Pope’s Pastor in Bishops’ Prayer Session

At the conclusion of their week-long annual meeting, U.S. bishops were about to vote on some proposals concerning child abuse. Nearly everyone agreed that the proposals would be useful. The major issue was just how useful. But at the last moment, Pope Francis killed the vote and instead told the bishops to attend a week-long prayer meeting about the abuse crisis. Pope Francis sent his own personal pastor, Father Cantalamessa, to lead the meeting. Unlike most Catholic papers, NCR covered the story: “Pope's preacher goes back to basics in talks to bishops.”

While the Pope called the meeting for the abuse crisis, Father Cantalamessa, said: “I am not going to talk about pedophilia or give advice about eventual solutions. That is not my task and I would not have the competence to do it. This is a time for taking a break, … and to listen to the voice of the Lord of the Church. I am convinced that this approach is the only way to get to the root issues that the Church is facing.”

Father Cantalamessa said absolutely nothing about child abuse in his first day. Instead he emphasized the importance of a personal relation with Jesus, and claimed that prayer was the only way to accomplish it. Then he went off on a riff about the relation between prayer and action, and said action should be subordinate to prayer: “pray first and then do what emerges from our prayer!”

This sounds like a recipe for anarchy. It would take a miracle for all those bishops and priests to hear the same answer to their prayers. They are already doing a ton of praying, and lots of them have done the wrong thing. That’s how we got into the child abuse crisis. Evidently, they need to work on listening to the answers to their prayers. But Father Cantalamessa didn’t teach them about that.

Cantalamessa said “the apostles and saints ‘prayed in order to know what to do,’ not just before doing something.” At best, he’s cherry-picking. When Jesus sent out his apostles, he gave very specific instructions about what to do. He didn’t tell them to pray and then do whatever they thought God told them to do. When he taught the apostles to pray, Jesus never told them to ask God what to do. The main point was to tell God, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The apostles asked for forgiveness, and promised to forgive others. There were no questions about God’s will. But one thing is clear. If today’s bishops rely on God for instructions, it lets Pope Francis off the hook.

Now is the Golden Age of the Church

The second day Father Cantalamessa claimed the Church is now in its ‘golden age.’ He admits the child abuse scandal is something of a problem, but said nothing about fixing it, or even diagnosing the problem. In fact, he said nothing at all meaningful about it. He just claimed the Catholic Church is in its Golden Age. The Church is being condemned on all sides for its misconduct – including by its own flock, who are leaving in droves. How can Father Cantalamessa conclude that this is the Golden Age for the Catholic Church?

“We fail to see how much more gospel-like and humble the Church of Christ has become, how more free from worldly power.” That’s why this is itsGolden Age. In the bad old days, “many bishops were more concerned about governing their territory than caring for the flock.” This includes the Pope, the Bishop of Rome.

After Constantine and his successors made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, and transferred untold assets to it, it became the world’s richest institution. It remained the wealthiest institution for more than a millennium. Much of this time it was the world’s most powerful political institution as well. The Pope was king of the Papal States, and, through political intrigue and the power of excommunication, he was able to control many leaders of the Western World.

Nearly all historians consider that era to be the Golden Age of the Catholic Church. It was the era of its greatest size and market share, power, and influence. But, as Lord Acton said, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Catholic Church was utterly corrupt. Not only were popes personally corrupt and immoral, the Church was constantly instigating wars. It invented the Inquisition and terrorized its flock, not only “heretics,” but also scientists who disputed Church doctrine. It burned thousands of “witches.” Over the course of its history, the Catholic Church may have produced more evil than any other institution.

In fact, when Lord Acton spoke about the corruption of power, he was talking about the papacy. Normally when anyone criticizes the Catholic Church they are branded as an anti-Catholic bigot. But Lord Acton was a devout Catholic who made many sacrifices for his faith in Protestant England.

If the Golden Age is determined by the relative amount of evil an institution generates, there may be something to Father Cantalamessa’s claim that the Church is in its Golden Age – at least if you ignore the period prior to Constantine. If the Catholic Church continues to wither to the point of insignificance, it will reach its Platinum Age.

