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 Blooming Stars

Autocracy is a Sin – 5

            It is difficult to trust the judgments of popes. Except for Pope John XXIII, the modern popes have not provided effective and needed leadership. Pope John Paul II with all his charism failed to usher the Catholic Church into the 21st century. He was successful with his native Poland, but failed miserably with 1. Liberation theologians that were fighting the dictators in Latin America and 2. Progressive Catholics who were advocating reforms. His successor was his carbon copy. He provided a good example and a great service by resigning We have to see what the present pope is going to do. He has great potentials. Whether he is going to successfully navigate the Peter’s bark amid powerful conservatives is another question. Historically many popes have not lived a life of creativity and holiness. They were either poor models or condoned many evils. Some of them engaged even in immoral activities. They were mostly silent or ignored the tragedy of Jewish Holocaust, perhaps the greatest tragedy for humanity in the 20th century in Christian Europe. They waged crusades.

            They encouraged or condoned inquisition, witch-hunts, racism, colonialism, apartheid. Some of their actions precipitated great and still unhealed divisions (Catholic-Orthodox, Catholic-Protestant) in the Catholic Church. Pope Pius XI, for instance, rebuffed Mahatma Gandhi, perhaps the greatest spiritual soul in the 20th century, by not giving him audience when he, with the permission of British Colonial Powers, visited Rome with the explicit intention of seeing the Pope. Obviously the sympathy of the Pope was with the colonial, oppressive powers ruling India. Interestingly St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits and one of the greatest defenders of papacy, was forbidden to preach Christ for 3 years by the evil Inquisition controlled by the Dominican Friars as he was suspected of being not faithful to the Catholic doctrine. Also St. Theresa of Avila and the Jesuit saint Francis Borgia were censured.

            Many prominent religious persons were condemned and put to death for merely voicing their theological or moral views. Savonorola, a Dominican friar, who was burned at the stake, worked for deposing Pope Alexander VI, one of the most immoral popes in history. Ironically the very Society of Jesus was suppressed by Pope Clement XIV due to political pressure and greed of those who could not stomach the spiritual works of Jesuits. The suppression lasted for 42 years. The most qualified members of the Jesuit Order who vowed special obedience to the Pope were put out of commission. A Pope could not have been more self-destructive than that. Popes condoned immoral slavery, a curse of humanity. How could they speak against it as they came from among the powerful who benefited from it? How could they oppose colonialism as his emissaries and missionaries benefited from the colonial powers? How could the king of France support the Jesuits against the suppression of the Society of Jesus when his own mistress was angry with the Jesuits for not absolving her in confession for living with the king? Jesus called Herod, the king in his days, a fox. Can we think of any pope calling a powerful monarch in the Europe of medieval times like that? Quite a few popes came from powerful political or royal families. Quite a few popes owed their appointment to kings.

            From 17 years of age till the present (77 years of age), I have made religious life, spirituality, and the Catholic Church my main preoccupation. And I have not compromised any way in this regard. I can marshal many facts to expose bad judgments of Popes and their advisors in the past. In other words, I do not think any objective person evaluating events theologically, spiritually, and psychologically can give many popes of the past passing grades. Edmund Burke, a philosopher, stated: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. I want to remember humanities’ nightmares, horrors, and traumas of the past, and I do not want to repeat them.

            I do not see popes in the past as advancing the Kingdom of Christ. The way popes and their magisterium govern the Catholic Church at present, I do not trust in their ability to govern this body, the Catholic Church, spiritually in keeping with the teachings of Christ. And that is the precise reason that Pope Benedict XVI at 85 years of age, having spent out his steam in the 20th century fighting progressive theologians should peacefully pave the way for a Third Vatican Ecumenical Council that would among other things also create a wholesome democratic power structure. Pope Benedict XVI as Josef Ratzinger in his liberal, reform-minded days wrote in his 1968 book, Introduction to Christianity that the pope has a duty to listen to differing voices within the Church. At that time he also downplayed the centrality of the pope.


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