Monday, 5 April 2010

The St Peter Plot: has the Vatican been infiltrated?

There is a classic response to a question to which the answer is obviously ‘yes’, which is to question the Catholicism of the Pope.

For instance, you might get the following exchange:

‘Do the Tea Party people proclaim Christian values but still want to deprive the poor of healthcare?’

‘Is the Pope a Catholic?’

It's a bit like the expression about teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, which occupied me in my previous blog.

However, recent events make it far less obvious that the Pope really is a Catholic. I mean, he clearly is, in the formal sense that he heads the Catholic Church, but is he a Catholic at heart?

It is a central tenet of Catholicism that the Grace of God is obtainable by any sinner – and every one of us is a sinner, ever since the Fall in the Garden of Eden – eating apples wasn’t always the healthiest of activities – but we have to seek forgiveness through the process of confession, which starts with sincere contrition followed by full confession (contritio cordis, the contrition of the heart, followed by confessio oris, the confession of the mouth).

This distinguishes Catholicism from Protestantism. Calvinists, in particular, believe that Grace is entirely arbitrary, in the literal sense of the word ‘arbitrary’ – it is an act of will, in this case God’s will, and cannot be influenced by any action of ours. They build a strong case for this view based on the omniscience of God. Follow this carefully, it’s quite complicated.

Because God knows all, he knows not only everything that happens but everything that ever will happen. He therefore knows what we are going to do throughout our lives, and he knows long before we do anything, whether we are saved or ultimately lost, whether we are destined for heaven or the other place. Now if something is known before it happens, then it's predetermined. God's knowledge of everything from the start of time, means everything is predetermined.

Consequently nothing we do, or fail to do, can possibly affect whether we make it to heaven or not. We may not know whether we're predetermined for salvation or damnation, but we certainly can't do anything about it – either way.

This view received its fullest expression in James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner in which the protagonist learns that he is one of the Elect, and can therefore do whatever he likes including commit murders and other heinous offences, because he’s bound to be saved anyway.

Many Calvinists argue that this is a travesty of their view, but hey, they would, wouldn’t they?

Anyway, the point is that the Pope refuses point blank to issue any kind of apology for the abuse scandals now rocking the Church. Instead, he attacks the media for their frenzy in trying to undermine his credibility.

You can see his point. The Pope’s neighbour, Italy’s revered Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, feels the same about the media. He denounces them for their vicious and unfounded attacks against him. Some parts of the media have alleged, for example, that the fact that British lawyer David Mills has been found guilty of accepting a bribe from Berlusconi suggests that Berlusconi must be guilty of having paid it. Extraordinary, isn’t it, the way people sometimes leap to conclusions on the scantiest of evidence?

So the Pope may have every reason for complaining of persecution by the media. Nevertheless, it’s hard to see in his behaviour either contritio cordis or confessio oris. The latter, you might think, could take the form of an apology, of the kind so many other Church leaders have been issuing lately.

Instead the papal position seems to be that the Church is above question, that because it is the Church, it speaks for God and deserves respect, whatever it or its servants may have done.

Now doesn’t that sound like the Confessions of a Justified Sinner?

Could it be that the Catholic Church has been infiltrated at the highest level by Protestants?

But let’s pursue this further. The Protestant Anglican Communion is torn at the moment between liberals who favour the ordination of gay priests and traditionalists who oppose this as unspeakable blasphemy.

A lot of the recent scandals concern Catholic priests abusing boys. So in not denouncing them, isn’t Benedict in effect condoning a gay priesthood?

Now the liberal Anglicans aren't keen on the abuse but they'd certainly go along with the tolerance of a gay priesthood. Doesn't this suggest that the views of liberal Anglicanism may have taken over the very top of the Catholic Church?

Now that would be a turn-up for the books, wouldn’t it? Imagine what Henry VIII, who founded the Anglican Communion in his celebrated split from Rome, might have thought. And doesn’t this just put into the shade all the trivial little conspiracies that Dan Brown makes his millions exposing?

So the question for Easter 2010 has to be: is Benedict XVI a closet liberal Anglican?

Just remember: you read it here first.


Awoogamuffin said...

I think you're onto something.

The calvinist attitude is so contradictory - if they guy finds out he's one of the elect, but then goes on to commit murder, then surely he isn't one of the elect, because God would have known he would do that.

So presumably if, through our own choices, we behave like good Christians, then we're more likely to go to heaven - just because God already knew we'd be good doesn't mean we didn't have to make an effort.

Melvin Bragg didn't help

David Beeson said...

Yes, I think the Calvinist position is rather more subtle than the Confessions of a Justified Sinner suggest - but to admit as much would spoil a good joke, wouldn't it?