Chuck Colson Dies at 80

Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports for NPR: “Watergate Figure, Evangelist Chuck Colson Dies at 80

Charles Colson, who served time in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal and later became an influential evangelical Christian, has died. Colson went from being one of the nation’s most despised men to a hero of conservative Christians.

Colson passed away at a Northern Virginia hospital on Saturday afternoon following a brief illness, according to a news release from his media representatives.

… In 1974, Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and served 7 months in federal prison.

… Soon after his release, Colson started Prison Fellowship, which served prisoners and their families. It became the world’s largest prison ministry; it’s now in more than 100 countries.

But not everyone is impressed. Barry Lynn, who heads Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, has criticized Prison Fellowship — in fact, he’s sued it and won — for pressuring prisoners to convert to Christianity by offering them better conditions. Lynn says Colson never changed his methods, just his boss.

“Sadly, when he went from being Richard Nixon’s hatchet man, he turned into a man who thought he was God’s hatchet man,” Lynn says. “Literally turning these very formidable political skills that he had in the service of very far-right religious and political agendas.”

Michael Cromartie of the conservative influence tank Ethics and Public Policy Center said the same of Colson, but viewing it as a positive:

“He took the dynamism he carried into politics and brought it into the world of Evangelical Christianity and became, next to Billy Graham, probably one of the leading spokespersons of evangelical Christianity in America today,” [Cromartie] says.

And like Graham, Colson lived without scandal — since his conversion.

As “one of the leading spokespersons of evangelical Christianity in America today,” Colson helped to identify Christianity with a vicious, mean-spirited, and thoroughly dishonest culture war against women and LGBT people. He worked, passionately, to make that the core and the bedrock of American Christianity.

I don’t think that counts as living without scandal. I think that counts as being at the center of one of the worst scandals of this generation of the church.

  • bad Jim

    I once heard Garrison Keillor say something like this, probably in character: “I was devastated to hear of his death. For years, the only thing keeping me alive was the hope of seeing him hanged.”

  • reynard61

    “Colson was someone who needed to be stopped. Unfortunately, none of us could. So death ended up doing it for us, as it does everyone.”

    Then again, probably not. Remember; Colson had a whole, rather large, organization of co-true-believers to help him spread his peculiar brand of “Christian love” around. That’s not going to come tumbling down overnight. It will carry his “message” long after his corpse rots away as long as one set (or sub-set) of people tries to claim moral, if not numerical, superiority over the rest of us and they’re willing to back those claims up with their money.

  • Worthless Beast

    I really don’t know dip about Colson – he’s just one of those names that registers in the back of the mind of “the name comes up when people are disscussing right wing evangelical stuff,” so my response is kind of “Meh?”

    Maybe the “without scandal” bit of the obit was just referring to “was not caught entering and leaving seedy motels with young women or young men,” or something to that effect? Obituary writers are supposed to be either “good” or “neutral” in regard to their reports…

    This reminds me that I’ve decided that if I screw up enough in life to be well-hated, that so long as the people who felt no love for me leave those who did alone, I’d rather have honest spit-stains on my grave from them than the stains of forced, fake tears.

  • e julius drivingstorm

    As he was one of the five signers of the ‘Land Letter’ giving President Bush so-called religious cover to wage a ‘just’ war against Iraq, I would judge (by the same standard where I would be judged) that Charles Colson was more interested in bringing Christian followers to Republican secular politics than Republicans to Christianity.

  • veejayem

    A human being has died. And that’s the most/best anyone can say about him.

  • christopher_young

    “People wish their enemies dead, but I do not.  I say, give them the gout; give them the stone.” – Lady Mary Wortley Montague

    Colson is dead. It comes to us all, so it’s scarcely worth remarking on, especially at 80 years old. He did much harm and I am glad that he will do no more. If there is anyone who mourns him, I am sorry for their grief. But as for Colson, he has ceased to be, and that is all.

