Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Pope Francis, priests and monsters...

Stop the presses!  What is this I hear Pope Francis said?  Did he really say that some priests behave like “little monsters?”  Why, yes, yes he did say that and even more!  He said this monster-esque behavior emerges from “clericalism”, something he called “one of the worst evils” and something he attributes to poor seminary formation.  “We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters.  And then these little monsters mold the people of God. This really gives me goose bumps.”  - Pope Francis

Hey, those are pretty stiff accusations against clerics there, Mr. Chief Clerical Officer of the Roman Catholic Church.  Are they warranted or substantiated?

The definition of a monster is “a powerful person or thing that cannot be controlled and that causes many problems.”  Let’s also review the definition of “clericalism”: “a policy of supporting the influence and power of the clergy.” 

Well, let’s rummage through the mountain of church writings to see if we can find any evidence of clericalism and/or monster-making… Ah, yes, here we go.  Found something! 

An ancient writing dating from all the way back to 2009 – a report issued after a Vatican visitation of American seminaries - might help substantiate Francis’ assertion.  Here’s some contextual background on the report.  It resulted from a Vatican visitation (read that “investigation”) into the role seminaries might have played in the sex abuse scandal.  When the visitation occurred, the Vatican was still trying to portray sex abuse as an American-only phenomenon.  As an aside, since that visitation, sexual abuse scandals rivaling the U.S.’s magnitude or worse have erupted in over a dozen countries so I guess that whole “made in America” thing wasn’t accurate.  Anyway, the report was generally favorable towards U.S. seminaries but highlighted a few negative findings in need of correction that they thought contributed to the sexual abuse issue.  Here’s one:

“The students have an idea of priestly service, but teachings such as on the character impressed by the Sacrament of Orders, on the nature of sacra potestas (sacred powers), on the tria munera (three offices), etc., are not so well known.”   In other words, the Vatican felt it was problematic for seminaries to focus too much on priests doing service … you know that crazy stuff that Jesus did…and not enough on the “sacred powers” of the three-fold office, namely the teaching (munus docendi), sanctifying (munus sanctificandi) and ruling (munus regendi) offices.  One might simplify that message from the Vatican as telling priests to ease-up on helping people and focus more on controlling them.  Let’s see…”institutionalized clericalism with foundations in seminary?”  Check!  …as per Vatican directives.

Here’s another one from that same report:
“In a few seminaries, the clear distinction between the common priesthood and the ministerial, hierarchical priesthood needs to be emphasized more. “  This statement reveals Vatican officials believe the hierarchical superiority of clericalism needs to increase not decrease.  Again, I think we can safely place a checkmark in the “institutionalized clericalism” column for seminaries.

So there you have it. Along with blaming homosexuals, criticizing seminarians’ behavior outside of the seminary walls and faulting dioceses for not exalting seminarians and seminaries enough, the Vatican as of 2009 felt that the sex abuse scandal resulted from priests not being hierarchical enough, not exerting their “sacred powers” enough and offering too much service.  I will pause a moment for you to stop banging your head against a hard, flat surface and also to finish your primal scream therapy.

Done?  Ready to continue now?  O.K. back to our topic. 

I guess I must cede Francis his “clericalism” point about clergy power fascinations, but “monster?”  Isn’t that a bit severe?  I mean a monster is a powerful person that cannot be controlled and that causes many problems.  And yeah, the Vatican report on clergy formation said to focus more on clerical powers… but does that really create priests who “cannot be controlled?” 

Again I dive into the steaming mountain of church writings and dig all the way down to the 1983 section to find the latest revision of Canon Law.  Rather than quote lengthy sections from it, let me summarize its power governance laws using this analogy.  Think “dogs peeing on trees to mark territory.”  The church truly has evolved little further than that in some aspects of church governance.  The world is divided into geographical territories over which a bishop presides and the bishop subdivides his territory into parishes over which a pastor presides.  Only one alpha dog is permitted per marked territory.   

“But doesn’t the bishop reign over all the parish pastors?” you might ask.

Here the plot thickens a bit.  A parish pastor, once appointed by the bishop, can only be removed under a few very obtusely defined circumstances.  As long as the pastor avoids those issues, he can do whatever he darn well pleases and the bishop has no, zip, nada, the null-set, recourse. 

Even if the pastor violates one of the lawful reasons for removal, the complex legal processes under Canon Law tilt toward protecting him and often eventually require approval from the Vatican Curia - an organization reputed for corruption, inefficiency and sloth-paced movement in addition to siding with pastors over their bishops.  Therefore, most bishops only bother pursuing priest situations that involve “slam-dunk” transgressions in the eyes of the Vatican Curia – really treacherous things like pastors who want to talk about female ordinations.  And, no, a pastor raping a child is NOT a slam-dunk with the Vatican Curia.  Thus, many bishops avoid the confrontation, expense and hassle, and just let pastors do pretty much whatever they want.  Oooooh, so that whole “cannot be controlled” thing is for-real!

