Leon J. Podles :: DIALOGUE

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The Dangers of Papalotry

April 6th, 2010 · 9 Comments

The current contretemps over Benedict is a symptom that the role of the pope has grown too large. 

One can accept all the dogmatic formulations about the papacy and still think that its role has become hypertrophied in the modern church. 

The popes sought protections from their real enemies (Freemasonic, Nazi, Communist) by making the pope a symbol of Catholic identity. I remember in the 1950s learning the song : 

Long live the pope,

His praises sound

Again and yet again.

His rule is over space and time,

His throne the hearts of men.

All Hail, the Shepherd King of Rome,

Our theme of loving song.

May all the earth his glory sing

And heaven the strain prolong. 

A bit excessive.

 John Paul used his theatrical skills and his ability to work the media to call attention to the Gospel, but he also called attention to himself. 

The modern papacy has centralized the administration of the Church. Until recently, the pope appointed only a minority of bishops. Governments had a huge role, and the representative of the Empire had a veto power over papal elections. The selection of bishops was taken out of the hands of the laity (who were often no longer Catholic) and clericalized. But with the centralization came the responsibility to oversee the episcopate, and in this the Vatican has failed. But bishops are unlikely to criticize, much less discipline, their fellow bishops, remembering the proverb about glass houses. So no one is maintaining standards, and the law of entropy sets in, as the Church loses zeal and is reduced to a creaking bureaucratic machine. 

The era of change after Vatican II has paradoxically made the papacy even more important: what changes are within the pale of Catholicism and which are not, which lines of change are fruitful and which are dead ends. Before, various human cultural traditions bound Catholics together, but those traditions vanished overnight. Now who can say what is Catholic and what is not? The logical place to look to for an answer is Rome. 

With all eyes on Rome, the slightest failure of a pope will be noticed and magnified. Human beings have always had trouble with the virtue of chastity, and do not like to be reminded of its requirements. When a sinner discovers that he is being admonished to take the mote out of his eye by authorities who have an enormous beam in theirs, he is inclined to rebel. We have been warned about those who bind heavy burdens and lay them on men but do not lift a finger to lift them themselves, however we are also warned to listen to them because they sit in the chair of Moses. But this is not a happy or stable situation, and not conducive to building up the Church in the love and friendship which are its essence.

Tags: Vatican

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 TheraP // Apr 6, 2010 at 8:56 am

    If the pope is a symbol of Catholic identity, then many more will leave. As I have. For the Orthodox. Yes, I am still Catholic, but I’ve left that Roman (papal) identity behind - as something too shameful to carry any longer.

    Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened … and I will give you Rest.” I can no longer find the Rest of Jesus in the RCC; I have been led elsewhere - deeper into God.

  • 2 Father Michael // Apr 6, 2010 at 10:02 am

    That’s a very good analysis and I’m inclined to agree with it.

    The song from the 50’s is certainly over the top but it might express the sentiment of many “neo-conservative Catholics”. With their fundamentalist sense of what constitutes orthodoxy they become like members of the Communist Party, having to be ready to change their tune at a moments notice. For example, many or most neo-conservatives put down traditionalists for insisting the Tridentine Mass had never been surpressed. Then lo and behold, Pope Benedict says the Tridentine Mass was never abrogated. Change the tune comrades!

  • 3 Joseph D'Hippolito // Apr 6, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Lee, that song is blasphemous! The traits mentioned only belong to God and His Son. The fact that it turns the Pope into a medieval sovereign — or, in many ways, a Catholic version of a totalitarian dictator (the verses bring Mao to mind) — shows just how out of touch a lot of “conservative,” “orthodox,” “magisterial” Catholics are.

    Then again, Lee, you should see some of the responses in places like the National Catholic Register’s blog page.

    Catholics have been brainwashed to believe that the hierarchy and clergy are holier than laity merely by occupying their respective offices. That is clericalism in a nutshell. Add to that the view of priests primarily as “confectors of the sacraments,” and the sacraments’ fundamental role in Catholic spiriutality, and you have the perfect recipe for the sense of entitlement that many in the clergy and hierarchy feel — and that many in the laity seem all too willing to concede to them. That also explains the fundamental sense of inferiority Catholics feel in relation to their clergy and laity.

  • 4 GregK // Apr 6, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I’ve long complained of the maximalist / minimalist double-mindedness of many Catholics.

    When they’re in a maximalist mood, they say, “The pope says such and so, and all Catholics have to defer to him because he has blah blah blah (maximalist stuff) …”

    Then when they’re stuck having to defend some dumb thing a pope has said or done, they wag the finger and retreat to minimalist mode.

    “Oh, don’t you know anything about Catholic doctrine? The pope is just a man. He’s only protected from error in the very rare times that he speaks on faith and morals as universal pastor. It’s only happened twice.”

  • 5 Mary Parks // Apr 7, 2010 at 7:32 am

    In any case, the fact that the Pope has always retained direct and immediate authority over every bishop means that every Pope bears a direct responsibility for evils he found out about and left to collegiality or a bureaucratic process. When he found out that a bishop was a bad guy, he could have sacked him on the spot, quietly if necessary. None of them did. Yet when it came to other issues, they were quick enough to act. Same with the bishops: easily have they canned and persecuted good priests, but the bad ones have an endless series of delays and procedures and explanations.

  • 6 Miriam // Apr 10, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    You are accurate about clergy diefying themselves which is part of the cause of clerical abuse, leading with the diefication of the Pope, and part of which is expose the “Occult” side of the Vatican. When did Catholic begin to look outside of themselves and their own consciences to find truth and God, and look outward to something more powerful themselves as a moral compass? “Late have I loved you O Spirit Divine, I search the whole world external and all the while you were within me.” St. Augustine

  • 7 The One Who Sees // Apr 10, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    This question of “Pope worship” is a serious one among the “conservative” or “neo-con” trend among Catholics. The constant call to rally around the “Holy Father”even as he gave us altar-girls, the Pan-Worship of Assisi, the liturgical atrocities of the endless “Pastoral Visitations” of John Paul II ( the “living miracle” as he was once breathlessly described on EWTN) was a sad feature of the past 25 years.

  • 8 beth // Apr 13, 2010 at 9:55 am

    I agree. We’ve idolized the Pope and Priests (above a relationship with Christ and scripture) far too long. Hopefully, we are moving into a more balanced view of the clergy. One young priest I know likes to think himself as a janitor in the Church.

  • 9 Kassandra Fricke // Sep 12, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Gaga attributes quite a bit of her earlier success as a well-known singer to her lgbt followers and can be taken into account to be a homosexual icon

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