"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Another item from the plus ça change department

A recent article by Sandro Magister at Chiesa includes the following description of the Curia made by Pope Paul VI, explaining his far-reaching reform of that institution back in 1967: ...a pretentious and sluggish bureaucracy, entirely wrapped in rule and ritual, a breeding ground for ambition and sordid antagonism. Couldn't have said it better myself. Like banks and taxes, the Curia is just one of those necessary evils that Catholics learn to accept for want of a plausible and attractive alternative. But what's the point of bringing that up now?

Magister is disappointed that Pope Benedict XVI, a long-time Curial veteran of decidedly uncurial temperament, has not launched what ecclesiastical politicians and journalists had widely anticipated would be his equally far-reaching reform of the Curia. Never having really expected such a reform, I am not disappointed. A man of Ratzinger's age who does the many things he already does just doesn't have time and energy for the infighting, as bitter as it would be petty, that serious Curial reform would doubtless entail. The result is that the Curia remains pretty much what it's always been, which is pretty much what Paul VI said. This is another one of those intractable embarrassments for the Church like, e.g., the proportion of homosexuals in the celibate priesthood, which is and probably always has been substantially higher than in the general population. But such embarrassments can actually be good for the Church.

In general terms, they remind us that she is not our Church but Christ's. He does her real work; the best we can do is to get our pride, greed, vanity, and lust out of the way long enough to serve as his willing instruments. As Ratzinger observed in his book Called to Communion, the priesthood depends on "self-dispossession;" I would add that that observation holds as much for the priesthood of believers as for the ordained priesthood. Humanity being what it is, that means in practice that Christ will work as much in spite of Christians as because of them. Along with that of its small-scale counterparts in chanceries throughout the world, the nature of the Roman Curia reminds us of precisely that fact.

That reminds me in turn of an argument that helped mightily to preserve me from apostasy in youth. Commenting on the Magister article, Phil Blosser recounts the argument well:

I'm reminded of the words of the 14th century Jewish merchant, Abraham, about the church in Rome to the Archbishop of Paris after returning from a business trip to Rome in Boccaccio's Decameron: "No earthly business that stupid and corrupt could last fourteen weeks. Your Church has lasted fourteen centuries. It must have God behind it."

Phil remarks: Miserere Domine. I note that all prayers imploring mercy from God are merely attempts on our part to dispose ourselves to receive what he is delighted to bestow.

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