Dissident cardinals wound the Body of Christ
By Glen Argan
Princes are men with little real authority, but who often yearn to get their hands on the reins of power. Catholics have their own variety of princes – the princes of the Church who make up the College of Cardinals.
For some of these princes, the office of the pope is like any other office in society. The incumbent can be criticized and held up to ridicule, either in public or private. The election of a new pope is not about listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit – although it helps to keep up that façade – it’s a time for the most intense political machinations.
It’s like a political party convention where the keenest backroom boys work day and night to get their man elected and perhaps even secure plum positions for themselves in the new regime.
Faithful Catholics don’t like to believe that things work this way, but they do. Ladder-climbing bishops spend years working the halls of Knights of Columbus conventions – one place where hundreds of bishops from several nations gather annually – and inviting their influential friends to town where they can have quiet talks in their bishops’ palaces.
In Rome, it’s the same, although the stakes are higher, even if most cardinals, I continue to believe, strive for holiness more than power.
Pope Francis has tried to call a halt to such politicization of the Church, calling it a cancer and telling high-flying prelates to get out of their palaces and take on the smell of the sheep.
One who has followed his advice is Regina’s new archbishop, Donald Bolen, who knows the smell of both Rome’s halls of power and those of inner-city poverty. Earlier this year, Bolen spent a couple of nights on the street, experiencing the life of the homeless as much as a clean-shaven, well-educated man can do.
The Regina prelate is unfortunately the exception. You cannot blame a bishop for wanting to stay indoors when the streets are dangerous. But you have to admire those who take the risk.
Now Pope Francis has had words for four hardline cardinals who have made public their “questions” about parts of the papal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) which opens a door for those Catholics who are divorced and remarried without a Church annulment to exercise their consciences viz-a-viz receiving Holy Communion.
The conscience issue was presumably solved more than 50 years ago when the Second Vatican Council described it as “a law (inscribed by God) which (men and women) have not laid upon themselves and which they must obey.” The Church’s role remains a crucial one – to form those consciences with sound moral and spiritual teaching.
However, the council omitted any mention of establishing ecclesiastical police forces to further inscribe God’s law with branding irons on those who are not reading their consciences in what is deemed to be the proper manner.
Getting back to the pope, he took the unusual step of telling an interviewer, “Some continue to not understand” Amoris Laetitia. “The Church exists only as an instrument to communicate to men God’s merciful design,” he said.
He need to have said no more. Mercy involves telling the truth about “God’s merciful design,” in this case, for marriage. It should also involve respecting the supreme dignity of conscience.
Pope Francis will no doubt show mercy in dealing with his provocateur cardinals. Three of the four are retired, and retirement does have its privileges, including, I guess, a privilege of dissenting. Yet, other popes would have put such episcopal sowers of dissent on the first train to ecclesiastical Siberia.
It might be a good thing if Pope Francis did the same, actually. The Church has never been served well by schism, and the longer these miscreants and their legalistic “questions” run wild, the deeper the wound to the Body of Christ.