As the largest religious organization and denomination in the world, the Catholic Church is going to attract controversy, rightly or wrongly. Conservative positions that are espoused by the Church regarding the role of women in the church, birth control, gays and the ongoing child sexual abuse cases have rocked the Church to its core, leading to massive defections from its pews. Up until n0w, the Church has looked as if it would be able to weather all of these crises, however fierce the fights that they engender may be. Until now, that is.
This week, the butler to Pope Benedict XVI was arrested in the Vatican on charges that he had stolen sensitive documents from the Pope’s desk, and turned them over to reporters. Included in these documents was information relating to money laundering and kickbacks at the Vatican Bank, one the largest, not to mention, most secretive, banks in the world, memos outlining corruption within the administration of the church, and other information relating to the factional strifes that apparently have engulfed the Church hierarchy within the Vatican.
Some Vatican observers contend that the butler in question, Paolo Gabriele, lacked the sense of intrigue to orchestrate such a massive leak of such damning evidence to the Italian media, and that he is acting in concert with others, perhaps even being directed by a cardinal intent on overturning the authority of Benedict. Whatever the case, the leak has massive implications for the Vatican, both internally and globally.
At its core, the Catholic Church is a medieval institution that’s dominated entirely by men, which, in my ever so humble opinion, is never healthy for any organization. In its current form, it’s not capable of the systemic and fundamental change that’s needed to address the issues that have come to the surface in the documents, and also with respect to the ongoing controversies regarding doctrine. The hierarchy of the church is just not capable, either operationally or constitutionally, of embracing the changes that are going to be necessary to right a listing ship, particularly when the scope and scale of the challenges that it faces are rapidly escalating, both in seriousness and in terms of the damage that they’re going to inflict on the flock of Rome.
The problem is that it’s no longer possible to just ignore the theological issues with which some in the flock may take issue, but that the entire institution, from the top on down to the bottom, may be rotten to its very core. If the information in the leaked documents is true, this could lead to arrest of even cardinals, a prospect that would previously have been utterly unthinkable.
I don’t agree with much of what the Church has done in the recent past, but I take no pleasure in watching this institution twist in the wind. There is much that is very good about the Church, and, having grown up in it, it has a special place in my heart. But in order to correct those problems that threaten its very existence, it’s going to have to embrace changes that the misogynist genrontocracy will never be able to swallow. The changes, much like the Reformation that rocked the Church in the 1500s, is going to have to come from below, and force the hand of those that hold the power.
It’ll likely take the form of a protracted ideological struggle that’ll split the Church, at least initially. Its outcome is far from known, and the amount of time it’ll take is anyone’s guess. But the status quo ante (to appropriately work at least some Latin into this post), if pursued to its logical conclusion, will relegate what would otherwise be a highly viable and constructive institution, to the dustbin of moral, political and theological obsolescence. And that would be a shame.