Sunday 23 September 2018

War at the Vatican

Pope Francis is the best thing that has ever happened at the Vatican.  He is also just about the most hated figure by some of the inner circles, the Curia, to walk through its corridors.  After centuries of corruption at the very top here comes a reformist who is trying to dislodge old and worn out traditions to meet the social demands of the twenty-first century.  By some Cardinals he is likened to Caligula emperor of Rome who was made famous by his cruelty, sadism, extravagance, and sexual perversion.  Since the inner circle cannot dislodge him, some priests go so far as waiting for Pope Francis to die.  His only mistake is attempting to reform and liberalise the church of Rome from the cobwebs of millennia and more.  Outside Rome and especially by non-Catholics and Atheists he is the most popular keeper of the Keys of Heaven.

Since Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became Pope in 2003, he has created many enemies the conservatives who disagree and fear that his spirited approach will divide the church. At the outset, he made it clear to do away with the pomp surrounding the pontificate, supported migrants, his attacks on global capitalism and, most of all, his moves to re-examine the church’s teachings about sex.  The last point, as detailed by a document 256 pages long, written by him, 'Amoris Laetitia', (The Joy of Love), has scandalised the college of Cardinals some of whom now think he is flirting with heresy- the willful rejection of an established doctrine of the church, a sin punishable by excommunication.   He takes a distinctive liberal look at divorce, gay marriage, abortion and sex education.  According to an Archbishop from Kazakhstan though, such views allows “the smoke of Satan” to enter the church.

The issue that has been the subject of most contention is the question of divorce.   Pope Francis is trying to encourage priests to give communion to divorced, remarried and cohabiting couples.  Such an act stands in complete contrasts to over a thousand years of Catholic doctrine.  Many Cardinals are trying to persuade him to abandon the idea before it becomes official policy.  His refusal to abandon such notions as seen by many of his cardinals likely to divide the church, so the idea of accusing the Pope of Heresy has moved up a gear, the battle has taken an aggressive turn.  The problem, however, is shrouded by a complication that a pope can do no wrong.

For the infallibility of the vicar of Christ to remain as such Pope Francis must not be allowed to go on with his ideas, it would otherwise suggest that all popes before him were wrong.      In practice and away from official policy, communion to divorced couples is a matter of routine.  If the rules were literally applied, no one whose marriage had failed could ever have sex again, but more of that later. A further complication at this crossroads is, the priest who is, unknowingly, giving communion, to divorced couples who have remarried, would de facto be sinning.  But, reversing traditions raises a further problem; here Catholicism rests on eternal truth, without, conservatives would argue then what is the point.  The Keys to heaven, therefore, would seem at a loss, to unlock this conundrum, to proclaim what is sin and what is permitted remains for St Peters Church pressing need to decide. For now, this has plunged the Church of Rome in a crisis, and with that, a schism is forming between conservatives and liberals.  As with the introduction of reform in the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s resulted in splinter groups is also happening today causing many hardliners to break away adamantly refusing to recognise how people behave nowadays.

 Pope Francis does realise for Catholicism to survive it must come to terms with the way people live these days, that to continue standing against the sexual revolution is no longer an option.  To hold an absolutist position against contraceptives and to realise that one lifelong marriage for many is both untenable, priests no longer should be pretending otherwise.  It is time to recognise that to obey official doctrine is unachievable in practice, and a decision needs to be made for some guidance and semblance to normal among the oppositions to prevail.  Whichever side is allowed to win would likely result in a divided church, so a reconciliation between theory and practice is a must to avert a probable fracture.  Since many followers of the faith are divorced or unmarried parents, they need to believe in what they worship but to know they are sinning when receiving communion, for example, the number of churchgoers will further dwindle.  To reconcile these opposites, however, may not be to all the Cardinals advantage since many of them believe the difference between the church and its congregation gives meaning to the faith and church continuity. They argue for the church must always set the agenda to its followers and not the other way round.  According to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF, the role of the church is to teach the world, and not to learn from it.  To expect followers of Catholicism to obey without question may be possible for the former but proving increasingly difficult for the latter, for such a status quo to preside, will not help future generations of Catholics, and the church pews will empty faster.

