Burying their heads in the sand

Here's an email that I sent to some of the bloggers whose blogs I link to:

Gentlemen: On the occasion of Pope Benedict's trip to the US, here is a news story that shines the light on a fine example of a "head-in-the-sand" practice with regard to "church discipline":
In 1990, Pope John Paul II issued Ex Corde Ecclesiae, an encyclical whose provisions included a requirement that theologians teaching at Catholic schools receive a stamp of approval from the church (a "mandatum"), and that the campus environment should be supportive of a Catholic way of life.

Father Jenkins calls Ex Corde a "superb document" that he has read "many times." But most Catholic college leaders, including Father Jenkins, have not implemented it to the extent that they or others expected they would have to. The mandatum provision, for instance, was met at the time with outrage by college faculty and administrators, who found it to be an infringement on academic freedom. But since then, Father Jenkins explains, "positions softened a bit on that. Misunderstandings were eliminated."

The way the mandatum controversy was resolved is this: Local bishops give their approval to some theologians and not others. But no one besides the bishop and the theologian knows who has it. So Father Jenkins can claim total ignorance about which members of his own theology department are approved by the church.

Compared with this, I thought that the way Westminster handled the Enns issue was a model of integrity.

But this is the way that Catholicism has always handled (buried) its uncomfortable issues. Here is a line that I found telling, from A.G. Dickens's "The Counter Reformation": "The immediate effects of the Consilium fell far below the hopes of its authors and its very frankness hampered its public use. In the autumn of 1538 Contarini adjured the pope to face the loss of some twenty or thirty thousand ducats entailed by a full reform of the Dataria, the office where dispensations and appointments to benefices were issued. Yet a few days later, when Vittoria Colonna asked (Pope) Paul (III) why nothing was happening, he merely shrugged his shoulders. Intelligibly enough, he shrank from this upheaval and loss, satisfying himself with minor changes which left curial procedures and incomes substantially unaltered. One may nevertheless sense a real change of atmosphere in Rome during these years. In December 1540 the pope found no less than eighty absentee bishops living in Rome and he personally ordered them to return to their duties. Moreover, the more noticeably pious prelates had no longer to tolerate the open cynicism of the Medicean period, and when moral lapses by clerics came to light, pains were now taken to hush them up as matters of grievous scandal." (pg 102)

So, during the Reformation, Rome conceded that it would no longer openly tolerate scandals, but "hush them up." That standard policy enabled the sexually abusive clergy to prosper as they did in the last century, and it seems as if it will continue to permit the eating-away of any conservative Catholicism left in "Catholic" educational institutions.

To my larger point: you Westminster guys are the possessors of pure Christian Gold, (the true Gospel, right practice -- or something close to it -- the right way of understanding historical Christianity), and as the stewards of such, you must use it to engage the Catholic Church. I know, the American evangelical church provides a target-rich environment for your salvos, but for as doctrinally mutant as the Catholic Church is, you will (as someone named Sean has mentioned at the Outhouse) find intelligent people who will understand your cultural message.

But that is not the most important thing. The most important thing is, the Reformation continues to this day. It must because the doctrines which it first protested are still "out there" and in-force, continuing to bury whatever was Christian in the early Catholic Church. The Reformation was the one hope for the church in that day (and it was rejected), and the Reformation is still the only hope for the church in our day. (I agree with Charles Hodge's assessment that true Christianity existed somewhere within the Catholic Church, buried alive, as it were, but it is still there.)