  • Green Eggs and Ham

     I fear, however, that his passing will not reduce the hate and damage.  There will be another of Mr. Colson’s ilk eager to take his place.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So,
    a fundamentalist says (of some departed liberal)  “That liberal is
    dead? Good.”  Meanwhile, a liberal is saying (of Colson, perhaps), “That
    fundamentalist is dead?  Good.”

    You guys are telling me that there’s a genuine moral difference
    between those two statements, because the liberal is right and the
    fundamentalist wrong?

    Colson is, as previously stated, personally responsible for a great deal of the anti-QUILTBAG animus in the US. Therefore, he is responsible for a great deal of pain and suffering and death.  Had he lived longer, he would likely continue that legacy of extending systemic oppression. Your hypothetical liberal–let’s say MLK so we have something of an equivalence in name recognition. Worst thing MLK ever did was have sex with someone not his wife when said wife was unwilling for said sex to occur, and had MLK lived longer, he would likely have continued his legacy of working to end systemic oppression, particularly with regards to race. So MLK’s death was not a good thing, and Colson’s was not a bad thing.

    So yeah, there is a genuine moral difference between the two. Has to do with the way the decedents lived their lives.

  • Tricksterson

    As someone already stated you should keep in mind that a large percentage of people here are not Christians and therefore are not being hypocritical about being happy he’s dead.  Whether they’re being nice, that’s another question as is whether Colson derves nice..
    Myself I’m a pagan and my reaction is, what is is, what happens happens.  I will also say that I almost certainly don’t speak for other pagans.  We are a very diverse group.

  • mirele

    That mean, nasty Mr. Colson made a point of saying some pretty nasty stuff about GLBT persons. In fact, he said that if the government didn’t stamp out gay marriage, Christians would need to revolt. This is from a man who went to law school and took an oath at some point to uphold the Constitution. He was not ignorant.

    His organization, Prison Fellowship, also made a point of recruiting only certain kinds of Christians. To work with PF, you had to sign a statement of faith acknowledging creationism as the only way, for example. My boyfriend refused to sign the statement, because it was a lie and (to quote the bf) “Not Catholic.”

    Colson was not a nice man. He went from being a thug for Nixon to being a thug for Jeebus (not to be confused with that guy in the Gospels). I feel for his family, in losing someone they loved, but I am not sorry to see his malign influence depart this world. 

  • Jared Bascomb

    And many years after his so-called conversion, Colson lied about and virtually slandered John Dean the same way he lied about and slandered LGBT people and others.
    Good riddance.

  • Amaryllis

    Helena said:

    Slactivist had better get used to the idea that that is what Evangelical Christianity is and try something else. 

    Mildly OT, but I just want to say that the thing I’m having the most trouble with about Patheos’s new look is the way it plays into that idea.

    What does give us for Christianity options?
    “Evangelical”
    “Catholic”
    “Progressive”

    …as though Catholics and Evangelicals can’t be progressives. As though “progressives” and “conservatives” can’t be found in all denominations. As though no other denominational traditions are worth exploring.

    “You don’t like what Richard Land says?, Well quit calling yourself an Evangelical!”

    “You don’t like what the archbishops are doing? Well, just leave!”

    I hate that.

    (Although I haven’t explored on the main Patheos page to see if any of their contributors are multiply-listed, that is, if there are any Catholic progressive who write here, and are linked under both “Catholic” and Progressive.”. But from what I’ve seen, I sort of doubt it.)

  • Erista

    “You don’t like what Richard Land says?, Well quit calling yourself an Evangelical!”

    “You don’t like what the archbishops are doing? Well, just leave!”

    The first statement I disagree with; I think it is perfectly reasonable for the progressive evangelicals to try to at least partially reclaim the term “evangelical” from the the conservative evangelicals.

    The second statement I have a harder time with. If an organization (say, the Catholic church) is doing really bad things and the people of that organization continue to support it (example: by tithing), then the person is, unfortunately, supporting the bad actions of that organization. To give a specific example, if you oppose the Catholic Church’s actions in relation to birth control but tithe to the Catholic Church, you’re stuck in the sad position were your money is being used by the Catholic Church to fight access to birth control. It’s the same with things like abortion, gay marriage, and women’s equality. And there’s a very real possibility that the Catholic Church is doing more with the money you give them to perpetrate these injustices than you have the ability to actually balance out through personal opposition.

