Hertzberg on the Church

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The estimable Rick Hertzberg leads the current New Yorker with a
well-wrought essay
on the current Catholic crisis. The kicker packs a wallop:

  • “The model for the Catholic Church today is actually the modern authoritarian state. Doctrine and appointments are made at the center”
    Really? Sure, bishops are formally appointed by the Pope, and probably hand-picked in the case of a few high-profile sees, but as I understand it the process generally begins locally and for the most part the people who tend to become bishops are the ones who were well-known and well-connected in the local diocese in the first place. It seems impossible that it could be otherwise given the size of the Church.
    As far as doctrine goes, can you name a few doctrines that were “made at the center”?
    I suspect the modern Church is actually way more collegial than you give it credit for. One downside of that, in the case of the sex-abuse problems pre-2001 (when CDF took control), was that the local bishop really wasn’t accountable to anyone at all in terms of the way he managed the priests in his care — except in the comparatively rare cases of “graviora delicta”, which prior to 2001 seem only to have included certain particularly heinous abuses of the sacraments.
    In a lot of ways this is still the case. Again, when you consider the size of the Church, it’s extremely rare for Rome to intervene in /anything/ — which is why you can have dioceses as vastly different as, say, Lincoln Nebraska on the one hand, and Los Angeles on the other.
    Many in the righter wings of the Church can’t get enough of deploring the Pope’s failure to ‘de-bishop’ just about anyone they don’t care for. And yet how many bishops have actually been removed from office prior to age 75 in the last, say, 50 years? I’d guess no more than a handful, if that.
    It’s amusing to write this off as bureaucratic incompetence, but to do that you’d also have to ignore the Second Vatican Council (which was the joint work of the worldwide assembly of Catholic bishops) and much of what Joseph Ratzinger has written on the subject — and considering that he has been either “man #1” or “man #2” in the Vatican for the last 30 years, I’d say his opinions on the matter count for something.