattery to try to keep women doing most of the work in the church while he and his pals take most of the credit.”

So, what would the church be without women?  It wouldn’t be like the apostolic college without Mary.  That exists and thrives.  Nor would it be like a day without sunshine.  The church without women would quite simply be non-existent.  Men cannot bear children.  So, a church without women would be extinct.  How long will women continue to enable a small, male minority of the church to dictate and define who God calls them to be?