    Now, if you don’t tithe, things get more misty and vague, and we have to get into more intangible things like whether or not the archbishops are using the authority that you grant them to perpetrate injustices. To pull back to my birth control example, people wouldn’t be inviting archbishops to speak before congress about birth control if the archbishops hadn’t been granted authority by the Catholic faith. While these kinds of situations are less cut and dry, they are real. And as much as I’d like for the progressive Catholics to reclaim Catholicism from the conservatives, I don’t know how you can do that within a Catholic framework that grants special authority and money to the people you are trying to oppose.

    But maybe you have a better answer than I do.

  • Guest-again

    To give an idea of the sort of obituary Colson deserves, this one, regarding the death of his boss, is pretty good -

    ‘If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket
    would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that
    empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man
    and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he
    needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his
    funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should
    have been burned in a trash bin.

    These are harsh words for a man only recently canonized by President
    Clinton and my old friend George McGovern — but I have written worse
    things about Nixon, many times, and the record will show that I kicked
    him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with
    mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.

    Let there be no mistake in the history books about that. Richard Nixon
    was an evil man — evil in a way that only those who believe in the
    physical reality of the Devil can understand it. He was utterly without
    ethics or morals or any bedrock sense of decency. Nobody trusted him –
    except maybe the Stalinist Chinese, and honest historians will remember
    him mainly as a rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship.’

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1994/07/he-was-a-crook/8699/

  • Ursula L

    Even if a Catholic doesn’t tithe or give money to the Church hierarchy in other ways, there are still problems.

    The deeply corrupt US Conference of Catholic Bishops has considerable political power in the US.  And the reason they have that power is because they can truthfully say that they are the official leadership of an organization with many millions of members.

    When you’re officially a member of an organization, it is implicit that the official leadership of the organization may speak for you in certain ways.

    Maintaining membership in the organization allows the USCCB to claim they speak for you on matters that they consider related to your religious belief.  

    Fixing this isn’t just a matter of individual Catholics deciding whether the good the church does outweighs the bad. 

    More importantly, they need to decide if the same good can be achieved through membership in and support of other organizations, without the associated bad. 

    Particularly when the “bad” includes protecting rapists, denying care for the poor and sick, and promoting the codification of church law as part of the civil law of the land.  It isn’t the minor corruption that is sadly almost inevitable, such as a treasurer making mistakes in bookkeeping, or someone siphoning off small amounts of money for personal use.

  • Amaryllis

    If an organization (say, the Catholic church) is doing really bad things
    and the people of that organization continue to support it (example: by
    tithing), then the person is, unfortunately, supporting the bad actions
    of that organization.

    That’s a hard one. And yet, what’s the alternative? For many progressive Catholics…okay, maybe I’m not the best person to be speaking here, because I don’t go to Mass much any more, or contribute financially much any more, for reasons mostly but not entirely unrelated to the actions of the hierarchy…okay, is that waffling enough? But when I say “my” in the following paragraphs, read “my, formerly” or “liberal Catholics’.”

    To continue, I think many Catholics think of contributing to their parish, and through it to the wider Church, as something like paying taxes as a citizen. Some of my tax money goes to things I approve of; some of it, not so much. I don’t get to pick and choose how much of my money goes to which parts. My country, my responsibility to contribute to it. My church, same thing. My money goes partly to fund the obnoxious episcopal publicity campaigns. It also goes to support efforts to feed the hungry and care for the sick and educate the young. But those things don’t make news the way the latest graceless statement from the Pope makes news, or the latest inexcuable episcopal political meddling makes news, or the latest failure to care for the sick makes news. (And yes, I think the American bishops from very shame should keep their mouths closed in public for a generation while they reform their own houses.)

    And at least the Church, unlike the IRS, gives you a choice about how much to contribute, and to which collections or fund drives. “Tithing,” strictly defined, is not a Catholic tradition.

    “The Church is not a democracy,” as the smug conservatives and the appalled leftists both proclaim? Also true. But, democracy is no guarantee that I won’t end up supporting something I find abhorrent. Just ask the Americans against the Iraq war, who voted and wrote letters and protested in the streets, and none of it did any good. All you can do is go on making your voice heard, whether or not you’re listened to, and hope it does some eventual good. At least, progressive Catholics raising their voices might counteract, at least a little bit, the public identification of “Catholic Church” with “Church hierarchy.” Because, it’s our Church too. “Love it or leave it” is rightly scorned as a response to political protest; why isn’t it scorned as response to religious protest? It’s my church too.

    Which gets back to the issue of the Sunday collection. Yes, some of that gets sent to the diocesan coffers. And some of it gets spent on charitable efforts. But the people in the pews are also supporting their local parish, buildings and salaries and general operating expenses. If you want your church to be there for you, you need to support it: the money has to come from somewhere to pay the bills.

    Why does the church need to be there? As someone said on the other thread, you can pray and read the Bible anywhere. You can find ritual and community in services in churches of other denominations. You can find dozens of ways to contribute to charity. But for the sacramentally-minded Catholic, well…if I need the viaticum the waybread (as I understand it), to be available,  there has to be some kind of structure in place to support that. There are probably other ways for that to happen other than the parish-diocese-Vatican hierarchy that we’ve ended up with, and I doubt that that structure will prove eternal, but…there’s got to be some channel, and that’s the one we’ve got now.

    For some of us, the pronouncements of the bishops or the more debateable areas of the catechism are not the point.  The point is, well, to retreat to poetry for what I don’t know how to say in prose:

    This eternal fountain hides and splashes
    within this living bread that is life to us
    although it is the night.

    Hear it calling out to every creature.
    And they drink these waters, although it is dark here
    because it is the night.

    I am repining for this living fountain.
    Within this bread of life I see it plain
    although it is the night.

    (Seamus Heaney, paraphrasing St. John of the Cross, from “Station Island”)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patrick-McGraw/100001988854074 Patrick McGraw

     Richard Nixon was a horrible man, not to mention the Worst Quaker Ever, but I do feel the need to say this: he expanded Medicare to fully provide for renal patients. In terms of lives saved versus lives destroyed, this isn’t still doesn’t do much for him, but I feel it is wrong to say his Presidency was entirely without merit.

    I’m alive because of that evil man.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Check out the way Nixon tries to convince everybody he’s totes an honest dude.

  • Ursula L

      But for the sacramentally-minded Catholic, well…if I need the viaticum the waybread (as I understand it), to be available,  there has to be some kind of structure in place to support that. There are probably other ways for that to happen other than the parish-diocese-Vatican hierarchy that we’ve ended up with, and I doubt that that structure will prove eternal, but…there’s got to be some channel, and that’s the one we’ve got now. 

    It’s an interesting form of spiritual blackmail.  No matter how corrupt the hierarchy is, the laity needs access to the sacraments now for their spiritual health, and they cannot have access to the sacraments now without supporting the hierarchy.

    Are there other ways an individual can give money?  Such as a directed donation which is earmarked for use at the local level, but which can not be sent upwards in the organization or used for certain categories of expenses (such as the legal defense of church employees accused of sexual crimes against minors, or the defense of the church organization in civil claims by the victims)?

    Because as long as the hierarchy can use access to the sacraments to coerce financial support for the status quo from the faithful, they’ll have no incentive for genuine reform. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    It’s an interesting form of spiritual blackmail.  No matter how corrupt
    the hierarchy is, the laity needs access to the sacraments now for their spiritual health, and they cannot have access to the sacraments now without supporting the hierarchy.

    Is a sacrament administered by someone whose own spiritual health is poor still a sacred thing?

    I mean, obviously I’m an atheist and should maybe not be trusted on such matters, but if I were a Catholic and I knew I belonged to a diocese that had protected a rapist priest, I’d like to think I’d say “all right, I’ll GO to hell” and make sure the diocese knew it. Might go to church,  but not receive communion, and if I had the nerve I think I’d walk up to the priest during communion and shake my head so he knew I was refusing communion. The Eucharist coming from a representative of that diocese would be, at least in my eyes, tainted.

    (Unitarian Universalists don’t have these problems.)

  • Nathaniel

     Whenever people make the comparison between tithing to a church and paying taxes I wonder if they understand its a wee bit easier to switch churches than it is to switch countries.

  • Syfr0

    EllieMurasaki,

    The sacraments are sacramental no matter what the state of the priest is.  Believing that the state of the priest matters is a heresy called Donatism – St. Augustine of Hippo was one of the big names against it.

    -syfr

  • Amaryllis

    Is a sacrament administered by someone whose own spiritual health is poor still a sacred thing?
    Yes.

    its a wee bit easier to switch churches than it is to switch countries.
    Perhaps. But what I object to is the line that the church-switcher isn’t losing anything worth grieving over.  Because she is.

    And I don’t mean “being saved,” either. I never felt blackmailed in that sense. It’s not about going to heaven; it’s about one kind of connection to heaven here on earth.

    Where to draw the line, when staying becomes more harmful to one’s conscience than leaving is a grief to the spirit, is going to be different for all of us. And I can’t tell you how absolutely, bone-deep furious I am, at the hierarchy for putting so many into that impossible position.

    Because, dammit, it’s our church too.

    And what I meant to say about the OP, is that Chuck Colson was one of the leading men in helping to turn the post-Vatican2 American Catholic hierarchy into an ally of the most conservative type of Evangelical and of the Republican party. So, no, I have no strong feelings for him personally any more, but I agree with Fred that “living without scandal” is an indefensible claim to make about him.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The sacraments are sacramental no matter what the state of the priest is.

    Thanks. I wonder how I grew up Catholic without ever hearing this.

  • Erista

    I’m sure the church switcher is losing something, something that is probably important to them.

    But there are a lot of people who don’t have any choice in whether they will lose something important to them, because the Church used the power, money, and influenced granted to it by its members to take that choice away. They forcibly took something important from those people, and they have made it terribly clear that they will use every iota of power, money, and influence to keep that important thing stolen away. That is truly tragic.

  • hapax

     

    Shouldn’t, as Christians, grief for death be the first thing out of our mouths? Compassion for the mourning friends and family?

    I dunno.  This guy and I tend to respect his opinion about what “Christians” should do and say.

  • Ursula L

     Whenever people make the comparison between tithing to a church and paying taxes I wonder if they understand its a wee bit easier to switch churches than it is to switch countries. 

    Well, both my parents are immigrants.  It’s not that hard, and when it is hard, it is often artificially so, due to poorly designed and discriminatory immigration law.

    What they went through, moving, is in no way comparable to someone who genuinely believes their faith is the path to salvation, choosing eternal damnation rather than supporting a corrupt church institution.  

    Moving to a new country is often exciting, filled with hope for a better life.

  • hapax

     Err.  Make it “this guy thought not”.

  • Ursula L

    The sacraments are sacramental no matter what the state of the priest is.  Believing that the state of the priest matters is a heresy called Donatism – St. Augustine of Hippo was one of the big names against it. 

    Huh.  So one more excuse when ignoring the need for reform – the laity can’t accuse the hierarchy of fraud in the sacraments, no matter how corrupt or criminal the hierarchy becomes.  

    So corruption and crime cannot affect the spiritual authority or validity of the hierarchy.  

  • hapax

     

    So corruption and crime cannot affect the spiritual authority or validity of the hierarchy. 

    No.  Corruption and crime of the hierarchy cannot affect the spiritual authority or validity of the sacraments, since those derive from the grace of God.

    Because if the validity of the sacraments depended upon the character of those administering them, it would be hard to argue that anyone performed a valid baptism since Jesus died.

