Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Where Bad Theology and the Catholic Abuse Scandal Intersect

I'm quickly posting this while on my lunch break. I wish I had more time to explore this subject, although aspects of it are distasteful in the extreme, but pastoral and family commitments preclude that at the moment...this is nothing more than an outline:

Some Roman Catholics deny that the sexual abuse scandals in their church are at all peculiar to that institution - any similar religious or educational institution would experience the same phenomena at the same rate. I'll concede that may be the case up to a point, fallen human nature being what it is, but I suspect the problem is actually worse in the RCC than in other churches or large scale education providers. I wish to highlight in this post four points where Rome's bad theology has made the sexual abuse scandal worse in that institution than in other church bodies.

First, please watch this interview while it is still up:

Note Mr Wall's mention, around the 16:00 mark, of the use of "mental reservation" by senior Roman clergy in civil court cases. Mental reservation essentially means equivocation and is justified, according to Roman casuistry, if the prelate has made a judgement that the civil courts are not entitled to certain information the church holds. This practice, which has a long history in Roman ethics, is in these cases nothing more than an attempt to prevent the victims from obtaining justice at the church's expense, thereby increasing the injury they have suffered at the hands of the Roman clergy.

Note towards the conclusion of the interview Mr. Wall's description of how the requirement for the  celibacy of Roman rite clergy leads to moral corruption in high places, subjecting prelates to the threat of blackmail or exposure, which ins ome cases has stymied the effective  handling of pederast priests.

Another more crucial point of intersection is the Roman theology of the priesthood, which regards priests as an order separate from the laity and indispensable for the offering of the sacrifice of the mass, which is offered both for the living and the souls in purgatory. This has resulted in Rome retaining priests and recycling them in and out of therapy when they should simply have been expelled as unsuitable and dangerous. The motivation behind this practice was that the loss of a priest would impinge upon the offering of the mass for souls. This helped to make the problem of the sexual abuse of minors systemic to Rome, and not just incidental.

An even deeper area for study illuminating the problem would be the influence on Roman Catholicism of Augustine's views (and many of the other Fathers) on original sin and concupiscence, which is linked by him to sexual desire - hence the need for a celibate priesthood. Celibacy in turn, while it is a legitimate option for some devout men and women (a minority, to be sure), tends either to attract men who are inherently unsuitable for Christian ministry or to make otherwise suitable men unsuitable through leading them into serious sin, i.e. habitual fornication with a girlfriend and the lies associated with the cover-up of this double life.

Btw, Luther's re-framing of original sin as in essence idolatry - choosing self-will over the will of God -  is an often overlooked reform of Western theology which bears revisiting (it is not overlooked in Lutheranism, but with the possible exception of the Reformed (because Calvin laregly followed Luther in this), other churches seem not to have come to grips with it.   

In conclusion, some relevant quotations on clerical celibacy:

"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer."
The apostle Paul's first letter to Timothy, ch. 4:1-5 (NIV).

"If marriage is forbidden to priests, they will fall into sins worse than mere fornication, not abhorring the embrace of other men."
Bishop Ulric of Imola, The Rescript, c. 1060. Ulric's Rescript was condemned by the Synod of Rome in 1079.

"To prohibit marriage, and to burden the divine order of priests with perpetual celibacy, they have had neither authority nor right, but have acted like antichristian, tyrannical, desperate scoundrels and have thereby caused all kinds of horrible, abominable, innumerable sins of unchastity, in which they still wallow."
Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles, Part III, Art 11.

"Despite the great infamy of their defiled celibacy, the adversaries have the presumption not only to defend the pontifical law by the wicked and false pretext of the divine name, but even to exhort the Emperor and princes, to the disgrace and infamy of the Roman Empire, not to tolerate the marriage of priests. For thus they speak, although the great, unheard-of lewdness, fornication, and adultery among priests, monks, etc., at the great abbeys, in other churches and cloisters, has become so notorious throughout the world that people sing and talk about it, still the adversaries who have presented the Confutation are so blind and without shame that they defend the law of the Pope by which marriage is prohibited, and that, with the specious claim that they are defending a spiritual state. "
Philipp Melancthon, Defence of the Augsburg Confession, Art XXIII, On the Marriage of Priests

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Choose Your Pope

This is quite funny (couldn't embed the code, though) :

"For the first time since 2005, we get to play another round of everybody's favorite ecclesiastical game show!"

Oh, yes...perhaps they should have made Gianfranco Ravasi one of the bachelors instead of, say, Peter Turkson? Cardinal Turkson seems to me too ambitious for the office.

