Irish People of God Speak: Will Pope Now Listen?

By Jerry Slevin
Christian Catholicism
May 29, 2015

A respected and leading expert on Catholic Church reform for almost a half century, Tom Fox of the National Catholic Reporter, asks perceptively and directly : Can the Catholic hierarchy finally admit it has Catholic sexual teachings wrong? Admittedly, he notes, it’s a tall order, pointing out that if Pope Francis and his hierarchy just withhold judgment without addressing and amending past teaching errors, it will not be enough. Nowhere near enough.

Fox also points out the gift Pope Francis and the Catholic hierarchy have been handed by the Irish with their overwhelming vote to legalize same sex marriages. Coming just months before the Synod on the Family set for next October in Rome, the vote by this Catholic nation is nothing less than a church plebiscite – a vote of the Catholic sensus fidelium for all to see that official Catholic teaching on human sexuality is wrong, hurtful, and even, at times, immoral.

In Catholic theology, the Holy Spirit guides the Catholic populace, not just the pope. By an almost two to one margin, over a million Irish voters, mostly Catholic, rejected a key position of the pope’s on marriage. The pope in his absurd Family Synods avoids rejection of papal positions by inviting only celibate male bishops to fully participate in the decisionmaking process. Of course, no women or men in normal committed relationships.

Fox correctly cites a recent NCR editorial that states the situation succinctly. It reads in part (in italics):

It is time for church teaching to reflect what social science tells us and what Catholic families have long understood: Catholicism must cast off a theology of sexuality based on a mechanical understanding of natural law that focuses on individual acts, and embrace a theology of sexuality that has grown out of lived experience and is based on relationships and intentionality.

Fox fairly observes that the Irish vote is a wake up call. If the Synod on the Family ends with only a “pastoral” conclusion, a call that we all need “to open our selves and parishes to essentially wayward, sinners, that we need to love these “sinners” even as they continue to engage in “intrinsically disordered acts,” it will have failed all of us. The Synod then, despite the best intentions, will almost certainly end up further eroding the Catholic Church – if this is possible – as moral force on matters of family, human relationships and sexual theology.

Pope Francis says Catholics should “create a mess” to help him promote changes in the Catholic Church. The Irish responded and have created a “mess”. The Catholic majority are pleased for now; although many are skeptical. Some see a bright ray of hope shining through the crisis of trust triggered by Church scandals. Others think the window of opportunity for hopeful light from Pope Francis will close soon if he is not prophetic and transparent in his limited time still available. Indeed, some even think the Vatican’s current “holy mess” will be its final mess.

Yet, Francis has so far offered few indications about concrete changes he really wants. Many Church leaders seem fearful of any changes. Yet, many Catholics and others are finally pressing for permanent changes. They have by now seen Vatican misconduct up close and too often. They now also understand better that many of the Vatican’s frequently ambiguous, if not vague, basic biblical and historical sources supporting papal power and “unchangeable dogmas”, have too often been overplayed, if not misused, in encyclicals and a Catechism, to justify supreme papal power, a clearly unchristian concept.

Significantly, these permanent changes, that the Catholic majority seeks in good conscience and good faith, may differ ultimately from what many in the Vatican now want. As the “infallible Supreme Pontiff” for millions of Catholics, Pope Francis has the best papal opportunity in many years, if not centuries, to fix the broken Catholic Church. This may also be the final papal opportunity to clean up the “holy mess”. Time will soon tell.

This crisis has led to one papal resignation already. Pope Francis appears for many reasons to be the Vatican’s best and last chance to lead on initiating overdue Church changes.

Pressures beyond Vatican control can be expected to compel more severe changes if Francis fails to act effectively and transparently. This has already begun to happen with respect to Vatican finances, as a result of the continuing European governmental investigations of multiple misdeeds involving both the Vatican Bank and the Vatican’s own significant portfolio assets.

Prospects for criminal prosecutions of Catholic Church officials have seemingly caused the Vatican to focus on overdue reforms in ways that earlier financial penalties and shameful publicity had rarely done before. As with corporate criminal executives worldwide, prosecution risk is generally a uniquely effective deterrent to future crimes by senior leaders.

