The entire premise of this response by J.P. Zmirak in comparing the Pope with the President of the United States is absurd!
In the March 7 Wall Street Journal, journalist Rod Dreher makes a case that Pope John Paul II has shown an unseemly interest in managing U.S. foreign policy, even as he fails to correct the many abuses within the Catholic Church.
I like and respect Dreher, and I think his crusade to goad Church leaders into sterner action against the recent sex scandals has generally been on the money. It certainly took guts, since it undoubtedly burned a number of professional bridges for him in the Catholic world. But Dreher burns a bridge too far when he suggests the Pope has no business promoting international peace simply because the Church is beset (as she always is) by the world, the flesh and the devil.
That is not what Dreher said at all in his editorial. What he did observe was how the Vatican can move at light speed when it comes to natural issues such as global peace and justice, but do nothing in comparison when it comes to supernatural ones such as the allowance of unchecked dissent from Catholic teaching that has spawned a homosexual subculture in the Church wherein men supposed to be acting as alter Christus are inclined to sodomy and proud of it.
The Pope's house is in disarray, Dreher might reply. He should set it in order first, before trying to broker peace among the nations.
Fine. Is President Bush's house in order? Is America the moral beacon it should be before it acquires an empire? Is it a consistent defender of human rights, family values, civic order and good governance?
This is comparing apples to oranges. There is a huge difference between a sovereign country that hopefully will be encouraged to do the will of God, and a Church that is supposed to be doing that encouragement.
The most obvious (although not the only) objection a Catholic could raise is abortion.
America currently has the most permissive abortion laws in the world. More than a million abortions take place every year - and have since 1973 - right up through the ninth month of pregnancy. Bush is the most powerful man in this country, with vast presidential privileges, which he could employ to stop or hamper this practice, if he were to set aside other policy goals and focus on it.
Ah, pro-lifers say, but he is doing his best - gradually appointing or trying to appoint better judges, eating away at the institution of abortion, reducing American support for evil population policies at the United Nations and sincerely trying to change people's minds on the issue. What more could he do?
The answer is: plenty. But should he
Could Bush Do More?
Given that Bush really believes abortion is the taking of a human life, which occurs more than a million times annually in the country he governs, he could - if he were willing to focus his presidency on this issue - do much, much more.
He could, most obviously, show his face at the next March for Life instead of "phoning in" his support. He could talk about the issue, consistently, from his bully pulpit. He could refuse to support pro-abortion Republican candidates. He could appoint openly pro-life judges and demand the Senate confirm them - threatening senators that if they vote against his appointments, his next appointments will be more right-wing, more "extreme."
He could say, in effect: "You turn down Robert Bork? My next appointment will be Phyllis Schlafly. Then Joseph Schiedler. Then Pat Robertson."
He could leave vacant any judgeships he cannot fill with a pro-life judge. He could retaliate against senators who refuse to confirm his pro-life appointments by cutting off spending projects in their districts, including everything from highway funds to defense projects and NASA boondoggles. The most powerful man in this country, who has much more tangible control over what the government does than the Pope has over the everyday functioning of the Church, could take unrelenting, consistent action to end the murder of millions of human beings.
He doesn't. He nibbles around the edges of the issue and hopes for the best. Why? Because he's insincere? A bad man? A coward?
Because he has a country to run - and any number of issues on which he is responsible to promote the common good - and to become a monomaniac on the issue of abortion would cripple his presidency, divide the country and perhaps be counterproductive even on the life issue.
I can accept most of these arguments. I'm content, if unexcited, to admit the fact that the president has more than one issue he must address.
Let's apply the same logic to the papacy. What would it take for John Paul to remedy the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church and promote more orthodoxy among the faithful? Assume critics of the Pope are right, that what's needed is a firmer papal hand. What would it cost the Church to implement it? What concrete measures would he need to take?
You cannot apply the same logic to the papacy for a very simple reason. The Church is not a democracy. The Pope does not have to campaign for a political office of a fixed term. His appointment is held to be through the action of the Holy Ghost. The Catholic Church is a hierarchical institution with the Pope held to be the direct successor of Saint Peter, the Rock upon whom Christ founded His Church.
The President of the United States has no direct claim to the supernatural, which is not his immediate priority as it IS the Pope's, moreover, the ONLY priority of the Pope, getting his flock to Heaven instead of hell.