The idea is that introverts such as the conservatives want more than the sterile religion on offer by Protestantism for instance.  Its liberality no longer offers the intellectual stimulant by conforming to the society around it.  In contrast, the extroverts such as Pope Francis wants to move away from the traditionalist patriarchal rigidity but more to a common-sense approach.  The problem with introvert approach must surely be that no religion can survive if it goes against the will of its worshippers.    Similar concerns were taking place at the second Vatican council in 1962 when trying to reconcile the Catholic church with the modern world -  replacing the introverted priest facing God at the altar with the extroverted figure facing his congregation.  Then, dropping Latin as the official mass liturgy was the time when nuns discarded their habits and priests discovered women and threw away the shackles of introverted orthodoxy. But somehow, even though an overwhelming majority of Cardinals voted for the use of Contraceptives Pope Paul VI overruled them in 1968. He could not admit that his predecessors had been wrong, and the Protestants right. This intransigence marked a new chapter in resistance to change which is staring us in the face today.

For the introverts, they now have another argument up their sleeve, that is;  “what comes from the Enemy cannot and must not be assimilated. You can not join Christ and Belial! What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century, Western homosexual and abortion Ideologies and Islamic Fanaticism are today.” Chief among Francis opponents is Cardinal Raymond Burke, United States’ most influential Catholic in Rome, who is also using his position within the walls of the Vatican to re-legitimise extremist forces that want to bring down Western liberal democracy the church had fought against since the eighteenth century.  In Steve Bannon style, the Vatican is facing a political war between the modernising Pope Francis and a conservative wing that wants to reassert white Christian dominance.  “capitulating to Islam would be the death of Christianity...the Islam that wants to conquer the world, the black flags that point to Rome".  Burk's words stand in contrast to Pope Francis washing and kissing the feet of Muslim migrants.

Cardinal Burke does not exactly come in with proper moral credentials.  Aside from his racist remarks and Breitbart like extreme right-wing views supporting a holy war firmly believing we are at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism … a very brutal and bloody conflict … that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years … if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not … fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting.” He also has a hatred of women, an advocate of wars in the Middle East and a firm supporter of white supremacy.  All of that Pope Francis hates.

Pope Francis also believes there is “a stream of corruption” in the Curia which has been the bane in his pontificate since he was elected.  Historically, of course, corruption at the Vatican has been a cultural institution starting with  Donation of Constantine, Latin Donatio Constantini and Constitutum Constantini, the best-known and most important forgery of the Middle Ages, the document purporting to record the Roman emperor Constantine the Great’s bestowal of vast territory and spiritual and temporal power on Pope Sylvester I (reigned 314–335) and his successors, .  After the death of Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, the Church of Rome became a Sovereign State, boundlessly rapacious, distributing land for ecclesiastical profit and feudal Tithes.  The greatest schism was between 1378 - 1417 when there was not one Pope, not two but three Popes, three obediences and three sets of cardinals competing over the Keys to Salvation.  Over the years that followed the Reformation, Renaissance Popes indulged in hedonism, sex, mistresses, illegitimate children and parts of the Lateran Palace became a place for orgies. The so-called Apostolic Church was eventually succumbed to its present status and location after receiving 750 million Liras (old money) in 1929 Lateran Treaty, effectively ending Catholicism as State Religion in Italy and creating the Vatican as an independent State.  Today, Money laundering is still rampant despite a warning from the US Treasury and the process of making saints in the words of Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi estimated the going rate for canonisation at €500,000 per halo.

As for Homosexuality, Pope Francis famously said: "Who am I to Judge", which puts the objective moral 'truth' in perspective. His way of showing religious tolerance and mutual respect in the hope it will eventually encourage peaceful coexistence, as morality demands.  Christianity, a revealed religion, is an open religion, was built on tolerance since the days of Paul of Tarsus, ruling over objections by James half-brother of Jesus, famously said "you don't have to become Jewish to become Christian", referring to circumcision.  With time the faith became a polyglot Christianity flexible enough to absorb a diversity of practice that gave it vitality. "Judging All Men, Judged by None" is not for Pope Francis.