Almost 150 years ago, facing a similar crisis, Pope Pius IX refused to initiate overdue changes to his arbitrary and ineffective leadership of his Kingdom of the Papal States in central Italy. His key misguided “fix” was to push to be declared “infallible” in July 1870.

Two months later, he militarily lost the Kingdom completely to Italian nationalists. Traditional papal protectors like France and Austria-Hungary stood by and passively watched, unwilling to support further papal mismanagement and capriciousness. Will Pope Francis make a similar mistake like Pius IX did by misjudging his precarious position?

The Vatican no longer even has comparable powerful protectors. It is mostly on its own now in the international political arena, like Pius XI’s Vatican was by 1870. Popes since 1870 have counter culturally tried secretively to rule mainly as “semi-divine infallible” absolute monarchs with tightly controlled subordinate bishops worldwide in an increasingly democratic world now linked by an open Internet and an 24/7 worldwide free media.

The Vatican is running out of time to adjust to current reality and may be forced to do so soon.

Building governmental pressures indicate currently that if the Vatican does not adopt key changes voluntarily and soon, the Vatican can be expected to be compelled to change involuntarily. This has recently already happened repeatedly, for example, in the financial area.

Another recent example of increasing governmental pressure is the Australian national investigation into child abuse in religious organizations. It has already led to the Vatican changing both internal policies, and key leadership in Australia, including Cardinal George Pell, and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Papal Nuncio, following a massive effort by government investigators. Similar investigations can be expected in other countries as well, and are already underway in the UK and Scotland.

The Vatican likely will be unable to contain much longer the cumulative and growing pressure, both internal and external, for change. Well publicized Vatican scandals continue to proliferate before a steadily skeptical world audience that is unconvinced either by the Vatican’s limited efforts so far or by its many public relations diversions.

Many Catholics and others are becoming more impatient about protecting innocent victims of continuing Vatican scandals and misguided policies — including millions of poor women, children, couples, divorced persons and gay folks.

The building governmental pressures indicate increasingly that the Vatican can change voluntarily or, as has already repeatedly happened in the financial area generally and in the child protection area in Australia and in the marriage area in Ireland, the Vatican will be compelled to change involuntarily.

Significantly, the Vatican no longer benefits from the powerful international protection that had enabled the Vatican to avoid overdue changes for centuries. In the current world of democracies and a free press and Internet, the secretive Vatican is vulnerable.

Neither the Vatican’s high priced consultants, lawyers and lobbyists, nor the Vatican’s opportunistic financial elite allies, who seek Vatican backing to protect the income inequality status quo that benefits them so disproportionately, are hardly comparable substitutes for the earlier military backing of the Holy Roman Emperor and other powers. These powers had effectively protected the Vatican for centuries from demands for change. No more.

The world’s political leaders have noted that the pope’s polling popularity in predominantly Catholic Ireland does not carry over to Catholics supporting papal positions in voting booths.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis’ Synod strategy has pulled back the curtain on the Vatican’s fallible and incoherent management structure and helped explain why ex-Pope Benedict had no real choice but to resign.

In our 24/7 media world, as the Church’s scandal and mismanagement dominoes fall, a further domino effect will likely take over beyond the Vatican’s power to control it. Fear of this effect has likely contributed to provoking some of the strong opposition that Pope Francis is facing among many in the Church’s leadership.

The Vatican’s sexual morality policy errors on same sex marriage, contraception and other matters are only sick symptoms of a fundamentally deformed Church management structure. These errors stem mostly from the Vatican’s self-interested goal of preserving the myth of a top down, unaccountable, infallible and absolute papal ruler with his unaccountable Vatican bureaucracy and subordinate worldwide bishops. True monarchies like the papacy are doomed in this world of democracies.

The editors at the National Catholic Reporter recently referred to the pope’s many seemingly intentional and contradictory statements and actions as the “Francis two-step”, or the “Pope Francis shuffle”. On the issue of church teaching on sexuality, the editors believe the time for dialogue is likely passed. Action is needed. The strongest message out of the Irish referendum is that on its teaching about sexuality, the Church today faces a watershed moment, just as it did in 1968 with Humanae Vitae banning the birth control pill.

