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Failure of governance is the biggest crisis facing the Church

Scandals, including those involving child abuse and the Vatican Bank, make the task of evangelisation harder

By on Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Pope Francis with members of the Council of Cardinals (CNS)

Pope Francis with members of the Council of Cardinals (CNS)

There is a crisis in Catholicism. Everyone knows that, though just where the crisis is located is a matter of disagreement.

Some people say the crisis is to do with doctrine, and they point to the matters of Humanae Vitae, same sex relations, divorce and remarriage. I disagree. I do not think there is any such crisis. All the Church’s teachings are securely founded on scripture and tradition as far as I am concerned. To loosen the anchors of either would be to let the magisterium drift on the open seas, subject to every passing wind: now that really would be a crisis of doctrine.

Others say the crisis is to do with prayer, and all our problems are caused by our failure to pray. Certainly, we can always do with more prayer in the Church, and the Church cannot pray too much. But the falling off in prayer is not a cause of the crisis in my opinion, it is rather a symptom of it. People have given up on prayer, if indeed they have, because they have been discouraged from doing it because of the crisis of government in the Church.

This is the real crisis – the failures in government at all levels. As anointed people we are called to be prophets, priests and kings, like Christ the Anointed One, and we have seriously failed in our call as kings, that is to say as administrators of worldly goods and as man managers. Remember, the two great heroes of the Old Testament are King David, the great leader of men, and his son, King Solomon, the wise ruler and administrator of a huge empire. The anti-heroes are Saul, who lost the kingdom, and people like Jezebel and Ahab, who were not proper kings but tyrants, exploiting people for their own ends, not ruling for the common good.

How is this crisis of government apparent? Well, take this story from this paper’s website, about the Father General of the Camillan Order trying to rig, allegedly, his re-election. I knew the Camillans in Africa, and there are many good people in that order, but, if this story is true, something has gone seriously wrong in the order’s governance. Moreover, though the details are much less piquant, what is true for the Camillans is true for numerous other orders in the Church. I could give details, but one does not want to wash dirty linen in public.

The crisis of government is also apparent in the child abuse scandals that have rocked the Church.

First of all, if the religious life had been functioning properly, and if religious superiors had been doing their job, they would never have put children into the care of risky individuals, or if they had, they would have realised their mistake sooner rather than later. After all, religious orders are supposed to discern where the talents (and weaknesses) of individual members lie; many orders practice manifestation of conscience, or something similar. Again, religious superiors are supposed to supervise the works for which they are responsible. So, any incidence of child abuse in the ambience of a religious order shows that that Order was not functioning according to its rule. (This does not hold to the same extent for a diocese where there is no close community life, though in a diocesan setting something similar could be said – the diocesan authorities have the duty to supervise the people under their command).

Secondly, and even more importantly, when abuse took place, if the superiors had followed Canon Law, their own rules, or even just followed common sense, much terrible damage, and re-offending, could have been prevented. But, because religious superiors acted in a way that was neither transparent nor accountable, terrible mistakes were made. Again, this involved failing to follow their own rules, which, in theory allow for accountability and transparency.

Consider the case of Marcial Marciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. How did he get away with it for so long? This whole sorry saga might well have been cut short if there had been more transparency and accountability. If the rule of the Legionaries allowed for a culture of abuse and secrecy, then why on earth did the Congregation for Religious ever approve the rule in the first place? Marciel was allowed to flourish because he had powerful friends in the world who backed him to the hilt, and because he also had powerful friends in the Vatican, a Vatican that was seemingly divided against itself. The case of Marciel is just one reason why we desperately need a properly functioning Roman Curia once more. I wonder how many vocations Marciel destroyed!

The crisis of government is also apparent in the long running sage of the Vatican Bank. This is so complicated a story that I cannot possibly comment on it, but it has been going on far far too long. Catholics the world over want to hear no more about the Vatican bank. Is that too much to ask? It is bringing us all in to disrepute.

Now it would be pushing it to claim that the scandal of the Vatican bank was somehow putting people off coming to Church. I have never heard anyone say “I don’t go to Mass any more, Father, ever since I read about Roberto Calvi.” But the truth of the matter is that the various scandals (especially the child abuse scandal) and less than scandals – the huge cock-ups in which the Vatican until recently seemed to specialise – do make the task of evangelisation much harder. All of the mismanagement and bad government represents a shift away from the leadership of someone like King David (in his youth at least) to the tyranny of Ahab and Jezebel, a shift from a discourse based on love, to a discourse based on power.

If we talk about love, and we practice it, we can evangelise, even effectively so. If we are caught up in the politics of power, our talk will be tainted with the whiff of power and our attempts at evangelisation will lack all credibility. You can’t proclaim Jesus Christ who died on a Cross, while at the same time living the life of Rodrigo Borgia.

Pope Francis – change the Church, and change it now!