Vatican tightrope act

Robert Peter Burns rburns at
Mon Dec 11 22:19:20 MST 1995

James Miller is quite right to describe the Vatican as walking on a
tightrope.  Sooner or later it is going to fall off.  But this is
happening because of the tremendous pressure building up from progressive
Catholics--Catholics who really care about their faith, not Catholics who
have lapsed. In Austria, a million and half Catholics recently signed a
petition calling for drastic reform of Church policies and leadership
structures.  Similar petitions are attracting enormous attention in other
West European countries.  The latest nonsense on women's ordination was
actually a symptom of Vatican weakness and desperation.  Even centrist
theologians were appalled at the confusion shown in this action <see
latest issues of America and The Tablet>.  As with capitalism, so with
Vaticanism--pressure from below is what is decisive in the end.  That
pressure was evident at the Second Vatican Council.  Since then there has
been a vigorous effort at reaction.  The trajectory followed by the
secular left since the 60s has been very similar--a brief period of
heightened struggle and gain, followed by a vicious period of reaction. 
But if the workers are capable of overthrowing the bosses, then
progressive Catholics are capable of overthrowing the reactionary regime
in the Vatican.  Vatican reactionary rule is no more invulnerable than
bourgeois rule.  I.e., it's formidable, but not, in the last analysis,
immune to a fall. "And what a fall that will be!" <cf. Matthew 7:27.> But
the fall of reactionary Vatican rule per se will not constitute the fall
of Catholicism, any more than the fall of bourgeois hegemony in other
sphere of culture or social life will constitute the end of culture or
social life.  A papacy marked by the sort of pastoral leadership shown by
Bishop Samuel Ruiz in Chiapas will herald a very different sort of
Catholicism from what we have now.  Can't possibly happen?  Hey, if
socialism can happen, then a Ruiz-style papacy could happen!  Bishop
Helder Camara of Brazil used to say, "When I care for the poor, they call
me a saint.  When I ask, why are they poor, they call me a communist".  A
communist pope in a communist world--why not?  If I can dream the latter,
I can dream the former. 

While I'm here, let me draw attention to an article by Joseph Mulligan SJ
in the latest issue of Monthly Review, entitled "Nicaraguan President
Violeta Chamorro: Five Years of 'Structural Adjustment'".  One of the most
poignant memories of my visit to Nicaragua in 1990 was celebrating Mass
with Joe--not in a church, but right in among the shanties of one of the
poorest parts of Managua--in honor of soldiers of the Sandinista army from
that barrio who had fallen fighting imperialism. 
rburns at 

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