I see James Carroll’s headline has made the rounds in Catholic social media. The actual article appears online here, but with a curious schizophrenia. The headline suggests “abolish.” The link includes the word “dismantle.” The former gets attention, of the cheering and the catcalling type. The latter implies more careful work. Still lots of criticism. The author himself shares a wish for reform, “reform” if you will.
I began reading the article and then began to scan ahead. I didn’t find it edifying. Neither did many of my Catholic friends and contacts online. Some addressed less the content and more their measure of the man who wrote it. Personally, I found it akin, though a mirror, of another recent piece written by an elderly Catholic gentleman.
Each of these essays is full of earnest desires and hopes. Each has its measure of subjective “facts” and opinions. Neither will serve the original intent of the author–to induce people to change and for the outlook of the Church to improve. Or, maybe the purpose all along is to get a reaction.
Mr Carroll, for his inaccuracies and misunderstandings, has a better bead on the problem than the pope emeritus. At least he recognizes the larger flaws. Pope Benedict, alas, seems intent on blaming the not-good times of the sixties, missing the point that perhaps the problem goes back to the 1560s, the 1460s, or some previous era in which institutional power was elevated above institutional mission.
No matter how heartfelt these writings are, they will not change history. They won’t affect the future much, either.
I suspect the institution will reform in bits and pieces, and mostly from those outside the system, be it the curia or the chancery. On the other hand, movements suggesting freedom are nearly always bogged down in junk and don’t nearly offer so much freedom as once hoped for. Reform may be slow, but the best hope we have is that it will be inevitable.
As for the Church, most people experience it on the local level. Good parish leadership comes and goes. Lay people have influence enough to make parishes and intentional communities places in which the Gospel may take root and be fruitful. A lack of desire in that direction ensures that even good clerical leadership will be ineffective.
I confess that these days I have little enough patience for essays of either type. Parish work is hard enough. The personal journey in the spiritual life even more so. Before I would call to abolish, dismantle, or reform something outside of myself, I’d have to look within. Mr Carroll may be out of the priesthood for four decades-plus, but his seminary training looks somewhat intact. He looks to the structures, and misses the roots. Pope Benedict turns his gaze to the periphery, rather than the core of the problem. Each man is entitled to his opinion. And we can read, judge, and move differently with very little concern at all.