The editors note that Pope Paul VI, whom incidentally Pope Francis unnecessarily, hastily and unwisely beatified, addressed contraception with a disastrous formula. By rejecting the evolving learning about artificial birth control and married love — documented by social science and the testimony of committed, faithful married Catholics on the papal commission he appointed — Paul contributed mightily to the erosion of episcopal credibility. Pope Francis is doing likewise with his “son of the Church” ideological nonsense.

The editors at the National Catholic Reporter view the recent Irish vote for same-sex marriage as a watershed moment for Catholic Church teaching. As an experienced international lawyer, I am more sceptical.

Pope Francis has failed in two years even to initiate any significant permanent reforms in the Catholic Church’s top down governance structure — the source of most papal scandals and sexual morality errors. After much spin, the unnecessary Vatican Bank has reported still almost 150 suspicious transactions in 2014 involving many hundreds of millions of dollars.

Moreover, the pope’s failure to address seriously his biggest challenge, the priest child abuse scandal, is telling. This is clear, for example, from the pope’s acquiescence in the continuing merciless abuse of survivors in Milwaukee, as described below by Fr. Thomas Doyle, and the pope’s outrageous promotion and protection of Cardinal George Pell, also described more below.

It is clear the Vatican is mainly trying to ride out the scandals — keeping the hierarchy out of jail and flush with cash as top priorities. German and US bishops are in a battle with each other over giving remarried divorced Catholics access to communion — a big money issue for bishops in both countries. The German bishops want to loosen up the marriage rules to appeal to divorced couples to protect the multi-billion dollar annual German governmental subsidies. US bishops want to preserve the rigid marriage rules to appeal to US billionaire donors to the bishops who need the anti-gay marriage fundamentalist US voters to elect a “low tax, less regulation and least safety net” US Republican president next year.

The pope’s current trajectory will leave children, poor couples, women and divorced and gay persons at continued risk of harm from unaccountable and self interested Catholic hierarchs. Hence the need for more outside goverment pressure to press the Vatican to restore Church democracy as existed for centuries in the Church Jesus first disciples, including women, left behind.

More governments, including the USA, Germany, Italy, UK, Philippines, et al., must follow Ireland’s and Australia’s impressive lead and press Pope Francis hard to begin real reforms now. The recent Irish vote has shown clearly that this is what a large majority of the world’s Catholics also want, so political leaders must wake up before Pope Francis and his “low tax” US billionaire allies succeed in launching a new major Middle East war “to protect Christians”.

The pope knows well he could change many of the Church’s repressive social policies if he really wanted to. Indeed, for example, Australian Bishop Paul Bird, just stated that the Catholic Church should consider ordaining women. Bishop Paul Bird reportedly said that he had no theological problem with the idea of women priests. “Essentially I don’t have scriptural problems with that,”he said. Of course, the repressive ex-Pope removed Australian Bishop Morris for making statements like Bird made.

Pope Francis will be finishing his papacy soon enough, to be replaced as pope perhaps by the current major power behind the papal throne, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State. Parolin recently and amazingly called Ireland’s referendum to allow civil same sex marriage “not only a defeat for Christian principles, but also a “defeat for humanity.” It appears that the pope and Parolin appear are playing “good cop-bad cop” on same-sex marriage. They are fiddling while Rome (the Vatican) burns, no?

It is abundantly clear now, to me at least, that Pope Francis was picked as an interim place holder to change the subject with papal platitudes about mercy, capitalism and the poor, and with distractions like papal media junkets, absurd “celibate men only Family Synods”, gratuitous and amateurish climate change, capitalism and other vague and ambivalent encyclicals and statements, countless photo ops and the like.

Pope Francis may have given some incurable and docile Catholics temporary hope and a new excuse to avoid stepping up as a Christian to curtail priest child abuse and obtain justice for abuse survivors, after the regressive last two popes, but the recent Irish vote makes clear by almost a two one margin that Catholics, even in the world’s most Catholic country in recent centuries, are no longer buying any pope’s self interested and secretive acts any more. Pope Francis may be liked by many, but he has very limited moral authority over most Catholics as the Irish referendum and recent Chile protests clearly indicate. The Irish vote, in particular, shows that the Catholic Church is rapidly losing its tight grip over its flock

The Catholic Church has only one choice to survive — by democratizing its structure to provide for bishop selection only by the entire People of God, as was the case for over three centuries in the Church Jesus’ own disciples, including women, left behind.

