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The Papacy in Schism: Benedict's War on the Church
A major challenge to the authority of the pope is being expressed by this author, who encourages lay Catholics to take control of their churches.
By Matthew Fox
Editor's Note: As we document at this website in many ways, the Religious Right in this country has become a heretical movement within Christianity. It now has adopted positions hostile to the bible and orthodox doctrines and confessions. It is now led by persons motivated by commercial and political success, not the historic truth of the gospel. And in the interview below we hear from a Catholic theologian who believes that the current papacy has become "in schism," separated from the reality of the universal church itself. That means that both the primary religious expressions supporting current conservative and Republican politics, both the Religious Right and the Catholic hierarchy, can no longer be understood as legitimate teachers or leaders of Christian faith.
The Catholic Church is ripe for another reformation. That’s the message theologian Matthew Fox sends in his new book, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade has Imperiled the Church and How it Can be Saved (Sterling Ethos, 2011).
Fox is a former Catholic priest who was silenced by Pope Benedict XVI (who was then Cardinal Ratzinger) after a 12-year-long battle over his writings. The book points to scandals, from the best-known to the unfamiliar, that are rotting the church from the inside out. The current pope, Fox contends, has filled the Church with yes-men (all men, of course), and it's up to the Catholics in the pews to "push the restart button on Christianity."
Religion Dispatches had a chance to talk with Fox about his new book and the future of the Roman Catholic Church.
RD: Tell us about your new book. How has Ratzinger—now Pope Benedict XVI—imperiled the Catholic Church?
MF: It’s about the last 30 years of Catholicism. I had a conversation with Father Edward Schillebeeckx, the Dutch Dominican theologian, about 15 years ago and he said to me, “I and many other European theologians, believe the present papacy is in schism.” That really came back to me as I was writing this book. “Schism” is a big word because historically and theologically it is when the Eastern Church split from the West in the 11th century and from the Roman Catholic point of view, the Protestant Reformation would have been a schism, too.
So, this idea really came to the fore as I was writing this book because what’s really clear is that the Second Vatican Council, in the early ’60s, they really changed the direction of Roman Catholicism around many things including collegiality—meaning that the pope is supposed to be sharing power with the bishop’s conferences around the world—and laypeople are supposed to be empowered, especially around liturgy. So there is this horizontal effort by the Vatican Council, but it was all stuffed by Pope John Paul II and Ratzinger.
If you look at the history of the church, the Councils have always trumped the pope. For example, in the 14th century you had three popes for 42 years, and what’s worse than one pope? Three popes! And what did they do about it? At the Council of Constance (1414-1418) the Council fired all three popes and hired a new one. So, that’s proof that a Council trumps the pope.
So, here you have, in the late 20th century, a Council laying out a whole new direction for Catholicism, and of course ecumenism being a big part of it, and then a pope comes along and trumps the Council. That is schism! This changes the whole name of the game. What I’m really saying is the Vatican is in heresy, so get on with this reformation in the church and just ignore them. Don’t put your energy that way.
I start the book with a quote from Father Bede Griffiths, an English monk who lived in India for over 50 years. He created an ashram there for Christians and Hindus. He said to me, before he died, “Don’t even think about the Vatican, don’t worry about them. Don’t look over your shoulder, keep doing what you’re doing. It’s all going to come tumbling down one day, just like the Berlin Wall.” I think that tumbling down is happening in front of our eyes with this horrible pedophile crisis. It’s not just that. Of course, that’s what the press picks up on, but I include an appendix of 92 theologians whom they have silenced and expelled and beaten up and bloodied from all over the world. I’m just one of those 92.
I take people through Ratzinger and how he came to be who he is, his childhood and adulthood. I also take people through who I call Ratzinger’s enemies—that would be liberation theology and Creation spirituality—and then Ratzinger’s allies, who are really scary. With allies like that you don’t need enemies—like Opus Dei, the Legion of Christ and Father (Marcial) Maciel, who was so close to John Paul II and he abused over 20 seminarians and had two wives on the side with children, all of whom he sexually abused, both boys and girls. But this guy raised more money than anyone in the history of the church. So there are three scandals here: one of them is pedophilia and its cover up. The second is the financial scandal, and the third, but by no means the least, is this intellectual/political destruction of theology.
That’s an awful lot of scandal. Do you offer any hope for the church in the future?
Yes. The last part of the book is the good news. As a theologian I ask, “Does the Holy Spirit have something cooking here?” and I conclude, yes.
The point is, I think the Holy Spirit has used these two bad popes to destroy the Catholic Church as we know it, to absolutely dismantle, deconstruct Catholicism so that therefore we can start over in the 21st century. Not only can Catholicism start over but I think all of Christianity can because it can now move ahead on a truly ecumenical footing and look for a truth catholic—small “c”—Christianity instead of a Roman Catholic, Anglican Catholic, or what have you. Catholic means “universal,” after all, and we have to be thinking in global terms, but also in cosmological terms. It also means we travel much lighter going into the third millennium. Christianity doesn’t need all these buildings we’ve invested in—empty as many of them are. We must make it more about spirituality and less about religion.
The last part of the book, then, is about what to take from the burning building—what treasures are there—and what would a post-Vatican Catholicism look like, and what would a truly catholic Christianity look like?
You’re really writing about two popes, then. One, Pope John Paul II, who is thought of very highly by many Catholics, and Pope Benedict XVI (Ratzinger), who may enjoy less popularity in the pews. What kind of reaction are you expecting when people read this book?
I think John Paul II was given a teflon papacy. He appointed Ratzinger as his chief inquisitor. He brought the Inquisition back. Everything Ratzinger did was supported by John Paul II, including his ugly documents about gays. He wrote two of them when he was chief inquisitor and one since he’s been pope and each one of them is uglier than the other, and meaner. This was signed off on by John Paul II.
Also, John Paul II stood by while all this pedophile stuff was going on, including his close friend Father Maciel who he took on airplanes with him. That’s how close they were. He was utterly passive. The seminarians had written to Rome and told them about their abuse as boys (at the hands of Maciel)—there were now men. John Paul II did nothing. His hands are not nearly as clean as some people would like to imagine.
John Paul II is the one who linked up with Opus Dei and Communion and Liberation, which is another far-far-right wing movement in Italy. They canonized (Josemaria) Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, and Escriva actually praised Hitler. He was a card-carrying fascist. Now, they’ve appointed all these Opus Dei and fascist bishops and cardinals all over Latin America to replace liberation theology. We should not be naďve about either of these popes.
Polls here in America have shown that a majority of laypeople in the pews of the Catholic Church are supportive of marriage equality for gay and lesbian people. Nearly three-quarters, in fact, favor either marriage or civil unions for gays and lesbians. Will the Vatican ever catch up with its flock?
I think the Vatican in its present state is beyond redemption. I think it is a very closed boy’s club. I have a section in the book on bullying. Ratzinger is a bully. I know him. He was in a 12-year battle with me before he won, I guess, and expelled me. Part of bullying, according to the studies that I’ve found, is that the bully likes a wolf pack. That wolf pack is the Curia (the central governing body of the Roman Catholic Church). It’s interesting that he appointed 24 cardinals in December and ten of them are in the Curia. They have lots of power and it’s a very tight circle, which is of course why they don’t want women in the club, it’s a boy’s club.
The point I make in the book is that the laypeople have to take over the church, period. It’s not going to be reformed from the inside, or from the top down, at all. It’s rancid, and so, these people have to assert themselves and that’s the next step, for laypeople to realize it’s their church. They should only hire ministers who are willing to serve and not to be served, and that means starting over.
This article appeared in Religion Dispatches.
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