Vincent Miller has an insightful piece up on America’s In All Things blog. He wonders about cluelessness as one of two choices for discerning the “law and orders” crackdown:
It shows that the Vatican is either profoundly clueless about the audience to which it speaks or it simply does not consider them important. Either way, this profoundly undermines its teaching authority. The damage goes far beyond this statement. Much of the Gospel wisdom stewarded by the Church is profoundly counter cultural; easily dismissed as cluelessness. The legitimacy of the whole teaching suffers with such astounding displays of real cluelessness.
Two things to add here. With the advent of Liturgiam Authenticam, we liturgists saw a shift from the reception of the message of the liturgy, the intelligible texts of Comme Le Prevoit. Instead we now have a focus on the message itself.
It might be interpreted as a kind of narcissism on the part of the hierarchy: we need to get the message right so we’re okay with God. If the people don’t receive it, we can pass the blame on them: they’re either too stupid or too relativistic. Too bad they don’t realize the Holy Spirit is active in all this anyway.
Professor Miller misses one cynical possibility. I think there’s a third way other than cluelessness (the triumph of incompetence) or outright dismissal (that, the new translation meme). It might well be that some in the curia sense, if not recognize, the erosion of their authority. They intentionally yoked women’s ordination and sex abuse together. In the latter, they want to appear serenely in charge. And by tacking the former onto the latter, they reassert their dominance over doctrine. It is really not about the primacy of the sacramental system at all. It’s a desperate insistence that they are the ones in control, no matter how many of their number turn up with computer porn, mistresses and children, or sex predators under the chancery carpet.
Other commentators have suggested the Catholic hierarchy has reached a tipping point. I wonder if the point has already passed, if indeed we’re talking about a single point at all. I’m thinking a long river here, not a fulcrum. When the headwaters were trickling downhill in the 19th century, the Church had its opportunity to abandon the aristocracy of Europe and side with the common folk beaten down by wars, corruption, and the machines of industry. So the Marxists beat them to it, and ever since Rome has been in tantrum mode.
The world war era (1914-1989) saw the stream widen, and we did have some voices suggesting a reorientation of ministry, outreach, and emphasis. And sure, even in the papacy we had a few years of good intentions. Benedict XV attempted mediation in the Great War. John XXIII called a council and the diocesan bishops ran roughshod over the curia. But even these are overshadowed by revisionist efforts to uptick the number of Jews saved by Pius XII. (Are we up to 600,000 now?)
The time for building credibility in both the ages of civic corruption and war, and in the more recent peace (1989-2001) has come and long since gone. The devilry of the modern endless war (2001-date, with no end in sight) has found a companion in the revelation of immoral and criminal acts in the Catholic hierarchy regarding sex, power, and money. I’d say we are long past the white water rapids of an uncontrollable river. If calm boating happens to lie ahead, it will only be with that retreat to a smaller church so desired of those conservatives too lazy to get themselves to a desert monastery and do it the (real) Benedictine way.
For many of us, it’s a new apologetics: apologizing for the hierarchy for at least every word spent promoting Christ and his Gospel. The only way to discern the Holy Spirit in all this is that more people haven’t already abandoned the high hats. But what a wasted opportunity we had in the last century. Why does it take crisis after crisis to make us see it, and even then/now, we have those deniers firmly in place at the top?