Francis can implement this structure only by a widely representative (including women) general council, that includes the laity and not just bishops and cardinals . If the Pope is serious about reforms, he must call for a general council as Pope John XXIII did. Yes, the Pope must now really openly address the crisis he faces with more than just platitudes, diversions and spin.

Concerning the continuing cruel “re-abuse” of priest abuse survivors, “[t]he Milwaukee situation is the most insidious and openly destructive one I have seen in 31 years…”, said Dominican Fr. Thomas P. Doyle recently. Tom Doyle gives the reasons for his concern and outrage in his recent full remarks below. There he addresses the horrendous and ongoing mistreatment, indeed “re-abuse”, by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee of local survivors of priest sexual abuse, including some of the more than 200 deaf boys who were abused a single priest. See the related HBO Emmy and Peabody Awards’ winning documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God , and here .

This abusive Milwaukee priest was protected for decades by unaccountable cardinals and bishops, including ex-Pope Benedict and his Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone. For years, these defenseless deaf boys tried to tell of their priest abuse in Milwaukee, to little avail.

This Catholic hierarchical cover up of a “one-priest” sexual abuse tsunami and of the related “re-abuse” of survivors are outrageously not unique, as is evident from the recent grilling by the Australian Royal Commission of Fr. Gerald Ridsdale, who was protected by his close ties to Cardinal George Pell, whom Pope Francis nevertheless promoted to a top Vatican position.

Most of the Ridsdale allegations had been well established and publicized before Pell’s promotion. Almost 75,000 people in just a few days have signed a petition calling for Pell — the Vatican’s financial chief and former Archbishop of Sydney — to answer questions under oath in Australia, despite Pell’s initial efforts to duck giving testimony there on new matters. Reportedly, Ridsdale raped an 11 year old girl at a home he shared with George Pell and other priests.

If Pell ever does testify again, the world’s Catholics can expect Pell’s classic “three monkey act” — he saw, heard and knows nothing, that he can recollect in any event. Even “no recollection” replies by Pell are an admission that he does not rule out that Ridsdale’s horrendous abuse of innocent children did occur and that Pell knew about it at the time! In any event, it is crucial that Pell gives evidence to Australian commission .

Moreover, Pell, in effect, under oath also earlier admitted, in effect, to “re-abusing” abuse survivors with cruel and punitive legal tactics, for example, in the so-called Ellis case, like the Milwaukee Archbishop and Cardinal Timothy Dolan also apparently have similarly done.

A Vatican confidante reportedly spoken to by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Australia confirmed Pope Francis was personally aware of the allegations against Cardinal Pell, but was treating them as just that — unconfirmed allegations. Unconfirmed beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, perhaps. But in my experience over three decades as an adviser to top leaders of multinational organizations and corporations, not one of them would ever have promoted Pell like the pope did in light of the well known, widespread, multiple and plausible allegations against Pell. Indeed, Pell admitted before moving to the Vatican under oath to, in effect, using ruthless legal tactics to punitively “re-abuse” abuse survivor, John Ellis.

Of course, Rupert Murdoch appears to be very close to the Vatican and Pell, and also apparently to a top Pell supporter, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, and to the indicted Adelaide Archbishop, the first Catholic archbishop ever criminally charged in a priest child sexual abuse cover up case . And the pope and Murdoch also appear to be partnering to elect a “low tax” Republican as US president next year, possibly Jeb Bush with Big Oil backing.

If the pope were really sincere and serious about curtailing priest child abuse, he would forthwith fire the Archbishop of Milwaukee, as he should have long ago fired, not promoted Pell, and replaced Pell with a woman executive .

