Hildegard’s Dirty and Torn Church: Some Still Don’t See It

Rock reports on Pope Benedict’s Christmas Advent year-end year-beginning address to the curia. I was struck by his quote from one of the visions of Hildegard, a woman he refers to explicitly as “Saint.” Does he realize that the official process of sainthood has, in fact, stalled for her? Not that I really care from a spiritual viewpoint. Hildegard of Bingen is the best sort of saint: universal appeal and a universal acknowledgement of holiness. Unfortunately, the Holy Father should have stuck with the witness of the saints, for his own analysis is sorely lacking:

In order to resist these forces, we must turn our attention to their ideological foundations. In the 1970s, paedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children. This, however, was part of a fundamental perversion of the concept of ethos. It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a “better than” and a “worse than”. Nothing is good or bad in itself. Everything depends on the circumstances and on the end in view. Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and circumstances. Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist.

What a load of crap.

The smallish percentage of priests who sullied the Church were bad enough. But the deepest rips and darkest smudges were due to a much larger portion of bishops who thought themselves above the law, above morality, and who placed the good end of a PR-healthy Church above justice for the oppressed.

The bishops went hunting for experts who told then what they wanted to hear. How often does this conversation or something like it play out in the halls of bishops?

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”
Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.”

Some lessons, even those tutored by the saints, are very hard to absorb. It is another hallmark of the modern culture to shift blame. True, in the 1970’s, Flip Wilson got his laughs from “The devil made me do it.” But there were no less grave sins against the truth in 1930’s German ideology, or the Soviets, or the barons of western industry, or colonial enslavements perpetrated by so-called Christian Europe of the 19th, 18th, 17th, or 16th centuries. And the accompanying lies and justification. What Benedict blames on the 70’s is age-old, and it wasn’t invented by his rude students in 1968.

Pope Benedict has bought into the myth of rational progress. Maybe human beings build better rockets and microwave ovens today than they did in the 70’s. But the blinders of sin function pretty much as they did in every age. The struggle, Jesus suggests, is to be forthright about what we see. Supposedly, we then act on it, as Hildegard urged her contemporaries in her ministry of preaching and evangelization.

To blame the 70’s is a sort of golden age-in reverse phenomenon among many people. But it is no less an exercise in moral relativity to say that one decade was significantly more immoral than others because it tainted some people so deeply. Maybe Professor Ratzinger’s students were more uppity. Maybe a brother bishop lamented, “But that psychologist had, like, degrees framed on his wall, man.” Bishops appointed in the 80’s and 90’s shopped pedophiles. The pope himself signed off on one.

The ideological foundations of blindness do not stand in 1968. The problems of the 70’s were a reaction to sins and blindnesses of previous years, previous decades. I’m sure the pope knows how far back they go. He’s picked up a bible, no doubt, and read the first book therein.

I appreciate how difficult it is for Pope Benedict to feel the sting of his misbehaving brother priests. I believe he in genuinely shocked and shamed by it. I suspect he feels something of the taint of his brother bishops of Ireland, Germany, the US, and other places. This tragedy is good, too. The man may be misguided in his swallowing the blame culture of his century, but I suspect his encounter with the Lord is so deep he cannot miss the message forever.

I’m glad the Holy Father has abrogated the process of sainthood for “Blessed” Hildegard. Now if he only saw bishops as part of the clergy, part of the stain, and part of the problem. If only he could get over the 70’s. Just once, I’d like to see a prelate give a good and pure example: “I made tragic mistakes. The mistakes were mine, were mine, were most grievously mine, and I take full responsibility. I am sorry. I will work, with the help and the grace of God, to make things right.”

Enough of the seventies made us do it.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Hildegard’s Dirty and Torn Church: Some Still Don’t See It

  1. FrMichael says:

    After the initial shock of your intemperate language, I actually agree with you: the Pope is conflating two malevolent ideas. The first idea is the perversion of Catholic moral theology that he describes here and was thoroughly condemned by Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor. The second is the episcopal coverup of sexual sins by the clergy. This second idea long predates the first. While for a few decades (’70s through the ’90s) some bishops used the disorder in moral theology as a fig leaf for their conspiracy, IMHO the ultimate reason was simply a matter of PR and episcopal disinclination to discipline their priests.

  2. Dear Todd:

    With all due respect, I fear that both you, and Fr. Michael in his comment, are missing the point of what His Holiness, Benedict XVI, actually said. By the bye, I thank you for introducing to me his comments by this posting, as I find all of His Holiness’ writings to be both apt and cogent.

    He began by citing Saint Hildegard of Bingen, as regards her vision of the Church as a beautiful woman marred by the sins of priests. While His Holiness looked into the recent sins of priests in committing and covering up the unspeakable evils recently committed by some priests, and pointed out the flimsy excuses given by them (which he termed the ‘ideological bases’), the last time I looked at Catholic theology, a bishop is also a priest and a deacon, as those offices are included in his charism, and his ministry.

    These are the sins of the priests (and by extension, the bishops): that they do their own will, and not that of God, as expressed in Scripture, Tradition, the teachings of the Church, or even their own uninformed consciences. May they suffer the fate that our Lord has promised to those who lead any of His little ones astray.

    To Fr. Michael, I fear that your comment is a bit confusing. Are you saying that the ideas that His Holiness is conflating are his own, or those that he is condemning? Regardless, I would agree with you that the immediate reason for the present Scandal of the Church was the unwillingness of the Bishops to do their job. But again, that goes back to St. Hildegard’s revelation of the sins of the priests.

    I must point out, even though I am not a Roman Catholic, that if one is to be a faithful Roman Catholic according to the pronouncements of the Second Vatican Counsel, one is to give the Pope of Rome a faithful listening to what he has said, and at the very least, the benefit of the doubt. So as to foreclose debate on the subject, I will quote from Lumen Gentium, pp. 25:

    “In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.”

    I have no idea as to whether Fr. Michael is a Roman Catholic. I assume, for the sake of argument, that you are, Todd. If that is the case, it might be a reasonable idea actually to listen to what His Holiness has to say, and at least to give it the benefit of the doubt, if not to agree to it. Just a thought, here.

    And, wishing you and Fr. Michael a blessed Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ according to the flesh, I am

    Very truly yours,

    Bernard Brandt

    P.S. Todd, people have been venerating as saints many of the blessed dead long before the Vatican gets around to canonizing them. As I recall, St. Joan of Arc had churches in France to her name for centuries before Rome pronounced her as a saint in 1917. And if His Holiness should acknowledge the sanctity of St. Hildegard of Bingen before His bureaucracy gets around to it, that is the bureaucracy’s problem, not ours. Or at least, not mine.

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