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Calls to revoke the “Doctrine of Discovery”

What is the “Doctrine of Discovery”?

First of all, it is not a Christian doctrine – this term is used in its legal sense. This is already confusing for some people. There is no Christian teaching by this name, and anyone familiar with Catholic Social Teaching of the last 125 years knows the value of universal human dignity, religious freedom, opposition to slavery, etc. It comes as no surprise then that most Catholics, most Christians, and even those in positions of authority in the Church, might have no idea what you were talking about if you raised the question.

In full disclosure, I do not recall ever hearing the term “Doctrine of Discovery” before this year. It probably came across my radar in the last couple years but did not catch my attention since I am neither a legal scholar nor an historian of European imperialism per se.

In primary school history classes I remember learning about the Age of Discovery; the European maltreatment, enslavement, and even genocide of indigenous peoples; the Papal Line of Demarcation that assigned points west to Spain and points East to Portugal; and so on. So, the idea is not entirely new, but it did come as some surprise when a Canadian friend asked if Pope Francis was planning to rescind the doctrine.

From the beginning it struck me as a bit fishy – certainly there is, nor was there ever, any Catholic doctrine known by such title. It is rather a reference to U.S. legal doctrine, an 1823 codification of international law and European mores that

…gave to the nation making the discovery, as its inevitable consequence, the sole right of acquiring the soil and of making settlements on it. It was an exclusive principle which shut out the right of competition among those who had agreed to it, not one which could annul the previous rights of those who had not agreed to it. It regulated the right given by discovery among the European discoverers, but could not affect the rights of those already in possession, either as aboriginal occupants or as occupants by virtue of a discovery made before the memory of man. It gave the exclusive right to purchase, but did not found that right on a denial of the right of the possessor to sell. (US Supreme Court, Worcester v. State of Georgia, pg 31, US 544)

What has that to do with the Catholic Church?

More broadly, it has come to be understood to mean, basically, “finders keepers” – and only if the finders were European. Though the term, and the concept, of a “doctrine of discovery” was coined by John Marshall during the legal preceding quoted above, protests today focus on the “Judeo-Christian” and papal origins of the body of decisions and laws that came to be associated with the idea. For example, the opening paragraph of the site www.doctrineofdiscovery.com:

Papal Bulls of the 15th century gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they “discovered” and lay claim to those lands for their Christian monarchs. Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered”, claimed, and exploited. If the “pagan” inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed.

The papal bulls that contributed to this line of thinking – and its consequence of unjust and inhumane treatment of indigenous peoples by European explorers – are generally cited to be the following:

Nicholas V, Dum Diversas (1452) – Issued in an effort to gain Portuguese support in defense of Constantinople against the Ottoman Empire, it offered Portugal exclusive land and trading rights in newly-discovered parts of West Africa, granting him permission to seize lands of and enslave any local “Saracens, pagans, and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ”.

Nicholas V, Romanus Pontifex (1455) – Confirmed the Portuguese rule over the African coast, and forbade other nations from engaging in trade with the Saracens (Generally, Muslims. Specifically, it seems, the Seljuk [Turkish] empire, as distinct from “Moors”, Berbers of North Africa and the Fatimid Caliphate).

Alexander VI Borgia, Inter Caetera (1493) – Issued immediately after Christopher Columbus returned from the West Indies, established the Line of Demarcation between Spanish and Portuguese exploration 100 leagues (about 320 miles) west of the Azores. The purpose of the bull was to spread Christianity to the natives there, who were thought to be positively disposed based on reports from Columbus, and its intent seems to be to regulate missionary activity in the Americas, rather than land rights.

The Spanish-Portuguese Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), conducted without any participation from the papacy, moved the line of demarcation west a few hundred miles and was clearly more focused on land claims. This was eventually ratified by Julius II in 1506.

There is no question that Spanish, Portuguese, English, and other explorers invented justifications for the enslavement of indigenous peoples and the conquering of their lands (inasmuch as the land would be said to ‘belong’ to anyone), for example, by claiming that non-Christians could not own land, or could be enslaved, using as justification portions of the above bulls.