On a more serious note, should Lutherans pray about this (as a parishioner asked me)? I think we might pray that the cardinals elect a Pope who will have the will and courage to "clean house" for the sake of the innocent victims. We might also pray for a Pope who would be open to the Lutheran reform, beginning perhaps with the abolition of the mandatory vow of celibacy for the Roman priesthood.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

An Analysis of and Response to the New Atheism

The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief by James S. Spiegel (Moody, Chicago 2010, 141pp).

I draw the attention of readers of this blog to a short book by American philosopher, Jim Spiegel, who argues, following Romans 1:18, that at the heart of the new atheism is moral rebellion against God and not philosophical objections per se. Atheism, he argues, is fundamentally irrational and without adequate philosophical basis and is grounded in the suppression of the external (natural) and internal (conscience) knowledge of God. While not dismissing the role of apologetics outright (there will always be refined and open atheist minds like CS Lewis or Antony Flew who can be persuaded by purely philosophical arguments), he argues that the most powerful Christian response to atheism is a moral one, meaning a life that, by God's grace, cultivates the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. 

Spiegel illustrates this thesis by quoting the atheist  English journalist, Matthew Parris (readers  might be familiar with Parris via the Grumpy Old Men TV series), who in 2008 wrote a piece in The Times:  'As An Atheist, I Truly Believe Africa Needs God'. Amidst the decline of the British empire, Parris grew up in several Africa countries and ;ater returned there after a 40 year absence in England, whereupon he was astounded at the transformation of African people and society - a work in progress, to be sure - that he came to attribute to the positive influence of missionaries and growing Christian belief in the vital African churches. Parris does not yet believe in God, but crucially his hostility to the church and its message was broken down not by intellectual argument but by encountering the undeniably positive impact of Christianity on ordinary lives.

As a Lutheran I'd tweak Spiegel's argument here and there and inject the Law-Gospel distinction into it. One also needs to keep this scriptural and avoid importing Aristotelian/ Thomistic notions of how virtue functions in the Christian life, but it offers a perspective on how to approach atheism that I believe is essentially correct. Alert readers will note that this post is not entirely unrelated to the previous post on the plausibility problems of contemporary, scandal-riven Roman Catholicism. 

A couple of interesting points:
Spiegel writes that it was a Lutheran (of sorts), Kierkegaard, who was the first modern to develop this apologetic.
Atheism is the "religion of the fatherless" - it is amazing how many prominent atheists in the modern period had dead, absent, weak or abusive fathers!

For reflection: Lutheran theologians of previous centuries were not shy in talking about the theological virtues, but such discussion is largely absent from much modern (i.e. 20th C.) or "neo-Lutheran" theology. Can virtue again be accorded a palce in the Lutheran theological encyclopedia? Yes! By emphasising the primacy of faith in a unified life lived in hope with love.

The book is written in a popular style that any intelligent layperson with an interest in such questions could read and learn from.

James S. Spiegel is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Taylor University, Indiana.

Monday, 18 February 2013

End of the 'Catholic Moment': The Paradox of the Roman Church in the Postmodern World

Back in the late 1980s, Richard John Neuhaus, an American Lutheran pastor with a high public profile who had been raised, educated and ordained in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, but who was by then on the cusp of converting to Roman Catholicism, wrote a book called The Catholic Moment. In this work he argued that "the Catholic Church is the leading and indispensable community in advancing the Christian movement in world history. In evangelization, in furthering the Christian intellectual tradition, in the quest for Christian unity, in advocating the culture of life, and in every other aspect of the Christian mission, this is, I contend, the Catholic Moment." I contend that Neuhaus's Catholic moment, if it ever existed,  has come to a close with Benedict's resignation.

A large contributing factor in its snuffing out is undoubtedly the world-wide clergy sex abuse cover up scandals, as  New York Times columnist and conservative Roman Catholic commentator Ross Douthat admits, "Any church that presides over a huge cover-up of sex abuse can hardly complain when its worldview is regarded with suspicion. " But further to this, Benedict's resignation, appeals to ill-health notwithstanding (and fwiw, we wish him well in his retirement), seems to be an admission of defeat in his attempts to reform various facets of the Roman church, including its diplomatic and financial offices as well as its priesthood, from the position of its highest office. These efforts, according to various informed commentators, have been scuttled by the self-interest and vicious inter-personal rivalries of highly placed cardinals within the Vatican curia. This reminds me of the comment of Ronald Knox, an English Catholic theologian of an earlier generation: "He who would travel in the barque of St Peter had best not look in the engine room".

