As always, the official line about the substance of the cardinals’ discussions is slightly at odds with the quiet, unofficial but much more frank assessments coming off the record. Officially we are told that the most important issue for the cardinals is “the New Evangelisation” (always capitalised). This favourite buzzword among Catholic prelates and writers of press releases, means the attempt to “reach out” to the majority of Catholics in the dechristianised west who no longer practice their faith, or even know much about it.
Of course, what is not mentioned is that the reality is that the loss of faith has been largely a product of the failure of the men running the Church in the last 50 years to teach anyone anything about it. There is a line in the old Baltimore Catechism: our purpose in life is to “know God, to love Him and serve Him in this life and be happy with Him forever in the next”. Take careful note of the order given. We cannot love what we do not know. Knowing comes first. Can it be surprising to the cardinals gathered here that, the Church on the whole having refused to teach the Faith in the last 40 years that Catholics don’t know Him, aren’t interested in serving Him in this life, or have any hope of happiness in the next?
Another unpleasant piece of reality that won’t get mentioned at the official press briefings, is that we know the origins of the corruption in the Vatican. One blessing of the Vatileaks affair is that at least officials are no longer trying to pretend that everything inside is just fine. But it is still being treated as a strange and inexplicable anomaly, unconnected to anything else. Officially we are still being asked to pretend that no one really understands where all the “filth” came from.
But it is perfectly clear, even to some in the mainstream secular media: the anti-Christian dogmas that have seeped into the Church, that Paul VI called the “smoke of Satan,” have created a moral corruption so entrenched in the upper management of the Catholic Church that it has created crippling administrative chaos. The “Vatileaks” affair has exposed the depth of the moral and organisational rot.
I find that I am not cheerful at the prospect of a new pope. It is difficult to be confident that the men of the conclave are capable of facing these awful truths. The truths of the crises of belief, of vocations to the clergy and religious life, of sexual continence among priests, of the abandonment of Catholicity in academia and schools, the ideological warping and collapse of the religious orders, the abandonment of religious purpose by Catholic charities, the financial and sexual corruption of the Vatican bureaucracy. Ultimately the whole catastrophe of the global collapse of Catholic order, discipline and culture, and the growth of a hostile and “aggressive secularism” and the “dictatorship of relativism” in the outside world, that Pope Benedict was warning about from his first day to his last, has been their own doing.
Our current calamity in the Church, and much of that of the secular world, was produced by a hierarchy and clergy who, starting about 1965, decided that it was more important to go with the flow of the world than to continue the uncomfortable and difficult work of directing it toward salvation. For decades, many of the men sitting in those plush chairs in the Paul VI Audience Hall last week have variously either failed to expunge the anti-Christian dogmas that infiltrated the Church or were themselves the ones pushing them. One can always hope – in fact one is obliged to – but, judging from their comments to the press, those men don’t seem to me to be in a mood to face up to these uncomfortable realities.
In his column on Friday for the far-left National Catholic Reporter, the well-informed liberal commentator and Vatican watcher John Allen said, “Privately, some cardinals feel that if Benedict XVI had better administrative support, he might not have felt compelled to resign.”
“Speaking on background,” Allen continued, “one cardinal told NCR on Tuesday that he had raised the question in the General Congregation meetings of whether the cardinals had done enough to help Benedict – by which he meant, in part, pressuring the pope’s support team to get their act together.”
This is something that the Catholic faithful have been asking for decades. Why do we all know what is wrong in the Church, and they still don’t? We would also dearly love to see the hierarchy get their act together.
Can any Catholics be left, whether “liberal” or “conservative” or “traditionalist” who still trust that the men inside the walls have the will to do what is best, or even what they may think is best for the Church? How many of us now have any confidence that they know what the priorities must be, or that they remember that the first and last aim is the salvation of souls?
I read last night another of the daily letters by an American Vaticanista, Robert Moynihan, the editor of Inside the Vatican. He related a conversation he had with an anonymous cardinal who also seemed deeply troubled by Pope Benedict’s abdication. I was relieved to see that this cardinal, whoever he was, also seemed to understand, and perhaps shares the terrible sense of foreboding that has filled me and many others since this whole thing began. Seeing the man’s disquiet, Moynihan asked him what we could all do for them.
“…A look passed over his eyes which seemed filled with shadows and concerns. I was surprised at his intensity…He squeezed my hand.
“Pray for us,” he said. “Pray for us.”
He turned as if he needed to go. “I have to go.”
He took a step away from me, then turned again.
“It is a dangerous time. Pray for us.”