It seems evident now, to me at least, that Pell fled Australia to try to get the benefit of the Vatican’s immunity protection from prosecution, with Pope Francis’ full knowledge and support, as Cardinal Bernard Law did earlier under Pope John Paul II. Please see “Australia’s worst pedophile priest’ ” , and “Cardinal Pell is ‘weak and ineffectual’ and not very smart” .

While Pope Francis talks often publicly of “mercy”, his US bishop subordinates privately practiced, and still practice, cruelty, including New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, relating to, among other matters, the Milwaukee priest sexual abuse scandal . Even many college students at a NY Jesuit college recently showed their disgust with Cardinal Dolan and his abuse cover-up hypocrisy when they protested Dolan’s addressing them at their graduation.

Tom Doyle is a Dominican priest in good standing with a doctorate in canon law and five separate master’s degrees. He worked in the early 1980’s for the Vatican’s top US official shortly after then Argentine Jesuit provincial, now Pope Francis, was under the direction of the same official. Tom sacrificed a rising career at the US Vatican Embassy, and a likely bishop appointment in due course, to become instead the world’s most outspoken advocate for Catholic Church abuse victims. For this prophetic and courageous choice, Tom has endured much pain at the Vatican’s hand.

Since 1984, when he became involved with the issue of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy while serving at the Embassy, he has become the world’s top expert in the canonical and pastoral dimensions of this problem—working directly with victims, their families, accused priests, bishops, and other high-ranking Church officials. Doyle has interviewed over 2,000 victims of clerical sexual abuse in the U.S. alone, and has been the only priest to provide expert testimony in over 200 cases as to the legal liability of the Church. He has developed policies and procedures for dealing with cases of sexual abuse by the clergy for dioceses and religious orders in many countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Significantly, Robert Blair Kaiser’s final book, Whistle: Tom Doyle’s Steadfast Witness for Victims of Clerical Sexual Abuse, is due out in a few weeks. Kaiser left the Jesuits after a dozen years and covered the Second Vatican Council for Time magazine and was later a writer for The New York Times. He was until his recent death a well known author of a half-dozen insightful and unapologetic books on the post-Vatican II Catholic Church. Kaiser was particularly proud of having written The Politics of Sex and Religion, the definitive history of Pope John XXIII’s joint lay and clerical commission that called for the Church to change its official teachings on birth control and to approve of artificial contraception. Kaiser generously in 2012 republished this classic as a free e-book (click here) .

Pope Francis inexplicably and inexcusably failed to appoint Tom Doyle to the pope’s “go lightly and slowly” abuse commission, which just confirmed finally the low priority the pope gives to protecting children and the high priority he gives to protecting unaccountable bishops and their wealth.

The many continuing and new priest abuse scandals and bishop cover-ups, as reported 365 days a year by journalist stalwart, Kathy Shaw, at Bishop’s ABUSETRACKER , just confirms the pope’s smokescreen strategy on curtailing priest child sexual abuse and on holding bishops accountable for covering up for the criminal priests. The recent charges, and the pope’s related inaction, by Philadelphia Monsignor Lynn’s family that lay his abuse crimes on Cardinals Justin Rigali and Anthony Bevilacqua, just further confiems this.

It is abundantly clear, to me at least, that Pope Francis was picked as an interim place holder to change the subject with papal platitudes about mercy, capitalism and the poor and distractions like papal media junkets, absurd “celibate men only Family Synods”, gratuitous and amateurish climate change, capitalism and other vague and tw0 sided encyclicals and statements, countless photo ops and the like. It may have given some incurable and docile Catholics temporary hope after the regressive last two popes, but the recent Irish vote makes clear by almost a two one margin that Catholics, even in the world’s most Catholic country in recent centuries, are no longer buying any pope’s self interested and secretive acts any more.

The Catholic Church has only one choice to survive — by democratizing its structure to provide for bishop selection only by the entire People of God as was the case for over three centuries in the Church Jesus’ own disciples, including women, left behind. Francis could implement this structure only by a widely representative (including women) general council, that includes the laity and not just bishops and cardinals .

Pope Francis is unlikely to convene such a council, so prosecutors will have to force the Catholic hierarchy to reform. Either way, the top down Vatican hierarchy is on “life support” as the Irish just showed. Amen!!!








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