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Today's lead commentary completes the serialisation of Tom Lee's very personal and lengthy journey of exploration examining the origins of Christianity. There is one Chapter that follows in the logical sequence but we serialised that back at the start in March 2008. In that final chapter Tom examines the future but, for better or worse, we're now 'living it' and judging by the press the institution is receiving around the world lately not many of us are enjoying it. Today's final excerpt is interesting as, in a way, it is a commentary on the legacy of the last five pontiffs.
Epilogue—The Results Part 29.5
Science and law break free from religion...
When Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), known at the time as God's Rottweiler for his ferocious defense of the Catholic faith, declared in December 1995 that Pope John Paul II's recent statement condemning discussion of the ordination of women, published as "definitive" was actually "infallible" and the American bishops called on people to reflect on it, Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister wrote in the National Catholic Reporter website:
"I couldn't help it: I began to reflect on the infallibility of infallibility. I wondered, if infallibility is so clearly a part of the Petrine office, why it took us 1,870 years to discover it and why most of the bishops of the church resisted its declaration even then. And why it has been used so few times ... I am now more convinced than ever that this subject is not closed, in fact, has not even been opened. It has only been suppressed."
Retired Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (former auxiliary in Detroit) in a 2005 sermon could not fathom why the church can't return to the original tradition — ordained married men and women. As Fr. Joseph Nassal wrote:
"Many people in the church have already heard the call and are more than willing to serve ... but they can't: Their biology has disqualified them or their calling has been compromised by the love they share with a spouse or beloved."
The Catholic church is increasingly dependent upon women to carry out its basic ministries; if one were to total up all the female eucharistic assistants, liturgists, pastoral associates and other helpers, it would be crystal clear that Catholicism could not function without them.
St. Paul used anthropos (human being) in referring to Jesus (Philippians 2:7 and Romans 5:15), and so did the Councils of Nicaea, Chalcedon and Constantinople. So why can't a human being of either gender represent Jesus in the celebration and consecration of the liturgy?
In reviewing a book "Freeing Celibacy" by Fr. Donald Cozzens, Notre Dame professor of theology Fr. Richard McBrien wrote:
"The book, in effect, points its finger at a massive elephant in the church's living room that many still pretend not to see. Unfortunately, the church is running out of priests, and the apparent determination to 'stay the course' in effect places a human-made rule above the sacramental needs of the church. It is nothing less than a spiritual tragedy that millions of Catholics worldwide are denied the Eucharist and other sacraments simply because there aren't enough priests to make them available."
The twentieth-century was distinguished by secular dogmas that aped theocracy in Stalin's Soviet Union, in Hitler's Nazi Germany, and in Mao's China. They replaced God with the State and had their own scriptures that were inerrant, a hierarchy whose authority tended to concentrate in the hands of elderly men, and a secret police force with the powers of an Inquisition. Like the major religions, they gathered power to themselves in the name of something that was not to be questioned. It is well to remember the warning by Sinclair Lewis: "When fascism comes to America it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
The Church hierarchy would do well to heed Charles Darwin's dictum: "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change." The dictum that "the Church proceeds at an escargot's pace" is not reassuring in the Information Age. Only cretins can deny the antiquity of the Earth, and the fact that vast numbers of creatures, including human beings, appeared long after the origin of life on the planet. Genesis, taken literally, is wrong.
Himself a secular Jew, Karl Marx called religion "the opium of the people," though the preceding sentence — "religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions," shows that he had more respect for the phenomenon than he's often credited with.
Marx had a burning nostalgia for the Middle Ages, condemned the Henrician dissolution of the monasteries and deplored the death, under capitalism, of the free life of the spirit.
No one can deny that the initial impulse of communism was to relieve injustice. When 37 year-old French movie star Gerard Philippe died in 1959, many social critics castigated him for having been a communist; but Catholic philosopher Francois Mauriac declared: "The kind of communism endorsed by Gerard Phillipe meant only that he cared more about his fellow man than did any of his detractors."
The greater openness of the Roman Church since Pope John XXIII's time has resulted in much more dialogue with the other Christian communities about the possibility of future reunion. Pope Paul VI met with Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople and they mutually removed the excommunications that their predecessors had hurled at each other nine-centuries before. Dialogue continues with the Protestant churches and tacit agreement seems to have been reached that Luther's dogmatic formulations are not at variance with Catholic doctrine.
The Roman See has continued to hold together about half the world's Christians. Yet for many centuries it has undeniably constituted one of the chief causes for division with the other half, and the main reason was the monarchization of the Papacy. From the Middle Ages on, the Papacy increasingly saw itself as a sovereignty established over God's Church and behaved accordingly. The Conciliar movement of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when two, three and even four popes contended against each other, was an unsuccessful attempt from the inside to stem the advance of the notion of a divinely appointed papal monarchy. The Protestant Reformation was an out and out rejection of it a century later.
Encouraged by Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI, the Second Vatican Council approved its principal treatise on the nature of the Church, Lumen Gentium, a text from which any trace of the word monarchy had been scrupulously removed.
Pope John Paul I (Albino Luciani) lived just long enough to be missed. Despite its brevity, his month-long papacy may come to be seen as symbolically decisive in a way pontificates of much longer duration have failed to be. From the first moment he discarded the paraphernalia and the personal style of a monarch: no crown, no coronation, no royal we. The death of a Russian Orthodox bishop in his arms, during an audience, was seen as symbolic by many. The pope's abrupt death seemed to canonize the one objective thing his pontificate must be remembered for. He identified himself in one short month with a reversal of over a thousand years of papal symbolism and self-understanding.
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©2009 Tom Lee