Who tries Whom?

There are two high profile cases – both cardinals – who are due to come before the Vatican disciplinary procedures. Both of them (Cardinal Pell and Cardinal Philippe Barbarin) have already undergone two trials in the secular courts, and continue to proclaim their innocence. How will they be treated in the Church’s own courts, and who will try them? Frankly, despite the recent synod, this whole area is a mess.

The American Bishops, goaded by secular reports and press coverage, proposed a radical system whereby bishops (and archbishops) would be examined by a panel of professional lay people. But Francis put an abrupt stop to that. He deputed Blase Cupich to voice a papal alternative, whereby bishops would appear before a tribunal appointed by their archbishop, and archbishops be tried by those appointed by a neighbouring archbishop. (An identical proposal was made at the Abuse Synod in Rome, by Cupich again)

With raised awareness of the dangers of ‘clericalism’, this seemed a little too cosy to some. And in any case the directives setting it up have not emerged. True to his policy of silence and inactivity (‘on this I will say not a word’), Francis is dragging his feet. Worse still, he has shown a preference for dealing with matters himself.

In the cases of Barbarin and Pell things are urgent. There are widely voiced opinions to the effect that both have been condemned unjustly by the secular courts. The Church must be seen to do better! But how to do that, when the mechanism for doing so is not in place, and the chief magistrate is an absolute monarch reserving the right to be involved himself?

All these questions, of course, resolve themselves into another: if archbishops try bishops and other archbishops try archbishops, who tries the Pope? The chief magistrate must surely be accountable himself. Especially so when (as with Archbishop Vigano) detailed accusations have been made against him.

Francis’s suggestion – thrown off in the heat of the moment in an aeroplane interview – that he will be tried and vindicated by the power of the media, simply will not do.

Victorian Values

For those who have already concluded that the legal system in Victoria is little more than a soap opera, comes recent and spectacular confirmation. Despite a pending appeal, the sentencing of Cardinal George Pell is to be broadcast live on Australian television. In a statement to SBS News, a County Court spokesperson said it was “committed to the principles of open justice.” There can no longer be any doubt that the proceedings against the Cardinal have been fired by a vicious animus against the Catholic Church.

Whether, and on what grounds, this decision will be challenged remains to be seen. Will this obvious attempt further to discredit the Church rouse the supine Australian bishops to the Cardinal’s defence?

Their silence has heretofore been deafening.  

God willing

A kind reader – who thinks that on this matter I am too rigid and nit-picking – has written to defend Francis’s position in the Cairo manifesto. God, he says, wills a diversity of religions, in the sense that he acknowledges that, however imperfectly, all are seeking after Him.

He is, of course, right about God. But that is not, I think, what Francis was trying to say.

The Cairo statement makes no sense unless he intended to assert the equivalence of all religions. Francis was voicing, in a rather portentous way, a familiar cliché of the post-Christian West (that ‘we’re all going to the same place in the end’).

He was virtue-signalling  to secular relativists.

Cairo Revisited

Cairo skyline, Egypt

The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.

Pope Francis, we now learn, has affirmed to Archbishop Schneider that he was referring here to the permissive* (rather than the positive) will of God. If that is the case, then he expressed himself in an ambiguous, not to say slovenly manner.

Religion is here seen as comparable with ‘colour, sex, race and language’. But there is no equivalence. Sexual differences are clearly positively willed by God, as is apparent from scripture both in Genesis 1 and 2. ‘Race’ and ‘language’ are neither part of the positive, nor the permissive will. They derive (as implied by Genesis 11) from the punishment for hubris which God meted out to the builders of Babel.

Francis was deploying here a cliché of post-Enlightenment liberalism, which asserts that sexual differences are socially constructed, and that differences of colour, race and language are negligible beside the affirmation of common humanity.  Such a view is incompatible with both scripture and the tradition.

It is clear from the Cairo formula that Francis (whatever he now says to the contrary) did not intend that ‘religion’ should be viewed separately from ‘sex, race and language’. There would be no point to the claim if that were the case. He reveals his real intention in the second part of the declaration: ‘willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings’. Diversity of religion is being portrayed as the necessary corollary of the created diversity of humankind.

*Diligent readers might amuse themselves by compiling a list of other things – from infanticide to misogyny – which are subject to the permissive will of God.

Bread and Stones

It is an established axiom of liberal theologians that hard cases make good laws.

So perhaps it was inevitable that in Amazonia – where the climate is inimical to wheaten bread, and local custom makes ‘bread’ from the yucca plant – it should be suggested that the Holy Eucharist be celebrated with local produce. Bread, after all, it is claimed, is (in symbolic terms) simply the staple food of the people. Any staple will do. This, at least, seems to be the contention of Jesuit theologian Father Francisco Taborda, who has suggested that the issue be discussed at the forthcoming Amazonian Synod.  In this he was supported by the ubiquitous Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, who is making a bid to be the usual suspect in all matters heterodox.

It will be as well, at this stage, to say why such a provision (even if restricted to Amazonia, and delegated to a decision by a local bishops’ conference) is a non-starter.

Christianity is an historical religion. By that is meant not merely that, like all things else, it has a history, but that it is related to a particular historical moment. Christianity relates to Christ. By that is meant not merely to a ‘Saviour figure’, but to Jesus of Nazareth.  Upon this historicity and particularity hang all its claims to save and to renew.

This applies similarly to the products of Mediterranean agriculture, employed by the Lord’s command, in the sacramental life of the Church. These are not only the particular donnée of the Word-Made-Flesh, but they are integrated into an image system found throughout Scripture and salvation history. They are literally irreplaceable. They cannot be reduced or deduced; they must be learned and accepted.

All this is offensive to liberals, who function on the level of broad generalities. They propose change upon what seem them to be rational principles, well within their competence. In truth those rationalities are not arguments for the reform of the religion. They are arguments for its abandonment.   

Shock to the System

Chaired by London Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cassandra Dyke, the Independent Clergy Child Abuse investigation (ICCA) has begun work this morning. It is anticipated that it will take several years – and may not report until well into the next pontificate. Inaugurated in person by Pope Francis and comprising senior lawyers and police from four continents, the Commission has a wide remit.

‘We have been told by His Holiness that we should pursue our mission without fear or favour, from the Vatican downwards. Bishops and Cardinals can expect to be challenged about who and what they knew and how they responded,’ said Dyke.

Said the Pope’s spokesperson, Antonio Spadaro, in La Civilita Catholica : ‘The ICCA is a unique development in the long history of the Church. Never before have the secrets of the various dicasteries been laid open to inspection by lay people. Some have criticised the Holy Father for taking this bold step. He himself said, “What could I do? Anything else would be mere clericalism”.’

Victorian Values

Good news. Contrary to the prediction in my post Prejudicial (see below), kind readers in Australia, who are active in the Victorian legal system, tell me not to be so pessimistic.

The evidence in the Pell case, it appears, was so flimsy (and uncorroborated) that it is perfectly possible that the recent verdict could be overturned on appeal.

I stand corrected. This is good news for the Cardinal, good news for the Australian legal system, and good news for us all. Go for it! Pray for it!