Thursday, March 11, 2010

Technocracy and the Catholic Church

There is no doubt that the Church is in a lot of trouble these days. It is dying in Europe, where for so long it was a fixture of daily life, and is under attack from all corners, whether by Muslims, Hindus, secularists, and what have you. As well, it doesn't help that It has sex abuse crises to deal with left and right, an impoverished liturgy, in addition to being considered less and less relevant in the public sphere with each passing year. Surely, this should cause us to pause for concern. The Church should be fixed, we say. But can it really be done?

At a discussion in class recently, a student brought up the topic of the very recent clerical controversies in the Vatican as proof of the Church's hypocrisy, and how these incidents should make all Catholics re-evaluate their commitment to an organization which promotes such activity. This was readily countered by another student, a Catholic, who, while condemning the acts, proposed as solution the training and development of a new, 'better' class of priests. Normally, I would have agreed with him, and it is easy to see the rationale of this position. With a more 'faithful' (i.e., papally minded), orthodox class of priest, it should follow that these would necessarily be more attuned to the requirements of the clerical life.

Forgive me for being cynical, but I find such meanderings a bit technocratic. I guess it would be difficult to avoid in our context; the primary model of good governance that we have is largely based on corporate models and their corresponding effects, namely efficiency and a customer-based orientation. In such a paradigm, the Church would be more akin to a machine of sorts, ably distributing the sacraments and culture according to a prescribed rubrical formulation, as if such a thing as a lowest common denominator of Catholicism were existent. It would follow that the priests of such a Church would be managers and PR people as well, in addition to being God-appointed shepherds of souls. The folly of such thinking should be evident: If we just get a certain number of well-intentioned, papally-minded Catholics to speak a few fashionable shibboleths every now and then, then the Church would be strong and be able to resist the creeping forces of Mohammedanism, secularism, etc., and bump the stock market a couple of points up as well. Such thinking presumes the Church Institution as some sort of mere homogenizing sacramental-juggernaut, and that the sign of 'holiness' is necessarily to be part of an overly pasteurized papal groupie. This done, we can now sit back and gamely re-read Sollicitudo rei socialis for the nth and sip chamomile tea for the rest of the day.

It is interesting that more and more Catholics have to resort to the 'interiorization of faith' just to prove the inherent goodness of Catholicism. In short, it now has to be marketable in addition to being 'really effective.' It shouldn't be too surprising, though, since it would only seem to be the logical conclusion of Trent and Vatican II-- both of which, I am sorry to say, were more concerned with presenting the rationality of Catholicism than its poetry or holiness-- i.e., its fun part. Both councils, for example, were cathartic, in that they purged the Church of what they deemed as accretions-- certain devotions, saints, rites, even iconographies were all found wanting and discarded. Now I wouldn't say that there exists an absolute, one to one correspondence between this and the gradual decline of the Catholic superstructure; however, with no more saints of the impossible, to whom does one turn?

And so the priests had to become technocrats, in order to fill the 'power vacuum' previously occupied by the saints. Streamlining became the order of the day, and we can thus perhaps see where how the 'Church as People of God' theology developed. With interiorization being the only prerequisite to being a good Catholic, and being identified with the mind of the Pope seemingly the only real visible requirement of an interiorized faith, what's to stop the laity from participating in the internal processes of the Church? Why couldn't they take a more active, participatory role Ecclesiastical legislating, or indeed, have a say in the development of doctrine?

Of course, technocracy can take different forms. It would seem that, for many Catholics of the conservative/traditionalist stripe, the proliferation of Catholic pundit blogs and all these Vaticanista blogs and those as well fighting for the 'culture of life' and the 'culture wars'(not saying it's not important) are all signs of a coming Catholic renaissance. Again, I'm sorry to be negative, but this is no more a proof of a massive reunion between Rome and Constantinople in December or of a group of Peruvians in some high-up mountain discussing the Council of Trent over biscuits than the 'reductive power of the close-up.' The shibboleths may be getting louder, but it only means we are screaming louder, and not necessarily that the message is coming through.

At this point, it would be necessary to ask: does the Church need fixing? And for that matter, can the Church be fixed? Can WE fix the Church? I think this question is ultimately irrelevant. If the Church is indeed the Mystical Body of Christ, it would be sobering to recall that that Body suffered some of the worst indignations the human will was capable of giving; as such, we should not be surprised if the Church were to be under attack all the time. To attempt to 'fix' it, I'm afraid, would be missing the point, first, that all men are sinners, and that there is no permanent solution to this condition until the Second Coming, and second, that it is precisely God's grace that we need most of all, and not some artificial band-aid solution. To take a leaf from the 'Church as People of God' line of thinking, if my body is indeed the temple of the Holy Ghost, there is no way of making this happen but through an ascent into higher realities; and this is something no tecnhnocratic pasteurization can ever hope to accomplish.

I hate to say it, but Christianity, it seems, is inherently patronal rather than bureaucratic. It is not through institutional mediation, not even that of the paperwork of the Roman Curia, that we are transformed into the image of Christ, but ultimately, only through His grace. Perhaps this is why patronage politics and cutting corners seem to be more 'at home' in Catholic societies than they are in Protestant ones; but hey, if it is eternity at stake, I should do well to make the best of what is given me.

1 comment:

Rita said...

You remain one of the sanest voices in the lay Catholic blogworld.

Thank you for your careful, measured and prayerful ponderings.