Pope Benedict’s wake-up call
The news reports read like the plot of a grade B (or C) movie or perhaps a silly mystery novel: mysterious people lurking in the background of a scandal, the butler fired and accused of wrongdoing, corruption and political and financial manipulation behind the scenes.
One might think that this comes from a notorious state in the developing world like Mali or one of those republics that became independent with the collapse of the Soviet Union such as Turkmenistan. But no! It is the Vatican.
Of course, we have heard all of this before — during the 9th and 10th centuries–what one of my professors called the period of papal pornocracy. Or perhaps we think of the Renaissance, when popes worked and fought hard to carve out states for their bastard sons and arrange good marriages for their illegitimate daughters.
But I am not describing 1,000 or 500 years ago. I am describing headlines from last week! How can the church even appear to be the church of the poor and oppressed (we call this Christ’s preferential option for the poor)? I am embarrassed, scandalized, and profoundly saddened by this mess. I mourn for such a corrupted and distorted church.
But the Catholic Church is every bit as much mine as it is the pope’s or the college of cardinals’ or the bishops’ church. Nothing will drive me out, although I long for a Martin Luther to call it as he sees it with no holds barred.
Where do we look to understand this? We go to that famous sign on Harry Truman’s desk: the buck stops here. That should be on the desk of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.
I recall a wise priest commenting that when St Peter’s was built in Rome, the quotation from Matthew in big letters should not have been “I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven” but rather a couple of lines later in Matthew: “Get you behind me, Satan.”
I am not suggesting that Benedict is Satan any more than Jesus was denouncing Peter as Satan. But the leaders of the Church in Rome appear to have forgotten that second quotation while wallowing in the first. Jesus spoke both for a reason.
I have no doubt of the personal sanctity of Pope Benedict. Yet he needs to get serious about administering and reining in the cardinals and bureaucrats, many of whom he has appointed.
When Pope John XXIII was asked how many people worked in the Vatican, he answered: “About half.” I wish it were so today. I would take sloth over fraud any time.
Yet the pope keeps making cardinals who run the bureaucracy who are not themselves experienced shepherds of the church, much like himself when he went to work in the Vatican. It is time to clean house. It is time to take away the sanctimonious big shots and their privileges.
I’d like to see fewer red socks and white lace and more compassion and service. It looks to me like when two or three are gathered together in the Vatican, the most we can expect is nonsense. That is not exactly what Jesus said about two or three gathering together.
Here is my message to the cardinals. Leave the fancy red clothes to the St Louis Cardinals. Wear simple priestly garb. Look like a man of God and not a character who walked out of a Renaissance fresco. Talk about the poor and oppressed (that should take all your waking hours, or at least the hours between wine sipping and fine dining).
I hope the holy father can start this process by refining his own behavior. There are pictures online of his now arrested butler carrying a white umbrella to shield the pope from I-don’t-know-what.
Holy Father, sell the white umbrella and the red shoes and give the money to the desperately poor. If you need a suggestion of where to find them, I can help. Try the diocese of Machakos in Kenya.
When the next papal election takes place, I hope and pray that the cardinals will do something radical. I think it is time to reach outside the Sacred College. Choose a pastoral and simple bishop.
I hear that Bishop Clark of Rochester is available, and he is three years younger than Benedict when he was elected. It has been a mere 600+ years since a non-cardinal has been elected. It is time for an outsider to sit on the chair of Peter and start a process to revamp the governance of our Holy Catholic Church that more and more appears not to live up to its name.
If the cardinals choose a cardinal, I hope it is someone like 78-year-old Angelo Roncalli, who in 1958 was elected and took the name John XXIII. I used to joke that Pope John brought the Church from the 16th at least into the 19th century with the Second Vatican Council (convened 1962). Now is the time to move from the 19th to the 21st century. I don’t see any Vatican insider who can do that.
Of course there are many pious and holy and effective bishops and cardinals. But they seem quiet and marginalized. I ask them to be more bold and to take more risks.
Shepherds are not good because they let the sheep roam. They have that shepherd’s crook for a reason. St Catherine of Siena, whose tomb I visited today in Italy, was an outspoken critic of pope and cardinals. She was investigated by the Inquisition but became a saint and a doctor of the Church.
If our leaders do nothing, then laypeople need to hold the leaders’ feet to the fire. Hmmmmm. Flaming soles of corrupt church leaders is the way corrupt church leaders are punished in Dante’s Inferno. We could use his indignation now!