As if that wasn't concerning enough, surely more perplexing for devout Roman Catholics is the reporting that these rivalries are not merely personal - they also reflect the long standing and ongoing post-Vatican II division of the Roman church into conservative and liberal camps. The crucial battle in this war has recently been fought over control of the powerful Vatican diplomatic corps, which not only represents the Vatican to the world but crucially also represents the world to the Vatican, thus serving as the main conduit for information on potential candidates for the episcopate, which largely determines what sort of church Roman Catholics get 'on the ground' in each diocese. This, it seems, is a battle Benedict has lost and with that he has surrendered his attempt to unify the Roman church under his authority as the successor of St Peter (as Rome conceives the Papacy). The most significant aspect of this development for Lutherans is that the continuing division of the Roman church into liberal and conservative camps means that the historic Lutheran proposals for reform will continue to be sidelined; shunned by conservatives with other fish to fry and misrepresented by liberals in the service of their own agenda (a liberal Catholic doth not a Lutheran make!). 

Many confessional Lutherans, including the author, may feel human sympathy for Benedict, who was personally a humble man who at times had brilliant theological insights - after all, if there must be a Pope, at least let him be a good one. But we must also note with disappointment that in many ways the tenor of his reign moved the Roman church further from a place where Lutheran proposals for reform on the table since the Reformation could gain a sympathetic hearing and towards to a renewal of Tridentine-style Catholicism, replete with the Latin Mass and the partial rehabilitation of Traditionalist bishops formerly under doctrinal discipline. However, the Pope's efforts to address declining attendance and apathy among Catholics in the West have borne little fruit while his handling of doctrinal dissent among bishops has further alienated sections of the remaining faithful.

Now, instead of the Catholic renaissance Neuhaus envisaged in his 1987 book, the next Pope seems poised to preside over continuing decline without and dysfunction within the Vatican. Lutherans will not be surprised or unduly disturbed by this - our ecclesiology, although it is an unfinished work, disavows identifying the church of Christ with any particular church body and thereby endowing that body with a divine imprimatur that can be tarnished by the all too human failings of those who lead her.  This leads us to the problematic question of Roman Catholicism's plausibility in the postmodern world, which demands "authenticity" above all else - a basic congruence between the "talk" and the "walk". A church with such an over-realised ecclesiology yet such an underwhelming actuality positively invites scepticism as to its claims. Now that really is, to borrow Neuhaus's sub-title, "the paradox of the (Roman church) in the postmodern world".

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Frederick the Wise's Dream

I've had this in my files for some time. There is no note to say where I got it from but a quick check reveals that it is available elsewhere on the 'net.  There follows a brief bio of Frederick courtesy American PBS.

Frederick the Wise's Dream
On the morning of the 31st October, 1517, the elector said to Duke John, "Brother, I must tell you a dream which I had last night, and the meaning of which I should like much to know. It is so deeply impressed on my mind, that I will never forget it, were I to live a thousand years. For I dreamed it thrice, and each time with new circumstances."
Duke John: "Is it a good or a bad dream?"

The Elector: "I know not; God knows."
Duke John: "Don’t be uneasy at it; but be so good as tell it to me."

 The Elector: "Having gone to bed last night, fatigued and out of spirits, I fell asleep shortly after my prayer, and slept calmly for about two hours and a half; I then awoke, and continued awake to midnight, all sorts of thoughts passing through my mind. Among other things, I thought how I was to observe the Feast of All Saints. I prayed for the poor souls in purgatory; and supplicated God to guide me, my counsels, and my people according to truth. I again fell asleep, and then dreamed that Almighty God sent me a monk, who was a true son of the Apostle Paul. All the saints accompanied him by order of God, in order to bear testimony before me, and to declare that he did not come to contrive any plot, but that all that he did was according to the will of God. They asked me to have the goodness graciously to permit him to write something on the door of the church of the Castle of Wittenberg. This I granted through my chancellor. Thereupon the monk went to the church, and began to write in such large characters that I could read the writing at Schweinitz. The pen which he used was so large that its end reached as far as Rome, where it pierced the ears of a lion that was crouching there, and caused the triple crown upon the head of the Pope to shake. All the cardinals and princes, running hastily up, tried to prevent it from falling. You and I, brother, wished also to assist, and I stretched out my arm; — but at this moment I awoke, with my arm in the air, quite amazed, and very much enraged at the monk for not managing his pen better. I recollected myself a little; it was only a dream.
"I was still half asleep, and once more closed my eyes. The dream returned. The lion, still annoyed by the pen, began to roar with all his might, so much so that the whole city of Rome, and all the States of the Holy Empire, ran to see what the matter was. The Pope requested them to oppose this monk, and applied particularly to me, on account of his being in my country. I again awoke, repeated the Lord’s prayer, entreated God to preserve his Holiness, and once more fell asleep."

