Abuse of power

They
say the devil is in the detail and for the Catholic Church the fact that its
frail leader, Pope John Paul II, is in no fit state to pay much attention to
anything at all may explain why the world’s biggest church is currently
embroiled in the worlds biggest scandal, By Paul Simpson

A
billion people are defined as Catholics. That is one in six of the world’s
population, a market share any multinational – even McDonalds – would envy.

A
moment’s consideration of that staggering number seems to make the very idea
that the Roman Catholic Church is in crisis nonsensical. But the danger is
real, and even some bishops, the church’s senior managers, are talking of a
"crisis in leadership".

Like
all customer bases, the church’s is changing. John L Allen Jr, author of the
book Conclave (about the papal succession) and Vatican correspondent for the US
publication National Catholic Reporter, says: "Almost 50 per cent of
Catholics in the world now live in Latin America."

The
boom in the church’s Latin American subsidiary is matched by growth in Africa
(although even this success has been tarnished by charges of the sexual abuse
of nuns).

The
divisions in head office’s black books, even before the recent set of child
abuse scandals hit the church – which it refers to as the ‘skandala’ – were
North America, Australasia and Western Europe. Business isn’t booming in these
regions, and local managers are seen as being ‘off message’.

Furthest
off-message is the German Catholic Church, where Cardinal Karl Lehman – who has
criticised Vatican policy on divorce – may be regarded by some Vatican
hardliners as benevolently as Alastair Campbell regards Cherie Blair’s
spiritual advisers.

The
world’s oldest multinational (it is at least 1,960 years

since
St Peter founded the church) is being led in its hour of maximum peril by an
82-year-old man, who, Allen says: "…has undergone surgery six times during
his pontificate, suffers from a form of Parkinson’s disease that causes his
left hand to tremble and his face to appear frozen, and sometimes wears hearing
aids in both ears."

But
Pope John Paul II will not resign or abdicate, although some say it is a matter
of time before he has to have his speeches read out for him.

"A
modern pope has to be an intellectual, politician, pastor, media superstar and
Fortune 500 CEO," says Allen. "John Paul II strikes an imposing
figure on CNN, but leaves many day-to-day details to others – more, some say,
than any CEO could do without being asked to step down by his board.”

For
example, says Allen, the Pope once signed three different criticisms of the
work of the same Jesuit theologian, all of which were deemed to be
‘quasi-infallible’.

Meanwhile,
the sense of crisis swells with almost every document the Boston church hands
to the courts. Accompanying the lurid details of abuse and even drug use, are
letters suggesting that Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law (who resigned last month)
and colleagues, knew of the scandals.

As
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, auxiliary bishop of Detroit, said in a speech last
May: "What upsets people most, is the failure of the bishops to provide
the leadership that our church needs, and the people of the church have a right
to."

Gumbleton
doesn’t blame the Vatican, however. He cites a 1971 study, conducted by the US
Church, which psychologically profiled priests, and found that 7-8 per cent
were ‘maldeveloped’ and 66 per cent were ‘underdeveloped’.

As
Gumbleton put it: "These people could be chronologically an adult, but
psychologically a teenager.”

But
the church did not follow up on this study – partly, Gumbleton says, because it
was already finding it hard to recruit priests.

The
study points out the complexities of decision making in the Catholic Church. On
some issues, especially those which affect the running of national churches,
authority is so devolved it is hard to make tough decisions.

Yet
on doctrinal issues, the Pope has relied upon an ‘enforcer’, Cardinal
Ratzinger, to ensure the party line is adhered to.

In
Australia, the prominent Catholic writer Paul Collins, who quit the priesthood
after criticism of his book on papal power, says:

"There
is never any dialogue. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [the
church body which rules on theology] simply demands a person submit to what
they define as ‘doctrine’, and that you use the words they dictate."

Although
popes were declared infallible on certain doctrinal matters in 1870, papal
dominance was not established overnight. Various documents (especially a 1917
code which enabled the Pope to appoint bishops) and decisions encouraged
centralisation, a drift accentuated by the current Pope’s stellar media status.

Popular
as John-Paul II is, even Catholics appear to love the singer more than the
song: many of them (even 90 per cent of Italians) ignore his views on birth
control, while one poll suggested that 85 per cent of German Catholics think
the Pope should not select bishops.

And,
Gumbleton says, the ‘skandala’ suggests the way the church selects its leaders
must change. "Every adult member of the church should have an opportunity
to participate in the process in some significant way,” he says.

"At
present, there are criteria for naming bishops which have never been made known
to the community. These criteria eliminate priests who would be most qualified
to be leaders."

Gumbleton
calls for the present informal arrangements, where a Pope may or may not
consult before appointing a bishop, be replaced by a formal system where the
community in a diocese submits a shortlist of candidates to the Pope.

The
Curia (the Vatican bureaucracy) would see this as a threat to the Pope’s
authority, and are as likely to support this as a papal edict advocating
contraception.

The
‘skandala’ has proved the present system isn’t working. The wrong leaders are
being chosen. And (to Gumbleton and others) by methods which undermine their
legitimacy.

The
Roman Catholic Church, which reacts with lightning speed when a prominent
Catholic questions doctrine, seems either uninterested or unable to cope with
the bigger issues.

Many
hopes (and fears) about the church’s future are being deferred until the next
papacy. But picking a pontiff who can steer such a camel-like organisation as
the Roman Catholic Church through the eye of this particular needle, will
either require the wisdom of Solomon, or divine inspiration.

The
papal succession

How
will the new pope be chosen?

The
process looks deceptively simple. To become pope, a candidate must win
two-thirds of the votes of the cardinal electors – a gathering of all cardinals
under the age of 80.

Who
will vote?

122
eligible cardinal electors.

Who
are the candidates?

Among
the front-runners is Cardinal Godfried Danneels, a Belgian theologian hated by
neither the progressives or the traditionalists.

Those
who dream of a John Paul III back Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos of Colombia, while
progressives’ hopes rest with Cardinal Walter Kasper, the German who heads
ecumenical affairs for the Vatican.

The
most likely outcome?

A
transitional papacy, with the next pope being in his late 60s or early 70s.

John
Paul II’s reign has been long, dramatic and divisive. Virtually all of the
eligible cardinal electors – 117 out of 122 – were appointed by him. So, on the
face of it, the next Pope may well be a photocopy of the current one.

Yet,
the cardinals are capable of breaking with the past, as they showed
spectacularly in 1958, when a ‘traditionalist’ conclave elected the liberal
John XIII.

"The
next pope won’t ordain women or change the church’s teaching on homosexuality,
won’t allow homosexual unions, or let Catholics use birth control," says
Allen, "but there’ll be less of a rush to push people out of the church
who say these things".

Further
reading

The
full text of Bishop Gumbleton’s address on the crisis last May is on www.natcath.com/crisis/gumbleton.htm

Breaking
Faith: The Pope, The People, And The Fate of Catholicism – John Cornwell,
Viking/Penguin ISBN 0-670-91106-2

The
Vatican’s official website is on www.vatican.va

The
best unofficial online biography of John Paul II is on www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/pope/etc/bio.html

For
a basic briefing on the election of a Pope, try www.time.com/time/daily/special/papacy/how.html

Conclave
– John L Allen Jr, Doubleday ISBN 0385504535

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