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A Mother – protecting her children (the membership) from historical truth and theological insight, and the responsibilities of independent thought. Trying desperately to keep her babes from leaving the nest.

A Lioness – protecting her cubs (the clergy) by hiding them from attack, redirecting attention away from them, retaliating against their attackers.

A “Uriah Heep” – whose only concern is to protect and gain control over the moneys taken in by the business. Motivated by greed, and putting on a face of insincere humility.

A model of the Church of “Bishop” Francis? – I remain hopeful.

The latest blog post at “Another Voice” reminds us of some basic historical truths about the papacy that very few Catholics seem to know, and very few Church officials would be comfortable admitting. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Pope Frances gave a statement on the history of the hierarchy that incorporated these facts.

When thinking about the history of the papacy in the Roman Catholic Church, we need to be clear about a few historic realities.

The historic Jesus did not appoint anyone pope. He did not appoint anyone a bishop nor did he ordain anyone. Contrary to what one often hears, flowing unctuously from episcopal lips, no one at the Last Supper was ordained by Jesus nor designated a bishop. Ordination came much later in the early Jesus Movement as a kind of quality control mechanism: to protect Christian communities from incompetent or deceptive leaders. So the plan, anyway…..

And Peter? Contemporary biblical scholars and historians give us a rather clear picture of the young man. Peter and his wife belonged to the group of young men and women (probably in their late teens or early twenties) who were Jesus’ close disciples. Jesus recognized Peter’s leadership qualities and designated him as the leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Peter could also be stubborn and head-strong. Jesus and his friends called Peter by his nickname “Rocky.”

According to the research of NCR columnist Jamie Manson, Pope Francis’ apparent penchant for simplicity in dress, and for rejecting certain aspects of Vatican ceremonial tradition that emphasized his superiority over the other Cardinals, should not be mistaken for a desire for a more collegial view of authority. Far from it! As a long standing supporter of the movement, Comunione e Liberazione, or Communion and Liberation (CL), Francis apparently favors the view that the Church’s authority is the authority of God and cannot be wrong, rather like the view held by fundamentalist Protestants regarding the Bible. And, moreover, this authority, which is best expressed by the pope, is binding not only on the consciences of Catholics but on all of society. Doctrinal fundamentalism at a whole new level.

This new information is unsettling; comparisons of CL to Opus Dei and the Legionaries of Christ are chilling. But let’s not mourn the future of the Church just yet. A commitment to evangelization is not in itself a bad thing and neither, certainly, is a commitment to the poor. But anyone expecting a broader commitment to collegiality, equality, and justice, or a decentralizing of authority, may have to wait for another papacy.

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A powerful message from Sr. Joan Chittister, National Catholic Reporter, March 6

Read the entire post here:
NCRonline.org/blogs/where-i-stand.]

“To a vast population of the world, the papacy of the Roman Catholic church is some kind of meaningless monarchy, colorful, intriguing and irrelevant. It is a fantasy game played by Catholics. How seriously is something like that to be taken when the issues to be dealt with are so contemporary, so important, not only to Catholics and their idea of church and faith and the spiritual life but to the world at large? How can we believe that the answers arrived at in a medieval setting have anything to do with the real world?

And so, when the pope waved goodbye from the balcony at Castel Gandolfo, I felt a twinge of sadness — for him, for us and for the world at large. Because of his presence of mind, because of his willingness to step out of a position that has been surrounded by fairy-tale expectations, the church has been brought to a new point in its own conversion and development. And those points are not easy for anyone. In fact, women religious have themselves known them in a very special way.

For that reason, women religious may have something to teach the church about the process of conversion and development at this very important moment.

Religious life, too, had been encased in another world. Women religious lived separately from the world around them, they dressed in clothes that had been designed centuries before, they gave up a sense of personal or individual identity. As a result, they got further away from the people they served by the day, further away from their needs, further away from their feelings.

The renewal process of religious life required three major changes before they could possibly pursue anything else of a particular nature, like future planning or ministry decisions. Renewal, they discovered, was a matter of demystification, integration and relevance.

Religious life had its own kind of monarchies to be deconstructed before anything creative could possibly happen or the gifts of its members be released for the sake of the world at large.

The first step was to take the Second Vatican Council’s direction about collegiality and subsidiarity, the concepts of shared responsibility and personal decision-making. That meant that the kind of absolute authority that had built up around religious superiors had to be relinquished. Major decisions began to be shared with the community at large. Personal decisions began to be entrusted to the sisters themselves, all adult and educated women who had been deprived of the minutest decision-making: for example, the hour at which they would go to bed; the right to make a doctor’s appointment; the structure of their lives between prayer times. Major superiors began to be expected — and allowed — to be Jesus-figures in the community, spiritual leaders not lawgivers, not monitors, not queen bees.

In the second place, religious had to learn to integrate themselves into the society they were attempting to serve. That did not necessarily mean eliminating a kind of symbolic dress, but it did mean updating it in a way designed to simplify rather than to separate. Most women religious chose, like Jesus, to set out to be the sign rather than do it the easy way and wear the sign.

Grave and sober voices everywhere warned women religious that to do something like that would eliminate generations of respect from the people around them. I can only speak personally for my own community, of course, but I can promise you that separated from the people, locked away from the world like specters from another planet, and dressed to prove how special we were in relationship to everyone else around us generated nowhere near the mutual respect the community feels now from those who come to the community to seek spiritual support, to search out individual sisters for compassion and guidance, and to take their rightful places with us in ministry and spiritual reflection.

Finally, addressing the questions of the time that plague the world — peace, justice, women’s issues, sustainability — and admitting the questions undermining the current credibility of the church, as well — clericalism, sexism, sexuality, the implications of interfaith societies — make sisters honest and caring members of a pilgrim church.

From where I stand, the church hierarchy itself could well take the opportunity, the crossroad, that Benedict provides us now and themselves do a little demystifying, a large bit of collegiality and a serious amount of communal discernment with the people of God on the great issues of the time.”

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