"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Episcopal Elites and "Lay Involvement" in the Abuse Crisis

Perhaps some day the concept of "lay involvement" in ecclesial governance will not be treated as though it were a rare strand of plague needing special handling by men in hazmat suits trying their best to contain this contagion as much as possible. Certainly the grudging acknowledgement of "lay involvement" by the American bishops earlier this month is evidence of this, as is the fact that the motu proprio of the pope in May, which I discussed here, finding it insultingly inadequate (to put it mildly), has no "lay involvement" at all but fatuously continues to rely on bishops to police each other. It is clear that the involvement of laics--a term much to be preferred for all the reasons Nicholas Afanasiev gave--is feared by churchmen today not for any remotely theological, still less doctrinal, reasons, but merely because of prejudice, class snobbery, and a fear of loss of status.

As Claudia Rapp, Peter Brown, and others have shown, bishops have increasingly since the fourth century been part of the elites of empire and other societies in which they found themselves--and that is still true today. It is of course the nature of elites that they are exclusive and seek to police the boundaries of whom they permit to enter and whom they exclude. And elites with a monopoly on power are all the more fierce in protecting the same, as bishops undeniably have and do, especially if there is also money on the line--and as the recent news out of West Virginia makes clear, there is cash flowing about freely from one oleaginous hand to another. The episcopal sense of entitlement and privilege remains unabated even at this late hour. Who among us wouldn't fear the loss of constantly eating in the best restaurants, drinking the finest single malt, and having fresh flowers delivered every day--on someone else's dime?

Complicating matters in the "Catholic imaginary," as I call it in Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed: Ridding the Church of Abuses of Sex and Power (Angelico, 2019), is the role pseudo-memories play of certain high-profile examples of "lay involvement" in the Church--e.g., Henry VIII vs. Thomas More and the pope; or Henry IV and Gregory VII at Canossa; or Napoleon and Pius VII. These linger on today unconsciously to safeguard the future from any "lay involvement." As Adam Phillips says, "memories always have a certain future in mind." The Catholic, and certainly papal, imaginary since the nineteenth century has designed its power structures precisely with these paranoid pseudo-memories of power-mad tyrants in mind. But we have, thankfully, no German and French emperors or English kings to contend with today, and thus none of these are therefore remotely germane. These convenient bogeymen cannot be allowed to prevent the people of God from playing their rightful part in the careful ways I outline in the book.

Those proposals are not, as some ignorant fool who has not read the book claimed on Twitter, a proposal to make the Catholic Church Anglican--a specious suggestion I dealt with here. Precisely what the book does is to take what is good and useful in both Anglican and Armenian (and other Eastern Orthodox) structures and reconfigure them in a Catholic context. Nobody, least of all I, thinks having no serious primate with real power--as bedevils both Anglicanism and Orthodoxy--is a solution to anything.

Nor are these proposals modern. It is pathetic to see how even hierarchs (actually, it's not pathetic: nothing about these men surprises me any more) are totally ignorant of their own history, and thus scrambling after various "oversight boards" and "metropolitan models" that have all the substance and seriousness of diagrams doodled on the back of one of their cocktail napkins at the Waldorf Astoria. There is no need, dear leaders, to invent things from scratch: look at your own history and tradition to rediscover the role of synods at every level of the Church. If you need a reminder of what they are and how they function, then see Everything Hidden Shall Be Revealed.

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