inquisitions are not the answer

inquisition

Blanket accusations and indiscriminate purges are part of the dark history of the Catholic church. From the killing and pillaging associated with the “holy” Crusades, to the mass executions of “heretics” during the Spanish Inquisition and the Protestant Reformation, the church showed no mercy in its self-righteous mission to defend the one and only true faith. It wasn’t until the 20th century that Pope John Paul II made a public act of repentance for these sins of the church.

Inquisitorial times, whether in churches or governments, feed authoritarian power in those who hold power and those who seek power. In the desire to purge the named evil, false accusations are inevitable. Whispered rumours morph into fact from sheer repetition. Personal vendettas and ideological battles lead the unscrupulous to name perpetrators with little or no evidence. Officials snitch on other officials. Neighbours snitch on neighbours.

Today it is easier than ever to spread calumny, rumour or innuendo. Social media gives everyone a voice and a platform. It also gives everyone the opportunity to hear all voices, whether true or false. We demand instant reporting and instant responses. Out-of -context headlines are retweeted before sources are investigated or proven, often by well meaning persons.

The recent news on the ongoing sexual abuse crisis has ignited understandable anger. We want it ended. We’re tired of the shock and the disgust. We want heads to roll. And, let me be clear, guilty heads should and must roll.

But, due process must be put in place and followed.

Some are calling for a mass resignation of American bishops. Is this the answer? I don’t think so.  Many of us know, and perhaps are friends with, priests or bishops of integrity. Blanket accusations and assumptions of guilt are unfair, and dangerous. Even if proven innocent, the initial assumption of guilt is seldom forgotten.

Cover-ups or canonical slaps on the wrist for serious crimes of abuse must end. The answer is a due process of law, with punishment suited to the severity of the crime.

Another inquisition is not the answer.

 

do not be masters of doctrine

During an ordination ceremony on Sunday, Pope Francis stressed that

…priests are not “masters of doctrine” but must be faithful to it. Francis described the pain he feels when he hears of people that no longer go to confession because they fear being told off; they felt the church was slamming the door in their face. “Please don’t do this,” Francis urged priests, stressing the importance of mercy.

The next day, he spent an hour in a question and answer session with seminarians and young priests in Rome in which he stressed the danger of “academicism”,

“There are four pillars to a priest’s education:” “spiritual education, academic education, community education and apostolic education.” “I would not be able to understand a priest who comes to study for a degree here in Rome but doesn’t lead a community life – this will not do – or who does not look after their spiritual life, taking part in daily mass, daily prayer, the lectio divina and personal prayer with the Lord.” “Academic purism is not good” in this sense. If you only focus on the academic side, there is a danger of slipping into ideology and this is not healthy” because we become “macrocephalus” and “this is bad, it is a sickness.”

I agree wholeheartedly. We need doctrine. We need academics who are willing to do the hard work of studying the faith in order to teach others. What we do not need are doctrinal bullies who use church teachings as a hammer of orthodoxy to force us into unquestioning submission. And, we do not need a narrow, judgmental view of faithfulness that focuses only on doctrinal “purisms” and disregards our personal relationship with God through prayer and our attempts to live this relationship in our works and deeds.

And, yet, the image of church leaders as masters of doctrine continues to not only haunt us but to also make its presence known. Recent headlines have been disheartening to say the least.

The religious women of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) are once again in the lime-light. In a recent meeting with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the women were told in no uncertain terms that they and their work are still under suspicion. (NCR has ongoing coverage of the LCWR story here.)

Theologians continue to be threatened with censure. The latest is Fr. Michael Amaladoss, a Jesuit from India and author of The Asian Jesus. The LCWR was also reprimanded by Cardinal Müller for awarding its 2014 Outstanding Leadership Award to “a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian’s writings.” This theologian is the well known and much respected Sr. Elizabeth Johnson.

“Masters of doctrine”, for me, brings with it images of past, inquisitorial times. Inquisitions are used to regain and maintain purity in the church, but at what cost? They encourage an atmosphere of accusations rather than dialogue, secrecy rather than transparency, and cruel emotional and spiritual torture rather than mercy.

Sadly, today’s inquisitions are showing a growing disconnect between the words and actions of Pope Francis. The reform that Francis has called for, the reform that has given so many of us hope, is in danger of morphing into the counter-reformation style of doctrinal purification that was the distinguishing factor of the previous two papacies.

If Pope Francis truly believes in a church of mercy, a church that does not slam its door in the faces of her own, it is time for him to rein in the modern day inquisitors.