The Real Power


On my way from the young miss’s school dropoff to the bank this morning, I heard NPR’s two-part feature on the Church’s cover-up scandal. The first was bad enough, in which a Dutch teen reported abuse in 1964. And he gets a physical beating for it. From my parents’ stories of physical and emotional abuse they suffered growing up, I’d say the kids of the world, pre-Jay Study, knew what side the bread was buttered on. You kept quiet, or worse would happen. The real power resided in the adults: they controlled the world, and too many saw children as fodder for manipulation and consumption. Why does the Jay Study look like there was a boom in child abuse after 1960? It wasn’t the permissiveness of the 60’s, that’s for sure. It was age-old spiritual cannibalism. Power addicts consumed children, groomed allies, and maintained a mastery by sucking the life out of victims. And people wonder why the culture is so obsessed of vampires. It should be obvious to all.

The second involved the tragic and horrific case of Fr Maciel. Documented accusations against the LC founder were gathered and taken to Rome in 1998. The case can’t be opened, CDF head Cardinal Ratzinger is said to have asserted. Maciel is close to the Holy Father (then Pope John Paul II). An embittered ex-LC priest asserts that the current pope was part of the institutional cover-up for Maciel.

Given Cardinal Ratzinger’s reputation, I confess my own surprise that he was not a power player in all this. With his books, appearances, and high-profile tussles with theologians, the average Catholic might see him as a force in Rome. Could it be really true that he was just a paper-pushing figurehead? Were there other powers influencing the pope and curia? And if so, where did they originate if not in the CDF or some other curial congregation?

Call me a deep skeptic when it comes to grandiose conspiracy theories. Kennedy, area 51 and alien ufo’s, Mel Gibson: mostly nonsense. As for the Church, a moneyed controlling interest behind the scenes, the lavender mafia, the anti-Catholic secular media, the assassination of the first John Paul–these things are just lunacy. Aren’t they? And if they are just silly conspiracies, why wouldn’t Cardinal Ratzinger, as head of the former Holy Office, and a trusted lieutenant of the pope, not be in a position to sit down with JPII and lay out a case that the Legion of Christ must be investigated from the top down?

It seems to me that if everything is as it appears, there are three prime possibilities. First, that the curial heads do not govern the Church, other people do. Or, second, that Maciel had bewitched John Paul so deeply that he wouldn’t even listen to his brothers in the College of Cardinals. Or third, that Cardinal Ratzinger was indeed involved in covering up sex abuse while he was heading his congregation, and perhaps late in the game, converted to the truth.

None of these possibilities is very pretty. I’d like to think there’s some fourth option that makes everybody look a little less clueless. Next commentary I want to lay out a case in which the institutional outreach to victims, while sincere, may be far from enough. Meanwhile, if anyone can give me a fourth option, have at it.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to The Real Power

  1. Ben says:

    Typo I hope. NPM doesn’t usually get into church politics… well not that much at least.

  2. FrMichael says:

    The Lavender Mafia a myth?

    As a coordinated, worldwide conspiracy, sure. As a reality in certain dioceses and seminaries, it is all-too-sadly not a myth.

  3. Jim McK says:

    Curia officials rule the church, but the Pope is the decider, especially when there is disagreement among the curia officials.
    While Ratzinger was given great authority, certainly more than Ottaviani had after V2, the Secretary of State remains #2 at the Vatican. On clergy issues, the heads of the congregations for clergy and bishops have greater authority than they would on other matters.

  4. smf says:

    Don’t forget the issue of political capitol in any political organization. The current Pope may have been capable of doing more sooner, but it would have cost him something in some way.

    Basically, he had to decide how to spend his political capital, what to make a priority. The historical number one issue of his office was dealing with heresy and clearly defining the Truth of the Faith. Further, he is a scholar, and academic, and a theologian. It would seem rather natural that he might have prioritized what seemed his office’s main responsibility which was also aligned with his own area of interest and expertise.

    Now, this isn’t saying he made the right decision, but it does suggest a rather human explanation for what happened. Did he perhaps fail to do what he could have or should have done? It could be. It is entirely likely that our current pope was prone to human mistakes, misjudgements and errors and that this may have contributed to the cover-ups as a matter of inaction.

    However, I do not buy that he ever became part of a conspiracy or actively tried to protect anyone.

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