Letters to Pope Francis

LetterstoPopeFrancis-cover-224x359One might start with the premise that this book, written by a former priest and Dominican to the Roman Catholic Church’s new pope, Francis, and about what is wrong with the institutional church, would appeal only to Catholics. One would be wrong, quite simply.

Matthew Fox delves into the rot at the center of the Catholic Church with the precision of a surgeon, and cuts out the cancer with deft sure hands. Yet what he speaks of, with slight alteration can be laid at the doorstep of much of Christendom. If I were more familiar with other faith systems, no doubt his criticisms would also find purchase.

Fox starts with charging that the two previous papacies, that of John Paul II and Benedict XVI were schismatic. He makes this claim since both quite obviously tried to roll back the progress of Vatican II, and as he rightly suggests, “a council takes precedence over papal directives.” In other words, to the degree that both worked to ignore or undue reforms of the Second Vatican Council, their work was illegal and should be ignored.

Fox goes on from there, and he leaves no area of the church’s dirty little secrets left unaired. From the utterly disgusting coverup by church hierarchy of the pedophilia scandal, to the Vatican bank, to the vile treatment of religious women under Benedict, they are all unmasked. Curia members buy “sainthood” and known fascists find canonization while true martyrs of the church such as Oscar Romero are “held up” due to false charges of Marxism.

Matthew Fox who is now deeply involved in his own spiritual enterprise of bringing people to the Cosmic Jesus, urges Pope Francis to return theology to true theologians, replace suspect organizations such as Opus Dei from their powerful positions, stop the war on women, end required celibacy, and the simple end of Catholic obsession with sexual matters. It is a call to recognize the basic intelligence of lay people. It is a recognition that if the Church is losing adherents at an astounding pace, it is largely because the church is failing to be relevant to today’s problems and the needs of its people.

With tenderness but with firmness, Fox employs the Pope’s own words and is relentless in drawing the parallel between today and the Pope’s chosen namesake, Francis of Assisi, who, Fox makes out the case, would dismiss the great wealth of the Vatican, converting it to food for the poor, and would speak out loudly and insistently on issues of income inequality, working conditions for workers, and our rape of the environment.

He offers real solutions, the obvious and those which deal more with the inner workings of the Vatican, a subject that many lay persons are unfamiliar with. Indeed, it is these revelations that so shake the reader. How could such evil and behavior be tolerated in the Church?

This is a call to justice. It is a call to the Pope and the Church to return to its beginnings. It is a call to return to Jesus. Relentlessly, Fox recounts that Jesus was about the poor. He was about justice. He was about speaking truth to power. He indicts the Church as becoming the very things that Jesus gave his life for, and that if we can drop the mantra of individual salvation and return to demands for justice, work for justice, this church and others like it can be saved.

This a call to recognize that religion is the not same thing as faith. Fox sees faith as alive and well, and it is religion that has lost its way. It has become part of the ruling portion of humanity. It no longer serves people. Moreover he makes it quite clear that the only way for religion to continue must come through a recognition that ecumenism is the solution. We must get off this crazy notion that there is only One way to salvation, which each and every (or most) faith traditions claiming that they are that ONE.

This is a disheartening book if you are a Catholic, but refreshing too, as we recognize that the movement to re-vision what it means to be “church” is being led, not by hierarchies within institutional structures, but among common every day people. They are the true leadership and those institutionalized “leaders” had best get on board, or be left behind to burnish their gold and buff their Prada slippers in empty cathedrals everywhere.

Read this. Read it and join the growing legions who seek Jesus and His Way, the one that was intended.

On What Pathway?

I recall gab fests at the convent with another hopeful yet-to-be novice late at night. We would be there for a weekend retreat, and would stay up late talking about the subject we most loved–God, Jesus, and OUR church. We were both converts and we were SOOOO Catholic.

Of course we had no idea that our exuberance was typical of the convert. We relished crossing every T and dotting every I. We were seriously chagrined that habits were no longer in fashion. We oohed and ahhed at “authentic relics” preserved in the chapel.

It is not hard to understand how I came to love stained glass and vaulted ceilings, things uncommon in most Catholic churches build from the 60’s on.

Yet, thankfully, we grow in wisdom and knowledge, and I came to see that Vatican II was not the “thing” that took away all my awesome Catholic “accoutrements” but was in fact a much-needed renewal. It opened the doors to rethinking and re-seeing  tradition, scripture, and the Church’s relationship to the world. It called the Church to examine most carefully that reason was not perhaps the danger it was thought. Mind and reason are too gifts from our God.

Fr. Richard McBrien has an article at NCR about what happened post Vatican II. The long Pontificate of John Paul II has had  a severe impact on the Church, and frankly, one that will continue for many years to come it appears.  I cannot speak to other areas of the world, but surely the push-pull in the American church is dramatic. One need only read the comments at NCR on any of its articles to see the line drawn between the “progressives” and the “traditionalists.”

McBrien points out, and polling would seem to confirm that most Catholics don’t adhere to many of the Church’s more conservative stances, certainly on contraception, and homosexuality, and even on things like abortion. He points out further than JPII has worked assiduously to undo what his predecessors had started to implement–the true heart of Vatican II. Instead he appointed cardinal after cardinal with the apparent objective of enlarging the cadre of like-minded thinkers like himself.

It came as no surprise that Benedict XVI has carried on in the tradition of JPII. He was not called the Pope’s “rottweiler” for nothing during the JPII years.

Benedict has appointed some twenty-four new Cardinals. Among them are two Americans, Archbishop Burke, as of late Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, and before as Archbishop of the archdiocese of St. Louis, and Archbishop Wuerl of Washington DC. This brings Benedict’s appointments to a total of 15, and raises the Italian presence from 17% to 20%, interesting in itself when a full 2/3 of all Catholics reside in countries south of the equator. They make up only 1/3 of the College.

Raymond Burke is best known for his anti-Obama, pro-choice stance from which he has denounced any number of Catholic politicians for their pro-choice voting (they all claiming that their faith is NOT properly in the mix when voting for their constituencies) and his claim that he would deny communion to such people should they wander into his church on any given Sunday. Worse, Burke claimed that Edward M. Kennedy should have been denied a Catholic funeral.

John Allen, Jr., of NCR points out that while there are no liberals in the appointments, not all are arch conservative either.  Truthfully Wuerl can best be described as a centrist. He contends that B16 seems mostly concerned with following tradition in his methodology and in re-Italianizing the College.

All this suggests to me, that it’s as Allen points out, business as usual. There seems to be no real recognition that the sex abuse issues are not going away, and must be dealt with some measure of openness and firmness as of yet not seen. There is no discussion it seems of the appalling lack of seeming awareness of what is driving so many Catholics from the Church. There is nothing like a real discussion of issues of homosexuality or women’s ordination. All such attempts are met with an iron wall of silence and pointing to “existing dogma” on the subject.

I have no crystal ball. I have no clue what will happen to the Church in general or the American church specifically. But it may be the JPII will go down as the leader of the demise of the Church as we know it. The breach between the small group of men at the top and the huge congregation of the faithful below continues to grow. One wonders how long, before it shatters a glorious centerpiece of  Christendom.

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