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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

1054, 1517, AND ALL THAT

Something big is happening in the Roman Catholic Church.  I speak as an outsider, a non-believer, but also as an interested observer of the oldest continuous functioning bureaucracy in the Western world.  The Church has undergone two great and apparently permanent schisms [along with many smaller ones]:  The schism of 1054, which separated the Roman Catholic Church, headquartered in Rome, from what became the Eastern Orthodox Church, originally with its headquarters in Constantinople; and The Reformation, which splintered the Church and produced Calvinists, Lutherans, Methodists, Pietists, Baptists, Anglicans, Episcopalians, and even Quakers and Shakers.  It is worth recalling that what we call The Reformation and date to 1517 was actually a three centuries long evolution, the eventual unfolding of which could not have been anticipated by John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jan Hus, Henry VIII, or any of the other significant players in that great drama.

The crisis now engulfing the Catholic Church has, it seems to me, three roots or causes, which are complicatedly intertwined.  The first is of course the deep systemic corruption throughout the Church evidenced by the sexual scandals, which are so widespread and so completely implicate virtually the entire Church hierarchy that no palliative remedies can possibly succeed.  The second, associated with the first, is the ever-greater difficulty of recruiting enough young men to staff the clergy and replace those dying out or retiring.  The third is the attempt to bring the Church into the modern day by such reforms as celebrating the Eucharist in the vernacular, which, while to some degree successful, have triggered a powerful conservative backlash that reaches all the way to the Vatican.

As always, money, tradition, and entrenched interest operate against any fundamental change, but that was, if anything, more true half a millennium ago when the Protestant Reformation erupted, took hold, and split the Christian world. 

I do not have a dog in this hunt, as they say down here in the Southland, so I am simply a fascinated observer.  I rather doubt many of us will live long enough to see this play out to the end.

5 comments: said...

Eight years of Catholic grade-school left me a confirmed Un-believer. Never-mind the gory details. It was the theology itself that put me off. Though I must admit, the Mass in Latin, as I recall, had some peculiar charms.

Howie said...

The church has always been corrupt, hasn't it? And I think that religions, by their very traditionalism, by definition have to suffer crises, even not in such swiftly moving times.
Judaism and maybe Islam, and maybe the other Christian churches, are going through some sort of crisis.
The big question: where are the believers going to jump ship to? And what's going to happen to all the priceless art?

Danny said...

Sure, the *management* of the Catholic Church is kind of interesting to sit around and ponder as an outsider. How the Vatican's management system works. The tightness and closed nature of the management. The Church-in-Rome's managerial closed shop.

'of course the deep systemic corruption throughout the Church evidenced by the sexual scandals'

This is rather breathless hyperbole, and why not, isn't breathless hyperbole interesting? This is sarcasm, and why not, isn't sarcasm interesting? My detached and dispassionate manner is, at least, actually detached and dispassionate. And okay, 'of course', it's interesting to speculate about what is 'at the root' of the pedophilia crisis. An exclusive Old Boys Club based on a rigid class system, or such? Anyways, we are taking a moment and looking starkly at what the church bureaucracy has been doing. It's a thought.

Anonymous said...

In the 1990s my colleagues in criminal justice remarked that the crimes of Catholic Church was more interesting than the New York mafia.

In the last 30 years the Catholic church has admitted to widespread pedophilia, child abuse, forced detention and slave labor, financial impropriety, etc. The organization of the Catholic Church and its status as a "nation-state" is used to protect its finances from transparent oversight (Nash, 2019).

If this isn't deep systemic corruption, please point to a better case study. Or perhaps you prefer the term "normalized deviance" (Vaughn, 1999)?
cheers, Fergus

PS Nash, 2019. The Never-Ending Story? Or, Does the Roman Catholic Church Remain Vulnerable to Charges of Improper Handling of Clergy Child Sex Abuse?, Oxford Journal of Law and Religion.

D Vaughan, ‘The Dark Side of Organisations: Mistake, Misconduct and Disaster’ (1999) 25 Annual Review of Sociology 271, 271.

Charles Pigden said...

I would say that the second and the third causes of crisis are genuine; but less so the first. It is true that the Catholic Church is facing many scandals due to the sexual misbehavior of priests and the tendency on the part of the hierarchy to cover them up. And it true to that this will lead to some deconversions and to some people becoming such luke-warm Catholics that they no longer count as genuine members of the Church. I would even concede that the sexual scandals are related to the second cause in that the reason that the Church is finding it hard to attract recruits to the priesthood is the vow of celibacy and that the reason for the sexual scandals is the inability of many past and current priests to live up to their vows. BUT the Church has survived many such scandals in the past and can do so again, so I don’t see these scandals as an existential threat. (There is absolutely nothing in Catholic doctrine to suggest that sin is impossible or even unlikely for priests.) It is otherwise with the second and the third causes of crisis. I there aren’t enough people to administer the sacraments the church will die. And if enough people find its moral or metaphysical doctrines implausible it will die too. And here there is a problem. If the Catholic Church relaxes the vow of celibacy to attract recruits then this means admitting that on this point for all these centuries they have been wrong and their Greek Orthodox and Protestant opponents have ben right. In which case the claims to Divine Guidance and Divine inspiration start to look a little thin. The same problem arises if they adapt the moral precepts of the Church to make them acceptable to to the modern world. If, say, divorce, contraception and premarital sex are OK, then the Church has been in error for many centuries in saying that they were not. Thus, with respect to the first and third problems, it is hard for Church to deal with them without abandoning its pretentions to divine guidance and inspiration which is a large part of its raison d’etre. Thus the first problem can be solved with some vigorous (though no doubt embarrassing) house-cleaning. It’s serous but not life-threatening. Not so the second and the third.