Dreher suggests unworthy bishops be dismissed and replaced with sounder men. I'd be thrilled if the Pope could accomplish this - and if Bush could pack the Supreme Court with eight more men like Justice Antonin Scalia.
Again, please don't compare apples and oranges. The whole premise here is absurd.
Does the Pope face the same obstacles as Bush would? After all, he's nominally the absolute authority in the Church, with "universal ordinary jurisdiction" over every diocese, parish and chapel in the Church.
It sounds impressive. It used to mean a lot more than it now does.
And just whose fault is it that this is not the case? To reduce the Pope to a person of impotency because of the disarray of the Church is to excuse the inexcusable. The Pope is supposed to be setting THE example as an alter Christus with the supernatural his primary concern. If there are those in the Church who will not, the Pope needs to make every effort possible to root them out, to exorcise the Church of the demons that have been allowed to infest it, as Pope Paul VI announced when he said, "The smoke of Satan has entered the Church." Who put out the welcome mat for Satan? It was just the mindset of this oped response that encouraged it, "we can do nothing because it is beyond us."
Before the ferment of the 1960s and the explosion of dissent among Catholic faithful, a pope really did have the ability to exercise much of that nominal power. Of course, he faced certain difficulties; for centuries, secular governments in Catholic countries arrogated the right to appoint bishops, with the pope rubber-stamping their choices.
If a pope refused, those governments would threaten to persecute the Church - or seize the whole thing, as Henry VIII did. (The French kings did worse - they imprisoned the papacy for decades at Avignon.) The Jesuits were once suppressed worldwide, purely under pressure from monarchs. As late as 1917, the Austrian emperor had the right to veto papal elections - a right Franz Josef exercised in 1903, refusing a cardinal the throne. Instead, the Church got Pope St. Pius X.
Still, from the end of the 19th century and up until the 1960s, most popes had a mostly free hand in selecting bishops, and in most parts of the world they could safely depose bad shepherds without fear of a revolt among the sheep.
But this solid papal control over the Church, which popes fought for centuries to achieve, proved remarkably fragile. It rested on the loyalty to the institution of the papacy of millions of lay Catholics, who could be relied upon to reject any bishop who tried to lead them into schism.
This is a circular argument. Who allowed the loyalty to falter? What is being said here is that the Church hierarchy can no longer do anything when this same group allowed the destruction in the first place. Something does not sound right here? And it is not.
This happy interlude for the popes ended around 1960 with the massive revolt by Catholic laymen over sexual morality, which began when theologians began to question Church teaching on contraception and continues to this day.
This revolt has profoundly challenged papal supremacy over the Church in the West.
And just how did this revolt get to the point of power that it did? It did because many in the aforementioned hierarchy are AWOL when it comes to caring for the supernatural eternity of their sheep. Not only are they AWOL in terms of doing nothing; many of them encourage and propagate dissent in their dioceses with no attempt whatsoever to publicly criticize the dissenters by name, yet alone lift a hand to remove them.
President Bush works under far more severe handicaps in getting the country's backing for action that he deems necessary. At least, he has the courage to take a public stand and DO SOMETHING, which is more than can be said for our Church hierarchy, and sadly, the Pope, who again must set the tone for making a concerted attempt to right the wrongs that are be committed in the name of Catholicism.
With so many lay Catholics in wealthy, influential countries now dissenting from core teachings of the Church, a massive constituency has been created for schism.
For all the grand declarations of absolute Roman authority over the college of bishops set in stone at Vatican I, modern popes now face a very different situation - one much more akin to that faced by popes in the time of Constantine or Charlemagne. At least in the West, popes must lead by influence, example and the gradual appointment of better men.
Could the Holy Father end the crisis in the Church overnight? Sure he could - by removing all unreliable bishops, excommunicating their followers and leading the remnant Church untroubled by dissent.
You just contradicted yourself by admitting what is fact. Whether the Holy Father could end a crisis that has taken generations of neglect to foment is questionable to be sure. Generations more will be needed to resurrect the Church from the dissenting abyss that it has fallen into. But certainly, as THE example of an alter Christus, speaking as the direct successor to Saint Peter, HE MUST MAKE THE EFFORT to do so.
That's the approach taken by traditionalist Catholics - and by some radical monks at Mount Athos, who have "excommunicated" the patriarch of Constantinople for the "heresy" of speaking to the Pope. Those two dozen bearded Greeks now consider their embattled monastery the last bastion of true Christianity on earth.
The Pope would do better - he'd probably hold onto much of Latin America, the Philippines, Asia and Africa.