 "Then I dreamed that all the princes of the Empire, and we among them, hastened to Rome, and strove, one after another, to break the pen; but the more we tried the stiffer it became, sounding as if it had been made of iron. We at length desisted. I then asked the monk (for I was sometimes at Rome, and sometimes at Wittenberg) where he got this pen, and why it was so strong. ‘The pen,’ replied he, ‘belonged to an old goose of Bohemia, a hundred years old. I got it from one of my old schoolmasters. As to its strength, it is owing to the impossibility of depriving it of its pith or marrow; and I am quite astonished at it myself.’ Suddenly I heard a loud noise — a large number of other pens had sprung out of the long pen of the monk. I awoke a third time: it was daylight."
Duke John: "Chancellor, what is your opinion? Would we had a Joseph, or a Daniel, enlightened by God!"

Chancellor: "Your highness knows the common proverb, that the dreams of young girls, learned men, and great lords have usually some hidden meaning. The meaning of this dream, however, we shall not be able to know for some time — not till the things to which it relates have taken place. Wherefore, leave the accomplishment to God, and place it fully in his hand."

 Duke John: "I am of your opinion, Chancellor; ‘tis not fit for us to annoy ourselves in attempting to discover the meaning. God will overrule all for his glory."
Elector: "May our faithful God do so; yet I shall never forget, this dream. I have, indeed, thought of an interpretation, but I keep it to myself. Time, perhaps, will show if I have been a good diviner."


Frederick the Wise is remembered as the man who saved Martin Luther from the fury of the Catholic Church.

Frederick was born in Hartenfels Castle, Torgau in 1463, the first son of the Elector Ernst of the House of Wettin. In 1486 he succeeded his father, together with his younger brother John, as sovereign of Ernestine Saxony.

He was a man of peaceful conciliation and kept his territory out of all warfare during his reign.

In 1502 he founded the University of Wittenberg where Martin Luther taught. During Luther's lifetime Wittenberg was the home and intellectual centre of the reformation movement of which the sovereign was a reliable protector, although only active in the background.

At a crucial period for the early Reformation, Frederick protected Luther from the Pope and the emperor, and took him into custody at the Wartburg castle after the Diet of Worms (1521), which put Luther under the imperial ban. His repertoire of diplomatic stalling tactics stood their test; the opponents never finding a weak point. He saw Luther as unjustly persecuted because Luther could not be found guilty of any real crime.

Frederick, however, had little personal contact with Luther and remained a Catholic, although he gradually inclined toward the doctrines of the Reformation.

Frederick, as was his habit, formed his own opinion after exact consideration of the state of affairs by his advisers and listening to the opinion of a recognized expert, in Luther's case Erasmus von Rotterdam.

Frederick died at his hunting lodge in Lochau in 1525."

Monday, 11 February 2013

Pope Resigns!

Well, as if a virtual tour of the Grand Canyon wasn't exciting enough, we can presently (Feb 11th, 10:00PM AEST) report that the Pope has resigned, effective later this month, citing increasingly poor health. We can expect a conclave come March. I wouldn't normally bother to take note of this, since the old manse makes no pretense to being an ecclesiastical news blog, but since none of the blogs expected to do so, not even National Catholic Reporter or Sentire Cum Ecclesia, has this up as yet we couldn't resist the chance to scoop them!
It will indeed be interesting to see who is elected to replace Benedict. Not that we hold any hope that the essential nature of the Papacy will be changed thereby, it will just be... interesting, as they say, and no doubt quite momentous for the immediate future of the Roman Catholic Church and those in her thraldom, whoever is elected. For example, will Benedict remain an éminence grise behind the scenes, or will this mark "generational change" in the Vatican? Whatever the case may be, we commend Benedict for pardoning his whistleblower butler as one of his final official acts. We also hope he has more time to read Luther in his retirement - we suggest re-visiting the seminal works of 1520.

Dear Brothers,

I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013


This Is Neat: Google Streetview of the Grand Canyon

This is neat: Google Streetview of the Grand Canyon: