The ignoramuses who have the loudest voices right now continually say things that are not true.
They say the Catholic church is “highly centralized”. That’s a laugh. There is one way in which the church is centralized: it has a body of church doctrine that is well understood and well known. The Vatican is responsible for keeping the doctrine of the church clear, and preserving it from the goofballs in America who want to re-write it everytime there is a new trend.
But when it comes to everything else, the church is decentralized. Note that the Pope is often called the Bishop of Rome; this is because in many ways, he is just first among equals. In many ways, each Bishop is his own little king, living in his own little kingdom.
Archbishop Weakland, for example, used to openly laugh that the Vatican could not do a thing to him. He was free to do all sorts of crazy things, and was even changing church teaching in some ways, yet the Vatican could do nothing.
That’s why the Vatican often moves so slowly, by the way. Primarily, they have a bunch of people who are experts at Catholic doctrine. They try to administer a code of canon law. But administrators, they ain’t. All the administration of the church really takes place in the local diocese. There is no way the Vatican, with a billion Catholics to take care of, can administer the world with a staff of 40. They have never even tried.
If the church were really as centralized as they want to pretend, then why would people like Charles Curran teach incorrect things for decades and still not be dealt with by the Vatican? The same goes for Hans Kung. How come the theology department at Notre Dame is bizarre as it could be, teaching things that are not Catholic at all? No, the church is highly decentralized. However, they must pretend that the Pope is the CEO of the church, in order to divert attention from the horrors of local, liberal bishops who looked the other way – and now they seek to throw all the blame on the Pope.
Look, the liberals hate this Pope because he is cleaning up the church. Their long reign of filth is coming to a close. As the recent appointment of Archbishop Gomez in LA shows, this Pope is boldly taking back the church from those who caused the abuse crisis.
And so their friends in the media have launched a full scale war on the Pope, in an attempt to smear his name and drive him from office. Notice that all of the recent criticism comes over decisions that were made 30 years ago, when no one understood the abuse crisis. Note that in all of these cases, the local bishop was a noted liberal in the church who was strongly criticized for being lax on child abusers. The NYT does not tell you that.It wants you to think that the Vatican knows all and sees all. The NYT knows that all of the problems were really caused by these liberal bishops in the church; however, they see an opportunity to throw all the blame on the Vatican instead.
OK, look. There are over 400,000 Catholic priests on the planet. Do you know how many priests are on the staff of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has oversight in these matters? Something like 40. It is inevitable that the Vatican will have to rely on local bishops to attend to most of these matters. I can’t think of another church or religious organization that has comparable global reach, and which is centrally administered. I’m not trying to let the Vatican off the hook here, but I am trying to understand how difficult it is for the CDF to do proper oversight with such paltry resources …
Serious question: how is the Vatican, with its extremely limited resources, supposed to handle this problem? Again, I’m not trying to excuse Vatican inaction, but I don’t see how Rome is going to get a handle on this at the level of monitoring particular priests. The pope has to be able to trust local bishops to do the right thing.
Except that the events of recent decades indicate that the pope can’t trust them — not least because if and when local bishops foul up, the Vatican will inevitably be held responsible (by the media, and perhaps eventually even by the courts) for their crimes and blunders. Thus the great irony of the sex abuse scandal: It’s damaged Rome’s moral credibility immeasurably, but at the same time it’s leading to a Catholic future in which the Vatican actually expands its control over church administration.
Catholicism’s hierarchical culture notwithstanding, the church has never been nearly as centralized, nor the pope as powerful, as outsiders and critics often like to imagine. The pontiff appoints bishops and makes doctrinal pronouncements, but popes wrestle with their bureaucracies just like any politician, and the day-to-day administration of the church is almost completely localized. (The Vatican’s much-cited “crackdowns” on dissenters like Charles Curran and Leonardo Boff are well-publicized but also extraordinarily rare — not to mention frequently ineffectual.) This administrative localism, I suspect, is one of the many reasons why so many Rome-based cardinals spent so long downplaying the significance of the American sex scandals — because most of the disastrous decisions were being made in local dioceses, and the Vatican was largely kept out of the loop.
But now that era is over. As time goes by (and especially if the media drumbeat continues), the C.D.F. will probably acquire an ever-larger staff, to avoid accusations that laicization proceedings are taking too long, that abusive priests are still hanging around Catholic communities, that bishops in India (or wherever) aren’t handling abuse allegations appropriately, etc. Bishops, in turn, will become accustomed to punting more and more hard personnel decisions up the ladder, prompting further centralization in Rome, and so on.
All of this is understandable, given the gravity of the scandal, and it’s obviously preferable to the see-no-evil, pre-Pope Benedict status quo. But it means that far from becoming the more decentralized body that many of the current hierarchy’s critics claim to hope for, the post-scandal Catholic Church may end up more Rome-centric than ever.