The Bishops As Victims

On a subsequent day, Father Cantalamessa returned to the child abuse situation. This time he compared bishops – including Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome – to Jesus:

“due to the scandals of pedophilia, many bishops in the Catholic church, starting with the Bishop of Rome, are experiencing right now exactly what Jesus experienced in Gethsemane. As we have seen, the ultimate cause of his suffering in the Garden of Olives consisted in taking upon himself sins that he had not committed himself and in bearing responsibility for them in front of the Father.”

After all, most bishops are innocent of raping children. True, lots of cardinals are sex abusers, but they generally abuse seminarians, who are more-or-less adults. I can see Father Cantalamessa commiserating with Pope Francis, cursing their critics while drinking sacramental wine. The unfairness of it all! They’re crucifying us just like Jesus! We’re the real victims! Father Cantalamessa showed little concern for the abused children, viewing them like the fig tree Jesus withered for not bearing fruit out of season.

Somehow Father Cantalamessa overlooked the fact that bishops – including the Bishop of Rome (in his prior job, if not his current one) covered up child abuse, which is not only a sin but a crime. Many also shifted pederast priests to new jobs where they endangered additional children. Father Cantalamessa is so swelled with righteous indignation he can’t see the obvious.

On Celibacy

Perhaps with the abuse crisis in mind, Father Cantalamessa also spoke about celibacy. He said it might be dropped as a clerical requirement in the (distant) future: “I believe that celibacy is not ontologically more perfect: each state of life is perfect for the person who is called to it. Virginity-celibacy is, however, eschatologically more advanced in the sense that it more clearly approximates the definitive state toward which we are all journeying.”

In that “state toward which we are all journeying,” whether at the end of the world or simply in death, there is no sex. But there is no eating or drinking, either. It is not at all clear what implication that has for this mortal life. No one will argue that we should refrain from eating and drinking now because in some later state we won’t do it. Why should anyone refrain from sex now because we won’t do it in some later state? Besides, even if Jesus were celibate, he did not demand it of his apostles. Peter traveled with his wife while conducting missions, and there is no reason to believe he was celibate.

On Riches

For some strange reason, Father Cantalamessa also lectured the bishops about money: “The Gospel never condemns earthly goods and riches in themselves. What Christ condemns is attachment to money and goods, trusting in them as if one's life depended on them.”

This is simply false. Jesus definitely did condemn riches, and did so repeatedly. Since I recently discussed some of this material (Megachurch Pastor Rejects Ten Commandments), I won’t repeat it. But Father Cantalamessa seems woefully ignorant of Jesus. He may have company at the top of the Church. I note that Cantalamessa did condemn the Prosperity Gospel, calling it a “total contradiction to the Gospel of Christ.” He got that one right. (I doubt if any bishop asked him why Pope Francis had several meetings with Prosperity preachers, and high-fived one of them.)

Pope Francis High-Fives Kenneth Copeland, Dean of Prosperity Preachers

 

Summary

After a week-long meeting, U.S. bishops were about to vote on a couple of proposals to reform their procedures on child abuse. This would demonstrate that they were not only concerned, but had matters well in hand and were taking care of business. At the last moment, Pope Francis ordered them not to vote. Instead, he ordered them to spend an additional week at a prayer meeting led by his personal pastor, Father Cantalamessa.

While this prayer meeting was supposed to about the abuse crisis, Father Cantalamessa immediately informed the bishops that he could not address that subject. Instead he said a review of “basics” is necessary and might even prove sufficient for solving the abuse crisis. Cantalamessa spent a week producing insipid drivel, which was also wrong surprisingly often. There was no indication that the week of prayers significantly altered the situation. Even after more than three days had passed, nothing arose.

We have no way of knowing how much direction Pope Francis gave Father Cantalamessa about the meeting's content. But it is a virtual certainty that he reviewed and approved the materials in advance. We should expect equally effective leadership at his upcoming summit on child abuse. This is also consistent with his five years of leadership on the abuse crisis, including his special commission on child abuse. He strikes out without ever taking the bat off his shoulder.

 

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