What is the Pope holding onto now by doing nothing, a Catholic Church? You must be joking. You are certainly not living in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown PA such as I am, witnessing the encouragement of continued dissent from Church teaching by my bishop, and his defense of admitting men inclined to sodomy to the priesthood. Wake up, for the love of God. Much of what is called the Catholic Church is NO LONGER CATHOLIC. It does not even come close. It is indistinguishable, not only from Protestantism, but unbelief, with syncretism and indifferentism promoted by Rome despite its protestations to the contrary.
How in the name of sanity can you have prelates saying that the Jews can still wait for the Messiah, that the Church is no longer in the conversion business, and that it is perfectly OK to worship idols in a Catholic basilica?
However, the vast funds the Church transfers from the First World to the Third to spend on hospitals, schools and missions - all that would dry up, of course. But the Church is more than a charitable agency.
What is the priority here, the supernatural or the natural. Are we as a Church more concerned with natural than supernatural death?
Some right-wing Church folks might say, "Good riddance. What's the point of keeping vast flocks of purely nominal Catholics who don't believe in important teachings of the Church?" I used to feel that way.
These "purely nominal Catholics" that are referred to here do not even know that they are in such poor shape because the hierarchy does not have the courage to tell them so. You have to recognize a problem before you can solve it. And we live in a Church that persecutes these same "right wing folks" for doing nothing more than wanting to attend a Holy Mass (Tridentine) that is permeated by a sense of the sacred, and during which the entirety of Catholic Theology is fully recognizable. Dreher's column should have also included a comparison of how the Church hierarchy works at light speed to excommunicate these poor souls, while doing nothing with the likes of the radical far left fringe Roger Cardinal Mahony crowd, who are de facto given a green light to destroy the Church from within. Funny, in the Church that I grew up in, these ultra conservative right wingers were called Catholic!
What About the Church?
But think about what it means: Some hundreds of millions of people now hold a tenuous or imperfect allegiance to the Church of Augustine, Aquinas and Ignatius. They regard the Pope as their shepherd, albeit one whom they can't follow all the way.
But his example and influence affect them, and they're exposed to deeper, older, truer ideas about human life than they'd encounter anywhere else. These ideas sometimes sink in and draw people closer to a coherent, consistent faith.
If a pope drove them into schism, all such influence would stop. These millions would cut themselves off from the visible Church, disclaim any allegiance to the pope and raise their children in a new church - creating a schism that might take centuries to heal. The schism between East and West has endured for almost 1,000 years.
See ibid. This Church is already in schism. It was driven into schism by the innaction or indifference of many in the hierarchy who did nothing to stem the unchecked dissent that flourished in dioceses around the world.
If the Pope chooses to purify the Church and expel all those who refuse his authority, he can overnight preside over a much smaller, much more faithful organization. John Paul could do it tomorrow; he could cut off half the Church - just as Bush could shut down the government if the Senate won't confirm pro-life judges for the courts.
But each of those good men was put in office to govern a vast, world-historical organization with enormous responsibilities and complex structures. Neither one will destroy his institution in order to save it.
Again, please do not compare the Catholic Church with the United States of America. Such a comparison is ridiculous in the extreme. The U.S. president has all of the responsibilities necessary with the national security of his country, and is charged primarily with seeking societal common good, the classic definition of a good regime in the sense of Aristotle's politics. He is to be constantly encouraged in this endeavor by the Church who makes him see that this common good is the common good for all men.
However, the realization of a Christian State, a theocracy, or a state with a participated theonomy is not within the immediate charge of the President who must work for this good within severe political restrictions. But work to it, he must. God Himself wants man to freely choose Him, not be coerced into doing so. That is the gift of free will.
The Church, on the other hand, sets the example for seeking the common good. It does not stop with Aristotle's De Anima, but rather continues on, crossing a metaphysical bridge as Aquinas did in going from the natural to the supernatural. Its job is to get mankind to Heaven instead of hell, a very different job to be sure than that of the President of the United States.
The Church's concern is the supernatural, not the natural.
And therein, lies the problem. The Church's priorities have become just the reverse with globalization, peace and social justice carrying sway instead of the "last things." How are presidents of sovereign countries going to follow an example of putting their countrymen on a firm footing of tending toward a common good with a final supernatural telos if the Church, which is supposed to be setting the example for them, does not even recognize that fact anymore, moreover, gives the impression that it could care less?