Over the next three centuries, European powers expand and develop these conjured excuses to lay claim to the New World and its resources. The American republic takes the ball and runs with it, yelling “Manifest Destiny!” Over these centuries, the loss of human life, of property, and the degradation of humanity is long, it is horrific, and it is utterly unchristian.

Modern interest in the “Doctrine of Discovery”

LexisNexis turns up under 1000 references to the ‘doctrine of discovery’ going back to 1949, and almost all of these are legal cases, law reviews, or legal news outlets. It is only recently that it seems to have become an item for attention in religious circles, and is of particular interest in Canada, who often takes the lead in addressing past or present injustices against First Nations.

Since 1984, there have been petitions to the popes to “rescind the Doctrine of Discovery”. As we will soon see, when there is a cause du jour, memories are short – but first the current context of the cause.

It seems recent interest has been sparked by the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, originating in a 1998 Statement of Reconciliation between ‘Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians’, which sought to “put the events of the past behind us so that we can work towards a stronger and healthier future.”

In December 2015, the Commission published its Final Report, and a set of Calls to Action. Articles §48 and §49 call on all religious denominations and faith groups to formally adopt and comply with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to formally “repudiate concepts such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.”

Pre-emptive responses came from a number of groups, such as the Society of Friends (2013), the World Council of Churches (2012), the Unitarian Universalist Association (2012), and the Anglican Church of Canada (2010).

In 2013, several Catholic organizations petitioned the pope to formally revoke the bulls mentioned above, which are claimed to provide the basis for the “doctrine of discovery”. This included Pax Christi International and representatives of more than 40 religious congregations. In May of 2016 there was called a Long March on Rome to ask Pope Francis to revoke the “Papal Bulls of Discovery” [sic].

It was already two months too late, however. The Catholic Church in Canada also complied with the Commission’s request, and issued a formal rejection of the so-called “Doctrine of Discovery” and a number of related ideas condemned as “errors and falsehoods perpetuated, often by Christians, during and following the so-called ‘Age of Discovery’”. (CCCB, The Doctrine of Discovery, Terra Nullius, and the Catholic Church: A Catholic Response. 19 March 2016)

But what about the calls on the pope to revoke the papal bulls of 1452 and 1493?

Well, it seems he already has.

Or rather, his predecessors have, several times, over the last 500 years. At least, the ideas have been repudiated, rejected, and expunged from Church teaching.

Already there were objections to and retractions of these claims within the Church at the time they were being made by “Christian” monarchies and their explorers, for example:

Francisco de Vitoria, On the Indians (1532) – who used ‘the law of the nations’ (international law) and Inter Caetera to argue that “the barbarians [sic] possessed true public and private dominion. The law of nations expressly states that goods which belong to no owner pass on to the occupier/discoverer, but since the goods in question here had an owner, they do not fall under this title ‘by right of discovery.’”

In fact, the first petitions to the pope to repeal the teachings of these papal bulls were not in 1984, but 450 years earlier. They received a powerful response.

Paul III, Sublimis Deus (1537) – Begins by declaring unequivocally that God so loved the whole human race that he gave all people the ability to know God and come to faith in God. It then responds directly to the claims – not present in previous papal teaching – that the native peoples were subhuman and that they could be enslaved or their property stolen. In fact, he refers to this idea as a lie perpetuated by Satan! In a clear and authoritative revocation of anything to the contrary previously promulgated:

We define and declare . . . that . . . the said Indians and all other people who may later be discovered by Christians, are by no means to be deprived of their liberty or the possession [dominio] of their property, even though they be outside the faith of Jesus Christ; and that they may and should, freely and legitimately, enjoy their liberty and the possession of their property; nor should they be in any way enslaved; should the contrary happen, it shall be null and have no effect.

That is about as clear as it gets, and those key words “we define and declare” put this at a rather higher level of authority than the so-called ‘bulls of discovery’.  The Church had already rejected the core ideas of the doctrine of discovery three hundred years before anyone would even call them that.