    Of course, the Roman Catholic hierarchy seems to have no problem arguing that the validity of the sacraments DOES depend upon the morphology of the genitalia of those administering them, which is a bit of a puzzlement.

  • Syfr0

    Corruption and crime cannot affect the spiritual authority or validity of the sacraments.  

    It saves the sacraments, generally a good thing, from whatever evil the church is up to at any given time.

  • Syfr0

    Also, give me a call when you get the chance?  Want to go see Princess Ida next month?

  • Lujack

    The problem with saying that Catholics should leave their church if they don’t like what’s being preached is that to a degree…they do.  I wouldn’t go to a Mass celebrated by the reprehensible Archbishop in Illinois or in New York City or in Philadelphia.  But I will go to Our Lady of 7th Avenue where I went to high school, because I know what is preached THERE and what is done THERE.  I go to that parish.  And I support that school.  I don’t go to Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

    And also I am not particularly worried about the Church falling into crazy Tea Party conservatism over the long term.  Pius X, a retrograde in many ways, was followed by Leo XIII, who was good to the unions.  Piuses XI and XII, who were just about fascists, were followed by John XXIII, who was a genuinely kind man, and by Paul VI, who was the same way with the exception of his encyclical on contraception.  That’s a pendulum that will swing back and forth as the years go by; I’m fairly confident that my lifetime will see multiple more nasty popes and multiple more admirable popes.

    The other thing, though, that should be accounted for is that when the hierarchy of the Church says something conservative, the fiercely conservative crowd will shout from the rooftops “THIS IS WHAT HAS BEEN SAID AND IT MUST BE DONE”; when the hierarchy of the Church insists that immigrants should be treated humanely (and they do this frequently, to be fair to them), the liberals who support it aren’t typically prone to that kind of authoritarian thinking and so won’t be shouting from the rooftops, while the conservatives will be finding some way to weasel out of it.  And if there is one thing that Catholic laypeople have gotten good at, its weaseling their way out of rules that they don’t like.  Again, the liberal crowd isn’t so prone to authoritarian thinking, so instead of spending their time legalistically worming out of things, they just ignore the conservative proclamations.  So the impression is often left that when the Catholic Church talks about poverty, it intends for that to be optional and really cares only about abortion/contraception, which isn’t as much the case as it often appears (although it is sometimes in fact the case). 

    The current pope’s most recent encyclical is an example of that, specifically calling out free market worship, calling for better stewardship of the environment, and a concerted effort to reduce unemployment.  That was a papal encyclical; as far as things the Vatican does, its just about the biggest deal that you can get outside of calling a Council.  Who paid attention to that?  Nobody; the liberal crowd amongst the laity doesn’t wait for the Pope to speak before deciding what they believe, and the conservative crowd amongst the laity was quick to find ways that they could weasel out of having to listen to it.

    I’m concerned in the short-term because of the damage that the current crop of bishops is determined to perpetrate, but that isn’t going to be enough to make me leave, because I know that my parish does good, and the school that my parish runs does good, and I don’t want that parish and that school to close.  And if my parish gets a new pastor who changes that…then maybe I’ll have to leave that parish, but I’ll just find another one that does good.

  • Lujack

    Not at all to defend the reprehensible conduct of the Catholic Church when it comes to sexual abuse claims, not at all.  But SHOULDN’T accused priests have some kind of a legal defense?  I mean, the bishops who willfully covered this up and the priests who perpetrated it ARE the scum of humanity…but isn’t it possible that some of the men accused are mistakenly or wrongfully accused?

    I’ll say that the bishops have lost the presumption of innocence (from me personally) when it comes covering up sexual abuse because they are a smaller group and they’ve virtually all participated in the cover-up; but individual priests losing the presumption of innocence when it comes to actually committing that abuse…that seems to me very different, since the vast majority of them weren’t involved in either the crimes or the cover-up.

  • Matri

    Of course, the Roman Catholic hierarchy seems to have no problem arguing
    that the validity of the sacraments DOES depend upon the morphology of
    the genitalia of those administering them, which is a bit of a
    puzzlement.

