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Norbert Bufka

Author  ยท  Historian

Have the Pope and Bishops abandoned the Gospel?

The phrase “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” is very well known. What I learned recently however is that Lord Acton used this phrase in reference to Pope Pius IX in 1870. The Pope had just lost rule over the Papal States in Garibaldi’s effort to unify the people of the Italian peninsula who were following the trends toward democracy that was taking over Europe since the seventeenth century.

Magna Carta and Vatican II

Many of us learned in our world history class that the Magna Carta (1215) was a monumental document that ushered in democracy. In reality it only granted nobles some special privileges. It took five hundred years for the democratic movement to take place among the people. This came about for many reasons but one was the education, or shall I say enlightenment, of the ordinary people.

A similar transition occurred in the Catholic Church when over two thousand bishops assembled at the Vatican to discuss the status of the Catholic Church in the modern world (1962-1965). The result was a number of very progressive documents which ushered in some democracy in the Catholic Church, The meeting and documents are commonly referred to as Vatican II.

Reforms of Vatican II

The documents called for collaboration and cooperation among the bishops and the priests. They gave new emphasis to the role of the laity and urged us to participate in the governance of the Church through the establishment of many Commissions in each parish.

Vatican II called for a greater respect and understanding of all Christians. We can learn from each other and help each other promote the love, peace, forgiveness, and healing which Jesus proclaimed nearly two thousand years ago. Vatican II called for religious freedom for all people, not just Christians, claiming that everyone has the right to follow their conscience.

Vatican II called for the creation of national conferences of bishops so they could adapt the religion to the cultures. As a result we began to worship in English, instead of using Latin that virtually no one understood. Even the priest in some cases merely pronounced the words without understanding them.

On the other hand, Vatican II retained the language and power of the Pope over all matters pertaining to the governance of the Roman Catholic Church. But the changes were similar to the changes made in the Magna Carta in civil society. Unfortunately Pope John Paul II proceeded to overturn the progressive reforms deliberately and quietly in a policy of retrenchment. His first actions were to  appoint men to be bishops who were loyal to him. Yes, that is correct, the men appointed bishops had to sign a loyalty oath to the Pope! One can easily conclude from this that these men are pawns of the Pope, not pastoral leaders of the people. These appointments resulted in a major shift of attitudes and pronouncements by the bishops of the United States. Instead of speaking prophetically on the issues facing us about the economy, peace and justice, they can only proclaim what is dictated by the Pope and his associates at the Vatican. We have not had a major statement from the US bishops since the 1980’s.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, issued a document in 2001 which emphasized the superiority of the Roman Catholic Church over other Christian churches. We are no longer supposed to refer to them as “sister churches” because that would give them a status they do not have, according to Ratzinger. Retrenchment became public.

Catholics became aware of this retrenchment when the Pope ordered the change in the language of the Mass. Instead of using language that is current and easy to understand, the translators chose to use language that is “sacred” and literally translated from the Latin. These changes took effect in December 2011 and have resulted in an uproar of protest from many Catholics.

The latest effort at retrenchment was the investigation of the religious women (nuns) in the United States begun several years ago and the crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (May 2012). Essentially what the Pope wants in this effort is to make the nuns pledge obedience to the Pope.

All these changes point to restoring the control the institution had prior to Vatican II on the part of the Pope and his robotic bishops to take the church back to the pre-Vatican II days when power was absolute and everyone knew it. The “divine right of kings” is alive and well in the Roman Catholic Church!

Sex abuse of children

In the midst of all this but not unrelated is the priest sex abuse of children that was covered up by many bishops for years even after the abuse was made public. Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston is the “poster child” of this cover up. He was whisked away to Rome to keep him from prosecution and of course embarrassment of the Pope. The sex abuse of children was and is horrible but even worse is the refusal on the part of bishops to be accountable for their actions. A high profile case is current in Philadelphia with the conviction of a priest for endangerment of children by appointing abusive priests to parishes after serious allegations were brought against the priests. The bishops of that diocese however exercised the real power and must be brought to justice. Among those in power in Philadelphia was Bishop Joseph Cistone of Saginaw.

Religious freedom

In early July the bishops of the United States engaged in a pseudo campaign for religious freedom. They are wrapping their efforts at control in the Bill of Rights rather than restoring their credibility through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Without saying it publicly, the bishops are really claiming that their handling of the sex abuse is a religious matter, not civil.

The Pope and bishops of the Catholic Church have much to learn. They have much to change. Democracy will win out but more importantly the message of love and healing proclaimed by Jesus will ultimately win if the people remain steadfast in their opposition to this corruption of power.

This article puts me squarely in opposition to the Pope and bishops (and now some priests) of the Catholic Church which I dearly love. But I cannot silently stand by while this corruption of power continues. I hope this sheds some light on what is happening in the Catholic Church.

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