On the question of divorce, the Catholic fact is that marriage is for life is absolute and indissoluble so long as both parties baptised.  The reality in lived faith is also that Catholics divorce and remarry at about the same rate as none Catholics.  The vast majority of them see nothing wrong with that comfortably attend mass and take communion.  Actually, it is not so much divorce that the Roman Catholic Church objects to as it is remarriage after divorce.  The church certainly does not approve of divorce.  A divorced Catholic can still be an active member of the church, can still receive the sacraments.  The only provision is that the divorced Catholic does not remarry while the first spouse is still alive.  If a divorced couple happens to be cohabiting and their first spouse dies then either can rush to marry in a church and leave the adulterous life behind.

Here is the irony, however, is that rich people can hire lawyers who can prove the marriage was wrong in the first place or somehow prove the marriage not been consummated, to have it annulled.  Steve Bannon, a Catholic, ex-White House Chief Strategist, has managed to divorce all three of his wives.  Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of United States House of Representatives, broke up with his first wife while treated for cancer, and while married to his second wife had an eight-year affair with Callista Bisek, a devout Catholic, before marrying her in church. She is the new US ambassador to the Vatican.  I suspect Cardinal Burke while policing the faith,  had a hand in these arrangments right under his good nose, but I fear accompanied by a moral shortcoming.  The number of annulments granted by diocesan tribunals to divorced Catholics rose from 368 in 1968 to around 40,000 in recent years. The idea of no sex in a second, third or fourth marriage is ridiculous, but that is how Catholic doctrine stands. Yes, consummation is a big word here.  It seems to me that a promise to Love does not so much recognise matrimonial Covenant in the Catholic Church, or Cherish and Obey but by the Sexual Act.  If sexual intercourse is coerced or unconsented, it can all get very complicated.  Cruelty, infidelity, abuse or just a failed marriage are all subordinate to the sexual act, are not a reason for annulment.

Room in this essay has not allowed a place for Abortion, human rights, outlook on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT), child-abusing priests while also not acknowledging the fact that a large proportion of the priesthood is gay.  Reflecting on the leading causes of War at the Vatican, the main battleground is on divorce, so this contribution ends with it.  Matrimony for the first thousand years of Christianity not considered a sacrament, but doing so, around 1435, Christianity sought to restructure Christian society through godly law such as the blessing of crops was at one time; for a fee of course.  Marriage along with Baptism was another form of humanising spiritual association a barometer of the spread of Christian piety.  The church also sought to curb some of the traditional contractual and sexual rituals associated with marriage and eventually to define a marriage ceremony in a church as a sacrament and gifts of rings as prophylactic magic.

In conclusion, Pope Francis extends a helping hand to divorced and remarried people, extending mercy and forgiveness rather than seeing them as sinful people.  At a time of going through great emotional stress, the church needs to provide them with a sort of refuge to piece their lives together again.  Against that view and still determined, stand the introverts conservatives who are today outnumbered by the extraverts.  Francis says “... I would also point out that the Eucharist ‘is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak’.”  He goes on to add “By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and growth.”  For Cardinal Burke, such a passage was an anathema. Sacked first from his position on the Vatican court along with another handful of Cardinals questioned Amoris Laetitia whether it contravened previous teachings and threatened to go public accusing the Pope with Heresy.  Although he currently leads a minority of objecting Cardinals, nonetheless it is growing looking increasingly ominous.  Among Pope Francis supporters, there is doubt whether convinced how the Church of Rome is lead or it is a show of piety and humility to God's representative on Earth. I fear it is the latter and cannot help, but if history is anything to go by, I see Pope Francis walking on thin ice.  The College of Cardinals is famously traditionalist if not introverts and change at the speed Pope Francis is advocating, they will likely get out of breath. There are ominous doubts ahead all shrouded in secrecy but resistance to change growing more potent among the Cardinals. Pope Francis argument however compelling in its effort to drag Catholic doctrine into the modern world, currently supported by only two-thirds of the College on whom the future of the Catholic church now hangs, in the meantime, the Keys of Salvation, are in safe hands.


No comments: