Some Reflections on the Recent Papacy of JPII
by Matthew Fox, Ph.D.
While the media responds profusely to the telegenic pope who has just passed, and while he accomplished some good things such as taking a stand against the Iraq war and against capital punishment and against the idolatry of consumerism, I really do believe that history will not be kind to this papacy. This pope and his self-appointed German mafia headed by Cardinal Ratzinger will have to face the judgement of history (and very likely God also) over issues that include but are not limited to the following:
A pre-occupation with morality as sexual issues even when this morality is deeply flawed. I include the following examples:
--The forbidding of one billion Catholics world wide to practice birth control even while the human population explodes at the seams.
--The forbidding of the use of condoms even in a time when AIDS is killing individuals and whole populations the world over.
--The head-long pursuit of Augustine's theology of sexuality (all sex must be legitimized by having children)
--Ugly attacks in the pope's name against homosexuals and the complete ignoring of what science and professional psychological associations have learned about homosexuality (for example, that it is a natural phenomenon for 8-10% of any given human population as well as over 460 non-human species).
Other attacks include documents against yoga (yes!); against Buddhism (calling it "atheism"); against Thich Naht Hahn (calling him the "anti-Christ") [Note: The proper spelling is Thich Nhat Hanh]; against feminist philosophers; against women (girls cannot serve at the altar; nor can women be priests); against theologians in general. Priests are forbidden to use the pronoun "she" for God at the altar.
A prolonged effort to render fascism fashionable. This includes the rushing into canonization of the card-carrying fascist priest who founded the Opus Dei movement even though this man actually praised Adolf Hitler and also denounced women and has been accused of sexual abuse of six young men who are alive today.
The taking of Opus Dei under the hand of the papacy granting it legitimacy and power within and without the Catholic structure.
The conscious destruction and systemic dismantling of the Liberation Theology movement and the very vital base communities it spawned in Latin America in particular--a move which has opened up Latin America to an onslaught of Pentecostal and right wing religious huckstering. The demise of the Catholic Church in Latin America is now well underway--Pentecostals are sweeping away the population--now that this papacy (with the encouragement and support of the CIA) has destroyed liberation theology and replaced it with opus dei bishops and cardinals.
The effort to eliminate theology and replace it with ideology by spreading fear among theologians. The expulsion from the priesthood of three prominent theologians on three continents in the 1990's sent fear into the ranks of theological thinkers since. Those 3 theologians are Leonardo Boff from Latin America; Father Eugene Dreuermann from Germany; and myself in North America.
The sorry appointment of ideological Yes Men as bishops and cardinals and with it the scandalous pedophile priest situation where the scandal is less about individual priest's crimes than about the cover-up of these crimes by churchmen who, lacking either moral integrity or intellectual smarts, moved these criminals from parish to parish and from diocese to diocese. (One legal commentator points to a Vatican document on dealing with pedophile priests as "an international conspiracy to obstruct justice.") Three close bishop friends of this pope in Europe were themselves forced to resign for sexual misconduct.
Even more curious, is the elevation of one key American churchman, Cardinal Law, head of the Boston archdiocese where the U.S. pedophile scandal first went public, to a plum parish assignment in Rome this past year.
The rigid sticking to celibacy as a requisite for being a priest (as well as the requisite of having exclusively male genitals) means fewer and fewer Catholics have access to the sacraments and fewer and fewer persons are drawn to study for the priesthood. The attendance at Mass on Sundays in San Francisco alone has plummeted 70% during this pope's reign.
As a result of his policies the demise of the number of practicing Catholics in the Northern countries including Ireland and United States continues unabated. In a few years 2/3 of parishes in Germany will have no pastors and no Eucharistic celebration. Already, 1400 priests in Germany are from outside the country and the number of new priests ordained there has dropped from 366 in 1990 to 161 today. The average priest world wide is over 60 years of age.
The obstruction of Ecumenism and Interfaith to the point that most Protestant bodies have, in the words of a key player in Canada, "given up a long time ago" on the Catholic Church supporting ecumenism.
The raising of the papacy to a 'cult of personality' aided and abetted by the fawning media.
Speaking of the fawning media, this papacy granted a "man of conscience" award to Rupert Murdoch (who, the year after he got the award, divorced his wife of many years to marry a young woman).
The Holy Spirit is far smarter and forward looking than any papacy and thus this destruction of Catholicism's past may well be the Spirit's way of creating a flatter playing field for Deep Ecumenism and Interfaith in the future. Meanwhile, though, many good Catholics are deeply hurt and alienated from their church--there are a lot more recovering than practicing Catholics out there--and little leadership appears on the horizon since this pope's appointments and policies have stifled so much talent and blockaded so much potential for intelligent faith.
When I think of this pope I think of a hard-working priest who came to see me a year ago from southern California. He cried as he told me how ALL of the budget for the ministry to the poor was being cut to pay for a big new cathedral and for priestly misconduct. He himself was close to leaving the priesthood. I think of another priest who came to me three years ago and who was the person who actually ran his entire diocese on behalf of his bishop. He was at his wit's end with the hypocrisy and lies emanating from Rome--he knew many secrets. Rather than leave and rather than play the game, he quit his position and diocese and found a ministerial position in another diocese thousands of miles away.
Now that this pope has passed, let readers reflect on the seriousness of these matters. And pray for this pope. I for one would hate to have to face my Creator with a track record like this one.
Matthew Fox, PhD
Theologian and president emeritus of the University of Creation Spirituality, Oakland, California