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Friday, January 22, 2010

The Church Needs Its Own Mandela

Whenever I need a laugh, I'm turning more and more to the National Catholic Distorter, and in particular, Richard McBrien's columns. This week he really delivers.

What Effective Leadership Looks Like

Clint Eastwood's latest film, "Invictus" (Latin, "Unconquered"), stars Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa who served 27 years as a political prisoner in that country, and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, the captain of the national rugby team that Mandela used -- successfully -- as a means to bring the racially divided nation together.

During his long years of incarceration, Mandela studied his Afrikaner enemies, not only learning their language but understanding the role that sports, especially rugby, played in their psyche.

My site was nominated for Best Religion Blog!

Their national team, known as Springbok, was beloved by the whites and despised by the black population, to whom it had become a symbol of their oppression by the Afrikaner government. When Mandela's supporters (modern political terminology would call them his "base") demanded that the team be dismantled, renamed, and their colors and logo banned, Mandela balked, against the advice of some of his closest black advisers.

The bulk of the piece covers the film, not a review as such, but describing the historical events following Mandela's election and how he worked to unite his country. I'm not going to post those bits here - just the last few paragraphs.

The Catholic church (and other churches and ecclesial communities within the body of Christ) is in the midst of a period of internal tensions and divisions. What the Catholic church needs now, more than ever, is the kind of enlightened, unifying leadership that was exhibited so powerfully by Mandela, and to a lesser extent by Pienaar.

Instead, too many of our bishops -- although certainly not the majority -- function in ways that are directly opposed to Mandela's example.

The names of these high-profile bishops are known to anyone who is more than casually aware of Catholic developments.

These bishops trade in recrimination and self-righteous moralizing, looking upon Catholics, especially those in public office, who don't agree 100 percent with their particular approach to pastoral issues as "bad Catholics," who should not receive Communion and who should even think seriously of leaving the church. As if the third of Catholics who have already left the church isn't enough.

Unfortunately, the Vatican itself has also exercised a form of leadership that is directly opposed to Mandela's. The current "visitation" (read: "investigation") of communities of religious women in the United States, and the "doctrinal assessment" (read: "harassment") of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 95 percent of these communities, are the most dramatic cases in point.

If Mandela had followed the example of the Vatican or that of many of our bishops, South Africa would still be a divided nation today, with blacks and whites at each others' throats.

Okay, first of all ......hahahahahahahaha......haha....*sigh* that that's out of the way...

Here's really what McBrien's saying: when it's time to elect a new pope, what the Church needs most is someone who will compromise on Truth, ignore teachings on faith and morals, and treat the Church as a purely political, man-made, secular organization. Because, after all, that is what Christ intended to found.

So in order to do that, the next pope, using McBrien's logic, would have to be someone who has been cast out, imprisoned in the Excommunication Penitentiary and subsequently freed.

Be careful what you wish you, Dick - that describes Bishop Fellay of the SSPX!

Here's the thing. The Church has always been divided - why? Because we are all sinners! Sin will always divide - even the definitions of what constitutes a sin has become divisive. In his mind, there would be much greater unity if contraception was no longer declared a sin. Homosexual acts? Think of the unity if they were blessed rather than condemned. Divorce and remarriage? Why, people would be so much happier if the proscriptions were removed. Women priests? Holy moley, there would be jubilation in St Peter's Square from now until eternity! Think of the unity!!

Uh, no. Fortunately, there is such a thing as Objective Truth, which people like McBrien, well, object to.

There have been schisms and battles over heresies. The Church has survived the Arian heresy, the Great Schism in the 11th century, the Protestant Reformation. She has survived world wars, epidemics, earthquakes and invasions. She has outlived good popes and bad popes, faithful bishops and conniving bishops. And She will outlast renegade priest essayists and snarky steadfast bloggers, too.

And long after all of us are gone, the Church will continue to survive, until Christ returns. To use Mandela as an example of effective leadership is to seek inspiration from a fallen creature. Sure, his story is compelling, and his tactics are interesting - from a purely political perspective. But this is the Church being discussed, not a nation. Christ is the Effective Leader par excellence - and the captain of His 'rugby' team is the Holy Father.

The Church is not purely political. It is first and foremost spiritual, created to save souls. People like McBrien make the Church political because they have an ideological axe to grind, not due to grand ideals of fairness and equity. It's simply because they want things their way.

And there's a simple solution to his problem: join a different rugby team.