    Isn’t it obvious? The power is in their genitalia.

  • Ursula L

    The priests should have appropriate legal defense in court, paid for by themselves, or by using public defenders, or by donations given specifically to pay for their defense – so that the donors know and intend that the money is being used that way, etc.  

    But general donations to the church should not be used to fund their criminal defense.  

    And general donations to the church should certainly not be used to fund a cover up to “protect” the church, to facilitate further abuse by continuing to pay accused priests when they’re transferred around, or to attack the church members who have already been harmed.  

  • Ursula L

    However, as pointed out by 
    Amaryllis  earlier, the church hierarchy enjoys a monopoly and control over access to the sacraments.  It’s a specific problem she mentioned – if she wants the sacraments, she has to get them through the current hierarchy, which in turn means providing them with a certain level of support.  

    This spiritual monopoly brings with it what I am calling spiritual authority, spiritual power. Control of access and distribution of sacraments gives the power to limit distribution, to demand concessions for access, to use the sacraments as a lever of spiritual, political and social control.

    And the system is set up so that this control is absolute.  It can’t be taken away by people fed up by corruption, so that they set up an alternative, non-corrupt system for access to sacraments.  (Short of going protestant, which has its own issues.)  

    But it also can’t be forfeit by any level of corruption or crime.  There is, literally no limit to what the church hierarchy can do without loosing the spiritual power and control of being the gatekeepers to access to the sacraments.  

    ***

    By contrast, I’m remembering a story I heard on NPR a few weeks ago, about the supervision and certification of a factory that made matzo for Passover. 

    Observant Jews absolutely need access to properly prepared matzo to celebrate and worship properly for Passover.  And the standards both for making the matzo and for supervising and certifying the matzo are very strict.  

    But they’re also humanly possible. And they’re designed with human fallibility taken into account.  

    The factory had strict training for employees.  It also had a large number of official outside observers, paid for by donations by ordinary Jewish people to established certification organizations.  The official observers had the ability, at the touch of a button, to stop the manufacturing process at any point, diverting all of the current batch of dough to be wasted, and followed by inspection, ritual cleaning, employee training, and whatever else was needed to restart production in an appropriate manner.  

    ***

    It strikes me as being an absurd thing, to claim that either the sacraments are valid only if the people performing them are perfect or else the sacraments must be valid no matter how evil, criminal and corrupt the people controlling them are, as long as they’re affiliated with the proper organization and hierarchy.  The either/or fallacy means that any real effort to ensure purity is rejected.

    It ignores the basic way in which people go about ensuring the quality of important tasks.  Careful training, meticulous inspection with the authority to stop mistakes and insist on getting things fixed, control of the inspection financially and socially independent of those doing the actual production.  

    It keeps food kosher.  It’s how USDA inspection and certification works, when it is done right.  It transfers well to other areas, such as workplace safety – outside inspection with real power to stop abuse, training at every level focusing on appreciating the importance of the standards and meeting the standards in every situation, and the valuing of quality above quantity.  

    People at every level of the process having the power and authority to say “stop, this is wrong” and be taken seriously, to insist upon the system being corrected, and people being respected for taking action rather than being pressured to look the other way so the system can keep going as it is.  

    And the whole system gets stopped, whatever the cost, if someone points out a problem.  With the system restarting only when the observed problem has been investigated and fixed.  

    ***

    People should be able to feel happy and confident about the quality of the sacraments, both physical quality and spiritual quality.  

    I doubt many people trust a sacrament provided by a priest who is known (by  the hierarchy) to  rape children, who is supervised by a bishop who transferred the priest to that posting because him raping children was  about to become public at his last assignment, and that under an upper hierarchy which knows what is going on and thinks it a wonderful thing, because it avoids the public embarrassment of holding the priest legally and morally accountable for raping children.  

    If you’ve got to gag down the communion wafer knowing that it was held and consecrated by hands that held down a child to be raped, it can be, at best, a very ambiguous experience.  

