On Church and State


While we are constantly warned against the danger of mixing religion with politics, the current state of the Church, as well as the quasi-religious hysteria of the American political scene, suggests that there is not a whole lot of difference between the two. 


The Catholic Church is, for one, in really deep trouble over its cover-ups of clerical sexual misconduct and crimes -- not just in the USA, but in Europe, the UK, and elsewhere around the globe. Bishops, even a few Cardinals, have been forced to resign, if not for their own personal misbehavior, at least for their cover-ups and reassignment of priests who have seriously transgressed.  It now appears that in its attempts to keep up appearances, there is a paper trail of deception emerging that leads back even to Rome. With the laity in a near state of open rebellion as each new scandal is uncovered, it faces an upheaval unprecedented since the Reformation begun by Luther five centuries ago.


Meanwhile, the USA, once admired as the world's most democratic country, has begun to be regarded the world's pariah, no longer a shining example for other nations, but as a "bully" that feels entitled to dictate to the rest of the world what it must do to curry our favor and be considered our "friend".  Not to be "with us" is to be "against us" -- certainly a hypocritical stance to take while our government refuses to be with the rest of the world when it comes curbing pollution, controlling nuclear proliferation, or even bringing international criminals to justice. And as our new officially declared national defense policy openly declares it, no one may have weapons of mass destruction, except of course ourselves and our "friends" -- as if any nation should be any longer allowed to possess them! If ever there was an example of a nation operating under a double-standard, we are seen by the rest of the world to be it.


Yet, oddly enough, the cause of both the Church's and the USA's problems is remarkably the same -- the self-corrupting influence of power.  If we are told by scripture that the love of money is the root of all evil, is it not because gold and silver are evil by nature, but because of the corruption and arrogance that such wealth tends to generate.  Congressmen, senators, and administration members are not so much corrupted by money as such (little of it stays in their own pockets) as by the influence that this money buys, the power to stay in office, and the prestige and the perks that the position affords.  So too, in the Church, while the hierarchial salaries may be quite modest, the power and influence more than make up for it.  Is there any single position in the world anywhere near the prestige of being Pope?


If this be true, then all this suggests the cure for this colossal mess can only come at an almost tremendous cost, some form of tremendous humiliation, and even then, whether that cure can be in the end, successful, remains somewhat in doubt.  Perhaps there should be less doubt when it comes to the Catholic Church, which in one form or another has been with us for nearly two-thousand years.  As more than one historian has observed, any institution that has survived so much internal corruption for so long almost has to have had divine protection.  But when it comes to political institutions, these tend to be much more short-lived. If "Rome was not built in a day", still, that ancient republic, especially after it became a continent-spanning dictatorship, fell completely apart in a remarkably short period of time. 


Surely there is a lesson in all this for both America and the Catholic Church.  Both are in dire need of a reality check: America in learning to cooperate with the rest of the world, not just in peace-making, but even more fundamentally, in both sharing and conserving the earth's resources with the other 95% of humanity, and the Church, in restoring its own credibility (especially regarding the role of sexuality), in an increasingly crowded world.


R W Kropf 12/15/02                       



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