Yesterday, the white smoke rose over Vatican City signaling the choice of a new Pope.
[Insert "smoke monster" joke here.]
It’ll be Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio, or, as he will now be called, Pope Francis I.
Lots of Christians are elated at this choice, and I really appreciate the reasons why. One of my theological heroes (and non-Catholic) Stanley Hauerwas sums it up nicely here:
Here’s my issue.
While I understand the hope and happiness, especially among Catholic brothers and sisters, I don’t think that Pope Francis I is gonna relive Brother Sun Sister Moon during his papacy. Yes, much good will be done by the Church, even large-scale global good. The poor will be helped, the sick treated, the Catholic faithful served. There may even be some good reform within the institution.
But, as Tony Jones noted earlier today, Saint Francis himself was precisely the kind of Catholic Christian who could never be Pope – nor even cardinal or bishop. His life, and the order he founded, stood in direct contrast to the selfish power, opulence, and violence of the Church institution of his day. Like Jesus, he embodied a critique of how the Church had come to mimic the way of empire.
During an Anderson Cooper report a couple nights ago (pre-smoke-monster), a Vatican spokesperson and priest responded to questions about the child sex abuse scandal in the Church. He expressed an articulate (and rehearsed) concern for victims and a desire for zero tolerance toward clergy sex abuse. But, in the next breath, he rebuffed the suggestion that mandatory celibacy has something to do with the abuse, and he callously asserted that all large institutions have issues with sex abuse and 2% of Catholic priests being (convicted) abusers isn’t cause for alarm.
Them’s good odds, basically.
It was a perfect illustration of the fact that the institution is the institution. And, in this case, the institution is what I call an empire business. The evidence shows that its primary objective is to ensure its own survival and success, and so its tone is highly defensive when there is a perceived threat (like clergy sex abuse). Similar to the current Sovereign Grace Ministries scandal in evangelicalism, empire business cannot even consider that the institution itself may need to end – or at least be completely gutted and rebuilt. Such a thing is unthinkable.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I think institutions are inevitable, and many institutions are very good! But, like too-big-to-fail corporations and the Wall Street system, institutions which become corrupt and largely unaccountable make the world a much worse – and not better – place. And when the church begins to operate in a similar way, all in the name of Jesus, the result is especially heinous.
What that Vatican spokesman failed to speak about was the percentage of high-ranking church officials who have been involved in covering up the abuse and obstructing justice. Or, the potential percentage of how many priests may be guilty of abuse but have gone unnoticed, protected, or unreported. Or the way that the unaccountable Vatican state (!) is built to perpetuate this kind of abuse, corruption, and scandal.
Heck, he wouldn’t even say that abuse should be instantly reported to the authorities. He just said clergy should be “punished somehow.”
The Roman Catholic Church is, really, the definition of Christendom.
And while I understand the desire for Christian unity, I simply can’t get a YouTube-style video clip of Jesus walking into Vatican city and flipping tables out of my head. Or that scene in Brother Sun Sister Moon where Francis and his order finally visit Rome and St. Peter’s. And in that spirit, I think the world – and the church – would simply be be better without Christendom.
Yet, I am happy that, given the situation, this Pope offers people hope.
What do you all think? Would the world be better without Christendom?