The present corruption of the Church illustrates the truth of Romans 1

Rod Dreher of National Review Online reports that at the beginning of the Church sex abuse scandal back in January, he wrote a letter to a Catholic bishop in which he said that protecting children and families was not a priority for the bishops. The bishop replied: “To suggest that they protect their resources before they protect their people is not just insulting, but unjust and wrong. If you really believe that, why would you remain Catholic?”

The strange logic of this bishop appears to be: because Dreher thinks the bishops are corrupt, Dreher should stop being a Catholic! What the bishop is really saying is that there is no divinely ordained Church the truth or falsity of which does not depend on the moral worth of individual priests or bishops. Rather, the Church is identical to its bishops and clergy. From which it follows that if an individual Catholic is displeased with the moral character of the bishops, he should simply leave the Church.

This bishop seems to have imbibed the central axiom of the modern secular culture, that there is no moral truth higher than man. When people who think this way are told that they have done something wrong or that they hold an attitude that is morally defective in some way, one of their typical responses is: “You’re saying that you’re morally superior to me.” Because they don’t understand that moral truth is outside of and higher than the self, they can only interpret a statement of moral criticism or correction as an assertion of the personal superiority of the critic over the person being criticized. So, since Dreher supposedly thinks he is superior to the bishops, and since the bishops are identical to the Church, the solution is that Dreher ought to leave the Church.

One cannot resist pointing out that in this incident, as in the Church sex abuse scandal as a whole, the spiritual pathology outlined by Paul in the first chapter of his Letter to the Romans has been confirmed in spades. As Paul wrote, once man ceases to honor the divine truth higher than himself (“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him”) and begins to worship himself (“they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles”), then in a hop skip and jump man ends up in all kinds of sins, including, notably, homosexuality (“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts…. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion”), while, like the current Church hierarchy, “they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

Indeed, isn’t this scandal but the culmination of the changes wrought in the Church by Vatican II? It was at Vatican II that the Church embraced the Religion of Man, which, as Pope Piux X had warned of sixty years earlier, was tantamount to denying the holiness and transcendence of God:

[W]ith unlimited boldness man has put himself in the place of God, exalting himself above all that is called God. He has … made the world a temple in which he himself is to be adored … [Pope Pius X, Encyclical E Supremi Apostolatus, 1903].

By the 1960s, the cataclysmic rebellion described by Pius X had taken over not only the secular society but the Church itself. Consider Pope Paul VI’s closing speech at the Second Vatican Council in January 1966. The Council, Paul VI declared, had not been content to reflect on the relations that unite her to God;

[the Church] was also much concerned with man, with man as he really is today, with living man, with man totally taken up with himself, with man who not only makes himself the center of his own interests, but who dares to claim that he is the principle and final cause of all reality. Man in his phenomenal totality … presented himself, as it were, before the assembly of the Council Fathers …. The religion of God made man has come up against the religion—for there is such a one—of man who makes himself God.

And how did the Council respond to this specter of totally Godless, secular man? Far from asserting the superior claims of divine faith, said the Pope, the Council

was filled only with an endless sympathy. The discovery of human needs—and these are so much greater now that the son of the earth has made himself greater—absorbed the attention of the Synod…. [W]e also, we more than anyone else, have the cult of man….
A current of affection and admiration overflowed from the Council over the modern world of man … [The Catholic religion] proclaims itself to be entirely in the service of man’s wellbeing. The Catholic religion and life itself thus reaffirm their alliance, their convergence on a single human reality: the Catholic faith exists for humanity …

Thus the Vatican Council announced in 1966 that “the Church serves man, man totally taken up with himself, man who dares to claim that he is the principle and final cause of all reality, man in his phenomenal totality.” And, illustrating the truth of Paul’s diagnosis in Romans 1, within just a few years of this declaration, the Church hierarchy was allowing and approving of homosexual conduct within the priesthood, covering up priests’ sexual abuse of minors, and passing these monster priests from parish to parish. Even today, still immersed in its man-centered rebellion against God, the Church hierarchy cannot admit what it has done.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 13, 2002 12:13 PM | Send

Some people have said that the Bishops are corrupt for 500 years. They’re called protestants.

In fact, a basic argument is the same: truth is more important that bureaucracy. Rome prefers to protect its institutional unity rather than admit errors and reform.

Posted by: Jim Carver on June 13, 2002 6:32 PM

While I agree with the idea that it is illogical to equate the Church itself, which encompasses its doctrine, with the individuals in the Church hierarchy, I disagree with the notion that the words of a single Bishop, along with quotations from Vatican II, are somehow strong evidence of Church officials engaging in a “man-centered rebellion against God.” That’s making a gigantic leap with too little evidence.

Catholic Church doctrine still holds with fundamental principles which Protestantism is fast abandoning. The hierarchy is still the Church’s last, best bastion against the complete acceptance of secularism. Simply concerning itself with the welfare and salvation of man, considering man important, does not equal a war against God. In fact, it is perfectly in line with Christianity’s elementary teachings.