  • Guest-again

    ‘ Corruption and crime of the hierarchy cannot affect the spiritual authority or validity of the sacraments, since those derive from the grace of God.’

    Talk about summing up Protestantism up in a nutshell. Unless, of course, ‘sacrament’ can only be defined by one group of people, who don’t include various flavors of Orthodoxy, or various ‘schismatic’ Catholic groupings (including the non-pope following, women ordaining Old Catholics) – because in that case, communion from an ordained old Catholic priest is just as valid as that from a Vatican approved minion. (Sounds better than ‘tool,’ just like James Joyce is reputed to have said that ‘spittoon’ was the most gratifying word to speak in the English language.)

    Here is a description of Old Catholics which neatly sums up how ‘sacrament’ can be defined when talking about a group of people whose claim to administer them is considered unfounded (do note the second word to give an idea of how this piece views a group of Catholics rejecting the less than 2 century old idea of papal infallibility)-
    The sect organised in German-speaking countries to combat the dogma of Papal Infallibility.

    Filled with ideas of ecclesiastical Liberalism and rejecting the Christian spirit of submission to the teachings of the Church, nearly 1400 Germans issued, in September, 1870, a declaration in which they repudiated the dogma of Infallibility “as an innovation contrary to the traditional faith of the Church”. They were encouraged by large numbers of scholars, politicians, and statesmen, and were acclaimed by the Liberal press of the whole world. The break with the Church began with this declaration, which was put forth notwithstanding the fact that the majority of the German bishops issued, at Fulda on 30 August, a common pastoral letter in support of the dogma. It was not until 10 April, 1871, that Bishop Hefele of Rotterdam issued a letter concerning the dogma to his clergy. By the end of 1870 all the Austrian and Swiss bishops had done the same.

    The movement against the dogma was carried on with such energy that the first Old Catholic Congress was able to meet at Munich, 22-24 September, 1871. Before this, however, the Archbishop of Munich had excommunicated Döllinger on 17 April 1871, and later also Friedrich. The congress was attended by over 300 delegates from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, besides friends from Holland, France, Spain, Brazil, Ireland, and the representatives of the Anglican Church, with German and American Protestants. The moving spirit in this and all later assemblies for organization was Johann Friedrich von Schulte, the professor of dogma at Prague.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11235b.htm

    The end section of the article contains this gem – ‘The abrogation of compulsory celibacy showed the utter instability and lack of moral foundation of the sect.’

    Of course, as this wikipedia link shows, the Old Catholics really don’t seem like today’s Catholics at all, seeing as the Old Catholics consider the pope to be nothing but another Christian (at best, considering the ongoing child abuse scandals) –
    ‘Because of this approach, Old Catholics hold an open view to most
    issues, including the role of women in the Church, the role of married
    people within ordained ministry, the morality of same sex relationships,
    the use of one’s conscience when deciding to use artificial
    contraception, and liturgical reforms such as open communion (because no human can presume to exclude any Christian from communion). Its liturgy has not significantly departed from the Tridentine Mass, as is shown in the English translation of the German Altarbook (missal).
    In 1994 the German bishops decided to ordain women as priests and put
    this into practice on 27 May 1996; similar decisions and practices
    followed in Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands.[44] The Utrecht Union allows those who are divorced to have a new religious marriage, and it has no particular teaching on abortion, leaving such decisions to the married couple.’

  • Lujack

    “The end section of the article contains this gem – ‘The abrogation of
    compulsory celibacy showed the utter instability and lack of moral
    foundation of the sect.’”
    In all fairness to the Catholic Church, huge portions of that NewAdvent site were from the original Catholic Encyclopedia, which was published in 1917 and written before then.

  • Tricksterson

    I met a woman once who was an Old Catholic (She called herself an American Catholic but it soinds like he same thing under a slightly different name) who was studying for the priesthood.  She was a lovely person but I haven’t heard about her branch of Catholicism or found any mention of it since.  Nice to know I didn’t hallucinate.

  • octopod42

    Er…yes.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X