Every Roman with a bit of interest in his own tradition knows some anecdote (more often, legend) about Sixtus V, Er Papa tosto (“the tough Pope”) as they say in the somewhat coarse, but beautifully sounding Roman parlance.
One of the (many) anecdotes regarding Sixtus V is that he dressed as a simple friar and went around Rome to hear what people thought of the Pope. Apparently he didn’t refrain from places of license and triviality, like taverns and the like.
Stuff for novels or TV series, you would think, but scarcely realisable in more modern times. Unexpectedly, it turns out none other than Pius XII recurred to the same expedient during World War II, going around Rome incognito during the German occupation to see what was going on there in daily life or to try to help the one or other oppressed, to save the one or other Jew.
The source seems believable, as “Pave The Way” is a very reputable organisation, about which I have already reported on this blog. Unfortunately, the vast material amassed from them to – in the eyes of the misinformed, many of the Jews – “rehabilitate” Pope Pius XII is not easily available online anymore, but we can be sure that the work continues, and will be made public in a more accessible manner in the years to come.
Dear reader, if you have read this blog for some time you will know that its author is an enthusiastic supporter of this great and saintly Pope, and if you had some doubts some clicking around or just looking at the pics on the left of the screen should take every doubt away.
I do think that Pope Pacelli’s excursions in Rome are, whilst a sign of great courage – we knew that already – a small thing compared to all the Pastor Angelicus has done for the sake not only of Catholicism, but of oppressed people of whichever religion. Still, I thought this colourful anecdote would please most of you as we imagine the Pope – dressed as a lean Franciscan – and his secretary (the future Pope Paul VI) dressed as a priest as they wander through occupied Rome trying to get a first-hand impression of the situation on the ground, and of what it is best to do.
Thank God for this great, great Pope.
Father Ray Blake’s latest blog entry starts with these words:
Obvious. Vatican II. Failed.
Sadly, so many years after one of the most dangerous attempts of the Church to commit suicide in instalments (there have been others; but this one is certainly running for the title of “best effort ever”), we hear these words all too seldom, particularly from priests.
Father Blake points out to the phenomenon of the local allegiances: local groups perpetuating themselves and putting forward for honours and appointments only those made in their own image, whilst the others are scared into silence or simply ignored.
What can be done, is the natural question. My answers are as follows:
1) Abolish the Bishops’ conferences, and give every Bishop full responsibility for his sheep. The time of happily hiding behind the finger of one not being responsible to deal with a certain issue, because other bishops within the bishops’ conference are responsible for that, must come to an end. Every bishop is responsible, and every bishop must be held answerable. No ifs, and no buts.
2) Punish in a fast and exemplary manner heretical and rebellious bishops; This is sorely, sorely lacking as even under Pope Benedict’s wake, abuses continue to happen every day and a reaction is only visible when there is a vast reaction in the media; and even then, only at times. This is a very, very poor show. I have on my home page an appeal to write to Rome to let an unspeakable scandal of heresy and cowardice end. Six weeks have passed. No one moves. In times of telephone and aeroplanes, of twitter and internet, there can be no justification for this kind of inaction. Every day that this goes on is a new scandal; and every day that Rome tolerates this scandal, the Church of Christ is wounded.
Make no mistake: unless we see some teeth from Rome, nothing is going to change. Not now, not in ten years, not in one hundred years. The system of self-perpetuation of the trendy circles will take care of that.
3) Demand strictest orthodoxy from everyone, priest or bishop; even before punishing, it must be clear to everyone, even the last deacon, that mutiny is not going to be tolerated. Let those who disobey feel Rome’s whip, fast. If there is not enough staff to adequately control what happens in the dioceses then take on board more, for Heaven’s sake. The money is always there if the will is there, the only thing one must do is to have the right priorities. Do you think the people at Volkswagen dream of saying to their clients that they are very sorry, but there is no money for quality control?
4) Rome must take responsibility. The habit of passing the buck must end. Rome is responsible, because no other organisation in the world gives to his Head so much power as the Church gives to Her; not even dictators, or Japan emperors, or Nazi Fuehrers ever had as much power as a Pope has. Therefore, no President, Head of State, Head of Government, Japan Emperor or German Fuehrer is so clearly, inescapably responsible for widespread abuse, as a Pope is. The fish stinks from the head down.
Please, please let us stop with the usual excuses so readily accepted: “we can’t start to do things right all at once, it would be so traumatic”; “we have no light bulbs for the offices”; “some bishops are so, so wicked”; “orthodoxy? For Heaven’s sake, it will cause a schism!”. If you tolerate abuses, you are an accomplice in them; if you don’t have enough light bulbs, buy some; if some bishops are wicked, kick them out, as it would happen in every organisation concerned with doing things properly.
5) Far better appointments. A new generation of young, determined, combative bishops must be appointed, and the old system of perpetuation of the old cliques completely and publicly demolished. No more bishops taken from the local queue, but people coming from outside, not compromised with the local power structure, and yearning for a fight with the locals. A generation of largely 35- to 40-years old, completely orthodox bishops relishing the job of crushing the local system of power would do wonders in just a few years. Please don’t tell me there aren’t such people. Among the 60 years old they might be more rare – and I am rather sure they are not so rare -; but among the younger there must be plenty of choice. Look at the blogging panorama, and reflect that this is merely the tip of the iceberg.
Granted, things have evidently improved in some areas; we had great impulses particularly in matter of liturgy; a slow but steady return to what might, one day, be described as sanity and sobriety is to be seen; but as far as governance is concerned we clearly aren’t getting enough leadership. By far not.
When there’s a will there’s a way; if no way is found, is because there’s no will. As long as Rome is weak, the local “circles” will be strong. When Rome becomes strong, the local “circles” will be crushed.
Not happening at the moment, though. Archbishop Nichols has been sent to Westminster by none other than Pope Benedict, and from Westminster he now provides probably more than half of the scandals in the English Church. Some good appointments have been made; but mainly there, where no great opposition from the local “circles” was to be expected; where this happened (say: Wagner, in Austria), the Holy Father’s backpedaling has been plain for everyone to see. No surprise that the trendy circles continue to feel in charge. They feel, because they are. Look at my homepage and see for yourself what is happening in Austria; in Germany and Ireland we might not be that far away, the French bishops are atrocious, in Westminster’s Diocese we have homo masses and an openly “dissenting” Archbishop. I have written about other bishops in Brazil, Australia, Germany. Truly, not nearly enough is happening.
In a time of emergency like this, things will begin to seriously improve (as opposed to noticing that only 990 of 1000 abuses still go on, and rejoicing for the 10 that don’t) when we get a papacy able to tackle the problems with the ruthless determination of the best Popes of the past, rather than with the softly-softly attitude of the Post Vatican-II ones. Popes like Urban II, Pius V, Sixtus V ate problems for breakfast instead of constantly worrying about the reactions to their deeds. Compared to the slowness of the times – in which even to travel from a part of Italy to another could take weeks; news travelled extremely slowly and were often difficult to check; and the world was, figuratively speaking, immensely large compared to today – these men had astonishing promptness, a wondrous energy, a clear vision of what is expected from a Pope, and a strong will to deliver it.
We need strong Popes like those ones; Popes with a crystal clear determination to do what is right instead of encouraging others to do it; Popes with no time for the constant looking right and left, the constant waiting for a better time, the constant fear of being perceived as too harsh; Popes with no desire to be seen as a good great-aunt but as a loving, strong father.
The fish stinks from the head down.