I’m sure Francis knows that clericalism is written into Canon Law and further enabled by bishops unwilling to navigate the legislative processes that most likely would conclude with the Vatican Curia affirming the “little monster” anyway.  Therefore, I don’t totally agree with Francis.  He asserts these clericalism-generated “little monsters” are the fault of poor seminary training.  I think that is only part of it.  Seminaries plant the seeds of clericalism but Canon Law feeds and waters it by bestowing minimally governed, nearly unchecked powers to pastors (and popes).  Furthermore, bishops and the Curia further cultivate clericalism every time they permissively turn their heads for those few powers that Canon Law does try to hold in check.

Let’s quickly review the power path.  Popes have the right to appoint every single Curia leadership position.  They also appoint every single bishop.  Bishops appoint every single seminary rector and together they determine seminary curriculum.  Bishops ordain every single priest and then appoint every single pastor.    

Once the pastor is appointed, if he is a monster or monster-in-the-making, it is too late.  Unfortunately with the reduced number of clergy, more and more bishops are appointing less and less experienced men as pastors and their immaturity and inexperience seem to be creating more “little monsters.” 

My dear brother Francis, let’s face it.  Much of the power to correct clericalism lies in your hands as pope via your Curia appointments, bishops you choose and indeed even the Canon Laws you do or do not enact. 

Keep in mind what’s required to alter Canon Law.  The pope can just decree something into Canon Law using something called a “motu propio” (literally means “own motion”).  And the beauty of the pope's absolute monarchy is that all of his motions carry.  Yes, current church governance has strayed so far from the laypeople-elected bishops of the early church that it has devolved into placing the power in the pope’s hand to just decree things…no lobbying required by the pope to gain mindshare from a single other elected official because there are none.

Francis has made some new Curia leadership appointments including in the Congregation for Clergy and the Congregation for Bishops.  However, he has left in place Pope Benedict’s head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith – a key office in the bureaucracy of governing priests.  Also, I am unaware of him issuing any motu proprios to adapt the bishop and pastor selection processes, their sweeping powers, or clergy governance processes. 

Things the pope controls could affect existing clergy immediately.  But, starting with seminary reform instead means effects will not be felt until the people wait for the bureaucracy of curriculum reform to occur (or not…), and then for the 4+ years of formation for seedling seminarians after the reforms take place, and then another 2 or so years before those priests become pastors. 

Though I appreciate Francis might be trying to minimize his own clericalism, the result is years if not decades more of suffering by the people.  And regardless, all the “formation of heart” in the world will not properly govern human priests acting like humans and especially human priests when they act inhuman.

How do we contribute to the “worst of evils” called “clericalism?”  What is our responsibility to eliminate this evil from our church?  Is it possible to eliminate clericalism ("the worst of evils") without eliminating the absolute monarchy of the pope? 

As background, here are Canon Law’s published reasons for removing a parish pastor:

  • "A manner of acting which causes grave harm or disturbance to ecclesiastical communion"
  • "Ineptitude or permanent illness of mind or body, which makes the parish priest unequal to the task of fulfilling his duties satisfactorily"
  • "The loss of the parish priest’s good name among upright and serious-minded parishioners or aversion to him, when it can be foreseen that these factors will not quickly come to an end"
  • "Grave neglect or violation of parochial duties which persists after a warning"
  • "Bad administration of temporal good s with grave harm to the church when no other remedy can be found to eliminate this harm"

Here’s a quick summary of the removal process:

  • Bishop must become aware of the inappropriate behavior
  • Bishop must agree that the behavior is inappropriate.  These two steps alone can take years and many valid issues never even reach this point.  But if they do:
  • The bishop conducts an investigation
  • If concerns are founded, then the bishop discusses the matter with two other priests
  • If they believe there is cause to proceed, then the bishop communicates the reasons to the priest and tries to persuade him to resign within 15 days
  • If the pastor doesn’t reply within 15 days, the bishop renews his invitation to resign
  • If the pastor doesn’t reply to the second notice then the bishop issues a decree
  • If the priest opposes the case, the bishop invites him to review the case against him and provide his objections in writing
  • This might need to be reviewed with the same two priests from the previous step
  • If they decide the removal is still substantiated then there is another decree issued
  • The priest can be removed from the parish at this point but the new pastor cannot be assigned until the matter is resolved with the Vatican Curia and in the meantime the priest must be provided financial support
  • By this time, the bishop may have moved to his next job or died, the priest may have retired or died, but, most likely, more people will have left the church.

1 comment:

  1. The structure seems to err on the side of potentially feeding the worst of the ego driven clerics, while not properly rewarding the true pastoral presence-except for the people directly affected at the parish level. What a "sticky wicket,indeed."