Moreover, there are multiple papal and conciliar documents that reject the ideas, in whole or part, of the so-called ‘doctrine’. These include, but are not limited to:

1537 – Paul III, Sublimus Dei
1591 – Gregory XIV, Bulla Cum Sicuti
1639 – Ruling of the Inquisition against slavery
1741 – Benedict XIV, Immensa Pastorum
1839 – Gregory XVI, In Supremo Apostolatus
1890 – Leo XIII, Catholicae Ecclesiae
1963 – John XXIII, Pacem in Terris
1965 – Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes; Dignitatis Humanae

Finally, just in case those were not clear enough, popes have explicitly asked forgiveness of indigenous peoples for the Church’s role in supporting imperialism during the age of discovery, most notably:

1992 – John Paul II in Santo Domingo – on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing there, confessed and begged forgiveness for the sins of the Church and the Spanish conquistadors.

2000 – John Paul II during the Great Jubilee, in Rome – during a mass of reconciliation, asked forgiveness for any Catholics in history who “had violated the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and for showing contempt for their cultures and religious traditions”.

2015 – Francis in Bolivia – “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against Native peoples during the so-called conquest of the Americas”

To be sure, it never hurts to repeat oneself. Just in case you were not heard the first time. Or the last time. God knows that if the people you agree with do not know they agree with you, the people who disagree might also be in the dark.

David Close & Pope Francis

From Long March to Rome

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Honoring the Council Fathers: A Modest Proposal

CardinalsWe are in the midst of an extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, called at the end of the celebrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, capping commemorations that started with the Year of Faith. For the last four years, the Church has marked this anniversary in a number of ways.

In October 2012, Pope Benedict presided over a solemn liturgy commemorating the opening of the Council, with Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Rowan Williams in places of honor at his side. Also honored during the event 16 Council Fathers, any of the approximately 3000 bishops who participated in at least one of the four sessions of the Council. (At the time, there were several dozen still living).

They were joined by eight Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, 80 Cardinals, 191 Archbishops and Bishops participating in the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, together with 104 Presidents of Episcopal Conferences from throughout the world.

Today, a few months after celebrating the anniversary of the close of the Council, there are about 35 living Council Fathers; 19 of whom lived through all four sessions.

In this Jubilee of Mercy, i repeat a proposal i first made during the Year of Faith:
Make the remaining Council Fathers members of the College of Cardinals.
At the least, those who were Council Fathers for all four sessions.

The senior-most, Bishop Jan van Cauwelaert, CICM, of Inongo, Congo has been a bishop for more than 62 years. The junior of those present throughout the Council is Seattle’s Archbishop emeritus Raymond Hunthausen, ordained bishop mere weeks before the opening of the first session. (Full disclosure: Hunthausen confirmed me)

Of the 35, four are already cardinals, Francis Arinze, Jose de Jesus Pimiento Rodriguez, Serafim Fernandes de Arujo, and Sfeir (of those, only Arinze was not at all four sessions of the Council).

So, that means 15 new cardinals, if only those from all four sessions, or 31 if all of them.

All are over 80, so none would be voting. This is not about who selects the next pope or appointing people whose work lies in the future.

This would be an honorary step, something to mark a half-century of episcopal ministry and leadership in the rarest and most solemn exercise of their ministry of governance over the universal church. This is about honoring the Council, and the entire church. A small, but symbolic gesture.

Most likely, most would not be able to attend a consistory to receive the red hat and ring, but simpler may be better.

I think it would be a nice way to close out the Year of Mercy, a final way to mark the 50 years of blessing brought by the Holy Spirit through the universal and extraordinary magisterium of the Church, expressly in a spirit of synodality.

Granted: any credibly accused of sexual abuse of children, covering up the same, or other similarly grave matters should be excluded. 

Full list of those surviving Council Fathers from all four sessions, via:

http://www.catholic-hierarchy.org/bishop/sordb2.html

Ordained
Bishop
Years as Bishop Name Current Title
25 Mar 1954 62.13 Bishop Jan van Cauwelaert, C.I.C.M. Bishop Emeritus of Inongo, Congo (Dem. Rep.)
28 Aug 1955 60.71 José de Jesús Cardinal Pimiento Rodriguez Archbishop Emeritus of Manizales, Colombia
9 Sep 1955 60.68 Bishop Dominik Kalata, S.J. Titular Bishop of Semta
22 Sep 1957 58.64 Archbishop José Maria Pires Archbishop Emeritus of Paraíba, Paraiba, Brazil
27 Apr 1958 58.05 Archbishop Bernardino Piñera Carvallo Archbishop Emeritus of La Serena, Chile
7 May 1959 57.02 Serafim Cardinal Fernandes de Araújo Archbishop Emeritus of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil
21 Jun 1960 55.90 Archbishop Arturo Antonio Szymanski Ramírez Archbishop Emeritus of San Luis Potosí, México
25 Jul 1960 55.80 Bishop Eloy Tato Losada, I.E.M.E. Bishop Emeritus of Magangué, Colombia
16 Apr 1961 55.08 Bishop Mario Renato Cornejo Radavero Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Lima, Peru
22 Apr 1961 55.06 Bishop Albert-Georges-Yves Malbois Bishop Emeritus of Evry-Corbeil-Essonnes, France
16 Jul 1961 54.83 Nasrallah Pierre Cardinal Sfeir Patriarch Emeritus of Antiochia {Antioch} (Maronite), Lebanon
24 Aug 1961 54.72 Bishop William John McNaughton, M.M. Bishop Emeritus of Incheon {Inch’on}, Korea (South)
8 Sep 1961 54.68 Bishop José de Jesús Sahagún de la Parra Bishop Emeritus of Ciudad Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, México
15 Oct 1961 54.58 Bishop Andrés Sapelak, S.D.B. Bishop Emeritus of Santa María del Patrocinio en Buenos Aires (Ukrainian), Argentina
29 Oct 1961 54.54 Archbishop Antônio Ribeiro de Oliveira Archbishop Emeritus of Goiânia, Goias, Brazil
6 Jan 1962 54.35 Bishop José Mauro Ramalho de Alarcón Santiago Bishop Emeritus of Iguatú, Ceara, Brazil
19 Mar 1962 54.15 Bishop Roberto Reinaldo Cáceres González Bishop Emeritus of Melo, Uruguay
25 Jul 1962 53.80 Bishop Jacques Landriault Bishop Emeritus of Timmins, Ontario, Canada
30 Aug 1962 53.70 Archbishop Raymond Gerhardt Hunthausen Archbishop Emeritus of Seattle, Washington, USA

Theology Jokes 2016

GoDeep

Q: What do you call a sleepwalking nun?

A: A Roamin’ Catholic!

 

A father and a son are seated at dinner having a steak on a Lenten Friday, when the boy makes a realization and says, “Some people don’t eat meat on Fridays because there is a separation of Church & Steak!”

 

Q: How does Moses make his coffee?

A: Hebrews it.

 

A man walks up to God ands says: “God, how long is a million years for you?”
God answers, “Oh… about a minute.”

Man: “And how about a million dollars?”

God: “About a penny.”

Man: “In that case, Lord, may I borrow a penny?”

God: “Give me a minute.”

 

A Franciscan, a Dominican, and a Jesuit discover the real tomb of Jesus, only to find his mortal remains still inside. Horrified, they each react differently.
The Franciscan says, “This changes our whole ministry, we cannot tell anyone!”
The Dominican says, “This changes all of our doctrine, we should not tell anyone!”
The Jesuit says, “Well, I’ll be damned, He did exist!”

 

“Knock Knock!”

“Who’s there?”

“Jesus!”

“Jesus who?”

“Jesus, get your butt out of bed! Morning mass starts in 5 minutes!”

 

If Eve sacrificed the future of the whole human race for an apple… what would she do for a Klondike bar?

 

A new monk arrives at an ancient monastery and sees all the monks copying texts. He goes to the abbot, slightly confused and asked him why the copy the copies rather  than the original, because they could be copying the same mistakes.

The abbot , recognizing he has a point, goes to the storage room to find the originals. A few hours later, he is still gone, and the new monk sets out to look for him. He finds the abbot in the basement, holding one of the most ancient manuscripts in his hands, sobbing.

“What’s wrong? What happened?” the young monk asks, worried.

The abbot replies, tearfully, “The word is celebrate. Celebrate!”

 

A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “What is this, a joke?!” (Insert laughter here)

 

Q: What made the priest giggle?

A: Mass Hysteria!

 

There are three things that even God does not know about the Church:
1) How many congregations of religious women are there?
2) How much money do the Franciscans have stashed away?
3) What do the Jesuits really think and what are they going to do next?

 

Three famous theologians have just arrived in Heaven, and they are all waiting outside of a room for a debriefing interview with St. Peter.

The first to go in is Walter Kasper, and he is called into the room. He is in there for about an hour, and when he comes out he has tears of joy and relief streaming down his face.
He is overheard saying to himself: “I was afraid I was wrong about so many things!”

The second is Hans Küng. After he is called into the room, he is in there for a few hours. When he comes out, he is shaking his head in disbelief, and he looks troubled.
He says to himself as he leaves: “I cannot believe I was wrong about so many things!”

The third is Joseph Ratzinger. He goes in with a portfolio of lecture notes penned while in retirement. He is in there for days. Finally, the doors open and St. Peter comes out, saying “I cannot believe I was wrong about everything!”

 

Holy Week in Rome 2016

Holy Week in Rome: There are so many opportunities in Rome during Holy Week, I have highlighted just a few in Italian and English, including the normal Roman Rite, and a few exemplars from the “Extraordinary Form”, Byzantine Rite, and Anglican rites. All of the Station Churches and Papal Liturgies are noted.  

I would welcome input from anyone who is aware of others of particular interest, especially where good liturgy can be found – including good music, good preaching, good aesthetic, etc.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

  • Station Church: San Giovanni in Laterano – 0700 (English); 1730 (Italian)
  • Papal Liturgy: Piazza San Pietro – 0930

Monday

  • Station Church: Santa Prassede all’Esquilino – 0700 (English); 1800 (Italian)
  • Byzantine Vespers of the Presanctified Gifts – Russicum/Sant’Antonio Abate – 1800

Tuesday

  • Station Church: Santa Prisca all Aventino – 0700 (English); 1800 (Italian)
  • Anglican Centre 50th Anniversary Eucharist/Chrism Mass – 1245 (English)
  • Byzantine Vespers of the Presanctified Gifts – Russicum/Sant’Antonio Abate – 1800
  • Evening Prayer with Sant’Egidio Community – Santa Maria in Trastevere 20:30

Wednesday

  • Station Church: Santa Maria Maggiore – 0700 (English); 1730 (Italian)
  • Seven Churches Pilgrimage of St. Filippo Neri (a devotional tradition since 1559)
    • Join the seminarians of the Pontifical North American College in a tour of the Seven Churches, starting with the morning station mass at Santa Maria Maggiore. It is about 22km walking total and will take all day. Pack a lunch or plan to stop along the route:
      • Santa Maria Maggiore
      • San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura
      • Santa Croce in Gerusalemme
      • San Giovanni in Laterano
      • San Sebastiano
      • San Paolo fuori le Mura
      • San Pietro al Vaticano
  • Byzantine Vespers of the Presanctified Gifts – Russicum/Sant’Antonio Abate – 1800
  • Office of Tenebrae
    • Paul’s Within the Walls (Episcopalian) – 1830 (English)
    • Santissima Trinita’ dei Pellegrini (extraordinary form) – 2030 (Latin)

 Holy Thursday

  • Papal Liturgy: Chrism Mass – Basilica San Pietro – 0930
  • Mass of the Lord’s Supper (Beginning of the Paschal Triduum Liturgy)
    • San Giovanni in Laterano – 1730 (Italian) – Station Church
    • Santa Maria in Trastevere – 1730 (Italian)
    • Oratory of San Francesco Saverio al Caravita – 1800 (English)
  • Altars of Repose pilgrimage – Roman devotional tradition is to walk around the city after the liturgy ends for the evening, visiting the beautifully decorated altars of repose in (at least seven) different churches.

Good Friday

Solemn Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion with Veneration of the Cross:

  • Station Church: Basilica Santa Croce in Gerusaleme – 1500 (Italian)
  • Oratory of San Francesco Saverio al Caravita – 1500 (English)
  • Papal Liturgy: Basilica San Pietro – 1700 (Italian)
  • Santissima Trinita’ dei Monti – 1800 (French)

Stations of the Cross devotion, with Pope Francis at the Colosseum, 2115

Holy Saturday

The Great Vigil of Easter

  • Oratory of San Francesco Saverio del Caravita – 2000 (English)
  • Papal Liturgy: Basilica San Pietro – 2030 (Italian)
  • Station Church: San Giovanni in Laterano – 2100 (Italian)
  • Venerable English College – 2130 (English)

Easter Sunday

Mass of the Lord’s Resurrection

  • Byzantine Divine Liturgy – Russicum/Sant’Antonio Abate – Midnight
  • Papal Liturgy: Piazza San Pietro – 1000 (Italian)
  • Oratory of San Francesco Saverio del Caravita – 1100 (English)
  • Station Church: Santa Maria Maggiore – 1800 (Italian)

Pope Francis Urbi et Orbi Blessing – Piazza San Pietro – 1200 (Multilingual)

Solemn Vespers (concluding the Paschal Triduum)

  • Chiesa di Sant’Anselmo al Aventino – 1700 (Italian)
  • Byzantine – Russicum/Sant’Antonio Abate – 1800

Easter Week Station Churches (Italian):

  • Monday – San Pietro – 1700
  • Tuesday – San Paolo fuori le Mura – 1730
  • Wednesday – San Lorenzo fuori le Mura – 1800
  • Thursday – XII Apostoli al Foro Traiano – 1830
  • Friday – Santa Maria ad Martyres (Pantheon) – 1700
  • Saturday – San Giovanni in Laterano – 1630
  • Divine Mercy Sunday – San Pancrazio – 1600
    • Conclusion of the Station Churches pilgrimage

Networking Meeting on Catholic Higher Education in Rome

Also of interest in Rome:

The Lay Centre News

DSC_0005_mBy A. J. Boyd

On Friday, 11 March, The Lay Centre, in collaboration with the Rome Centre of The Catholic University of America and Australian Catholic University, was host to a first-of-its-kind networking forum of Catholic higher education in Rome. The meeting was chaired by Rev Frederich Bechina, undersecretary for the Holy See’s Congregation for Catholic Education, and Dr Luca Lantero, director of Information Center on Academic Mobility and Equivalence (CIMEA).

More than twenty participants represented three sectors of Catholic higher education active in Italy:

  • Italian Catholic universities and institutions;
  • Pontifical/ecclesiastical universities, athenae, and institutes;
  • U.S. and other foreign Catholic universities with programs or campuses in Italy.

From the Italian Catholic universities were three administrators from LUMSA, a “free” (semi-private) Italian Catholic university. Seven of the 23 pontifical higher education institutions in Rome were present, including a representative of the Conference of Rectors of the Pontifical Roman Universities…

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50th Anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio celebrated in Rome

UnitatisInvite-page-001

Church reform and papal retirement, a year on

John Allen’s article commemorating the first anniversary of Pope Benedict’s resignation this week points out that for all the attention Pope Francis has received this year as a ‘revolutionary’ or ‘reformer’, the single most revolutionary act by the bishop of Rome in the last year was Benedict’s humble and courageous decision to retire. 

Even here in Rome, studying at the heart of the Church, I found out first through Facebook

Image

It is a great example of something that should not have been surprising, or all that revolutionary. Certainly, it was, given the climate and context of the Church in recent decades. Following on the heels of the soon-to-be saint John Paul II, who lingered in office several years longer than was probably good for himself or for the Church, one might have thought it was blasphemous to suggest something of the sort. In a sense, Benedict, being the excellent ecclesiologist that he is, had to resign, to disabuse the papacy from the personality cult, and remind us that every office in the Church is one of service and ministry; not power, prestige, or persona.

The impact on the conclave was obvious, as many commentators have already noted. Rather than an overwhelming outpouring of grief at the death of the towering figure of John Paul II that got his right-hand man elected, the cardinals were able to take better stock of the real situation in the Church and especially in the curia, and set about doing something about it.

It never ceases to amaze me how strong the current is that was in favor of the retreat from reform (sometimes called a ‘reform of the reform’) in a Church that has declared, a the highest level of authority, ecclesia semper purificanda. The truth is that there is no purification without reform; there is no reform without action. We must act to change the Church, so that the Church can change the world.

For the last generation, we have been told repeatedly that ‘tinkering with Church structures’ is not what is needed; instead, greater personal holiness is the all-encompassing solution. There is both wisdom and naivety in such statements. The wisdom is that prayer is paramount, and holiness is indeed a necessary virtue in all Christians; the naivety is that tinkering is not what is needed not because it is ineffective, but because some structures have been so badly neglected for so long that any ‘tinkering’ is just putting lipstick on a pig. Anything short of a radical and all-encompassing overhaul is complicity, or at least complacency.

But in a sacramental reality, we cannot underappreciate the real value of a change in tone; we cannot dismiss it as superficial. Which is not at all to buy into the oversimplified dichotomies we see, both in secular media (e.g.Rolling Stone)  and in the reactionary wing of the fold that contrast Benedict and Francis, putting one or the other in a completely unfavorable light.

It has always seemed to me that Benedict’s biggest liability was not (just) a hostile secular media who never let go of the image of God’s Rottweiler – because in truth, his biggest fans never did either, still hoping for the hammer of heresy to drop. It was about image, though: His apparent penchant for baroque bling distracted from his genuine reform efforts.

For too many in the church, these trappings of power and privilege – whether imperial, renaissance, or baroque in origin – go hand in hand with clericalism and the sex abuse scandal. Who can forget that it was the church of lace surplices, brocaded maniples and mumbled latin anaphorae – with its concomitant failure at human formation in seminaries and warped ecclesiology – that brought us the greatest wave of scandal the Church has faced in the modern age? It does not matter that there is little or no direct causal relationship, but the correlation is too widely fixed: “traditionalism” = clericalism = abuse of power = a climate of permission for child sex abuse.

Joseph Ratzinger had long been trying to redeem that, to separate out the legitimate traditions from their accrued associations. He may have a point that the transition from the Missal of Pius V to that of Paul VI was too abrupt, but his solution came forty years too late. Add that to his well-established reputation and the series of administrative and communications fiascos, and there was only so much he could do.

So he did what he could: he set the stage for someone without the same baggage to come along and continue the good work he had started. I can imagine that he realized the cost of trying to restore some place in the mainstream for the older form of the liturgy came at too high a cost, or that the cause of reunion with the SSPX was lost. Or perhaps he saw his work done already: he brought the tridentine liturgy out from the periphery and into the center of the Church, in whatever small way. He left no more excuses for “traditionalism” to be a code word for dissent, and planted the seeds that may redeem that part of our liturgical patrimony from its oft-associated failures in ecclesiology, pastoral formation, and leadership.

Thanks to Pope Benedict, contemplation and action could again meet in the endless effort of Church reform. There is much to be done, since, in some respects, the Church stopped being interested in self-purification and reform sometime around the time I entered adolescence, as if the whole idea had been a failed experiment of the 70s and 80s rather than a movement of the Holy Spirit.

Enter Pope Francis, who genuinely seems to be setting about to reform the Church, perhaps (we can hope) on as grand a scale as Gregory I or VII, Pius V, or John XXIII. Some will call anything he accomplishes too little, too late; others will denounce it as too much, too fast. I would instinctively err on the side of the former, considering how many centuries it often takes to resolve problems in this institution, but in the last year it has been hard even to keep up with the constant flow of good news. I continue to pray for deep, genuine, and theological reform of the Church, and I have hope that it is coming. The Church is, after all, called to be holy, too, not just the people in it! 

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