Since I’ve already alienated people by defending Rowling from the Inquisitors

(see comments boxes below)… I might as well finish the job by reiterating another unpopular opinion which I think is simply a fact:

You will never understand JPII if you try to analyze him in political categories.

Look. Here’s the deal: People continue to be let down by JPII because he doesn’t do what they’d do about our crop of bishops: Fire Them All!!! I submit that’s basically because they keep thinking that JPII thinks like them, so why doesn’t he arrive at their conclusions?

JPII doesn’t think like us. Here are some of his fundamental ideas:

1. A decidedly Eastern conception of his office. This is not a news flash. Read Ut Unum Sint. He treats his office much more the way an Eastern Patriarch would than the way any Latin has for a millenium.

2. A *HUGE* emphasis on the relationship between cult and culture. For JPII culture, not politics, is the real game in town. Politics and legislation are the expression of culture (see “Canada, Gay Marriage in”). If you want *real* change, you heal and/or create the culture, the laws will follow. If the culture is broke, no amount of political fixes will halt the rot. As I’ve been pointing out, this matters immensely in dealing with the American Church, because, like it or not, the bishops we have are a reflection of what we *want*.

The basic contract of the American Church with its leadership is, “We’ll be content with a few child rapes and other indiscretions if you’ll just leave us alone.” Factor in abortion (which is where this started, along with Humanae Vitae) and “a few killings” (well, 1.5 million a year) is also part of the contract. We have the leadership we want, for the most part. Need still more evidence? Go here (and note from the comment there that this is not a problem confined to Catholic culture).

Now, it is customary at this point to whine about our helplessness and lack of access to the bureaucratic machinery that elects bishops and assigns priests–as if that’s the sole or even the most important form of power wielded in the Church. This is, however, to think politically–precisely the terms in which JPII does not think. And the reason he doesn’t think in those terms is because he’s right: culture, not politics is much more determinative of how the Church lives. Don’t believe that? Then explain how, if the laity are so powerless, a parish like St. Joan’s can basically push a bishop like Abp. Flynn around and blow him off? If bishops hold all the cards and laypeople can only cringe and scrape before their almighty outstretched hand, then why do places like Seattle U tell Abp. Brunett to blow it out his ear and go ahead and invite the Jesus Seminar in anyway?

Answer: laypeople are the primary creators of culture and bishops have, over the past 40 years, acquiesced to the contract that we have insisted upon: Leave us alone. Give us teachers who will provide us with excuses for our sexual derangements and other enthusiasms for autonomy. We didn’t much care how these teachers chose to live out their doctrine as long as it didn’t bother us too much. That’s the bishop’s job. And we’re a tolerant culture. So we lionized Shanley for years. Of course, we have our limits and don’t want to go on record as approving of child rape. But after we’ve had our blast of indignation at these mitred ciphers we demanded, we’ll cool off and move on, lest they start asserting Catholic doctrine again and endangering our Imperial Autonomous Selves and the Contract we drew up with them in the Truce of ’68.

Because of this “It’s the culture, stupid” analysis, I continue to think that JPII is not being passive, but active, in not short-circuiting what really needs to happen: the repentance of the American Church, not the bandaid of a few new bishops to satisfy those who think in political categories. Put in “new bishops” but leave the culture the same and you get what James Hitchcock describes.

So it’s risky medicine and I’m not so sure it will work. But it’s not something that mystifies me, given JPII’s way of looking at things. And given the facts on the ground, I think it’s the best analysis of What’s Wrong with the American Church.

But that will hurt! Right! Next point:

3. Carmelite theology of the cross. The way to healing, for JPII, is always through the cross, not around it. The Big Teenager that is the American Church demanded autonomy and got it. Now we’ve wrecked the car. The worst thing in the world is for Daddy Warbucks to foot the bill. We made the mess. We clean it up.

That, in sum, is JPII’s thinking, I believe. The sooner we layfolk start dealing with that and cleaning up the culture, the sooner we find our way out. As I say, if it were me, there are bishops I’d take out. But I’m not Pope. And though I disagree with his prudential judgments about certain bishops, I find that, on the whole, the “It’s the culture stupid” analysis is much more profound and realistic than the bandaid approach.


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