Thus, while I agree that the bishop was acting irrationally in his letter, I cannot consider that representative of some greater problem within Catholicism.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on June 13, 2002 7:07 PM

In criticizing me for giving too little evidence that the Church has harbored a man-centered rebellion against God, Mr. Courrège seems to forget the evidence provided by scandal itself, particularly the approval and ongoing coverup by the bishops of this monstrous behavior in the clergy. The bishop’s reply to Rod Dreher and Paul VI’s “Cult of Man” speech illuminate the thinking that made such behavior—and the hierarchy’s approval and coverup of it—possible.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 13, 2002 8:59 PM

Perhaps that’s the case, but I’d rather know exactly how widespread the cover-up was in the Church as a global organization before drawing such severe conclusions. Here in Houston I already have seen unfounded accusations against our own Bishop, Joseph Fiorenza, and I do recall how Cardinal Mahony was accused by a woman of molesting her thirty years ago - an accusation widely reported throughout the media - that was proven to be baseless by the woman’s own mental state. Clearly, an accusation alone does not constitute an offense.

I’ll grant you that the “cult of man” type of thinking is “possible” within much of the clergy, but I wouldn’t be painting with such a broad brush either. Suffice to say it is a good sign that yesterday at the Dallas conference, America’s bishops admitted to collectively being partially culpable for these crimes. Perhaps this is a sign that a bit of the human-centered egoism you identify is fading.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on June 14, 2002 1:30 PM

In response to Mr. Carver’s post I would voice a caution that to reduce the theological outcome of Luther’s rectal/scatoprojectile contests with the devil (truly one of those historical events in the “you just can’t make this stuff up” category) to a critique of failed leadership is almost certainly a category error. There is no doubt that the all too human Roman Catholic leadership have in their failings provided a pretext for all manner of rebellion over the millennia, not least of which being the destruction of Christendom’s traditional political checks and balances and all of the resultant bloodshed. This is one reason no doubt that orthodox American Catholics are, in an unprecedented historical occurrence, calling for the heads of the current episcopate.

The guillotines will perform their function. Modern historical precedent guarantees it, and the modern protestant State insists upon its plenary power. The only possible way to limit the damage from a traditionalist perspective is to have the executions framed in such a way that responsibility is properly assigned, both to the individuals in question and to the modernist agenda that lies at the root of the problem. Ideological and actual heads will certainly roll (as they should), the protestant secular State will take the credit for meting out justice (for which the American heirarchy is directly at fault and should be penitent in the best traditional sense), and the only reasonable possibility at this point is to make sure the rolling heads are the right ones. But ecclesial failure in itself is no surprise to anyone who has even the slightest inkling of what it is to be Catholic, and citing it as justification for full scale schism is of necessity to assume the conclusion.

On the other hand, as usual there is more to the Church’s reluctance to reform in a manner approved by the media and Andrew Sullivan than meets the protestant eye. Given at least 500 years of the use of human failures in leadership as a pretext to advance a liberal agenda some reticence to once again concede Church subjection to secular state is understandable. Historically such concession has almost always been followed by wholesale bloodletting; this is likely to be avoided this late in the game only by the uncomforting fact that the state is no longer in any practical sense limited in its murderous ambitions by the Church.

From an orthodox perspective the right answer is more unity with the Church in general and Humanae Vitae in particular, not less unity in the name of liberal protestant-style “reform”. That sort of reform lies at the root of the current problem, in the orthodox view, and is contrary to truth.

Posted by: Matt on June 14, 2002 8:02 PM

I agree with Mr. Courréges. Catholicism, despite the personal failings of Bishops and Clergy has kept to its guns in terms of Doctrine. While all but a few Protestant and Reformed groups have abandoned some of their doctrines, and some allow abortions and contraceptives which are diametrically opposed to both the Bible and Tradition.

The Catholic Church does teach the Pure Truth. It is the Clergy like Saint John Vianney and Padre Pio (who shall be canonized tomorrow) who teach the Truth. It is the liberals, such as Cardinal Mahony and such who try to obscure the Truth.

Posted by: Matteo on June 15, 2002 8:13 PM

With everything we’ve learned about the homosexualization of the seminaries, the systematic cover-up by bishops of priestly sex abuse (it is now said that two-thirds of American bishops were involved in moving sex-abusing priests from parish to parish), and the CONTINUING refusal by the bishops as a body to face up to their own complicity in the legitimization of homosexual conduct in the clergy, I don’t see how anyone could assert that this massive scandal is the result only of the “personal failings” of individual bishops and priests. Clearly these sins and crimes are institutional, not just personal.

Posted by: Lawrence Auster on June 16, 2002 3:20 PM

Weighty word, “institutional”. To the extent that the “Enron scandal” was an indictment of capitalism as an institution, or America as institution, or the West as an institution, or Enron as institution? Is it the billion-person Roman Catholic Church that has an “institutional” problem? In a sense it is, I think, but of those billion a rather small fraction — somewhere on the order of one part per million, I would guess — needs to go before the career firing squad. So the weighty word “institutional” can obscure or enlighten here, and given the deep love of the Church in the major media and elsewhere I can understand Catholics being reluctant to just hand over the keys to secular authority in the name of an “institutional” problem.

Posted by: Matt on June 17, 2002 11:00 AM
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