Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Campaign

The level of rancor directed at the pope on the occasion of the his visit to England (including the beatification of John Newman) should, I suppose, be unsurprising. But then again, it should be surprising, because it is reprehensible. Perhaps he and Rowan Williams should feel a kinship as being, at heart, theologians who are cast into political struggles to which they are not naturally drawn.

The picture of Benedict as a tyrant is obviously false. It's clear that he wants to right a lot of what he sees are wrongs and abuses that have developed over the years; his vigor in pursuing this, however, is less than dictatorial. But for some reason it is important that the pope be this malevolent, cruel, heartless, fundamentalist tyrant, so that this what he is, at least when he is written about in the secular media. The level of dislike for him is wildly disproportionate.

So here we have Garry Wills misrepresenting a nine year old address by the then-cardinal, and here we have Jim Naughton commending the attack. I defy anyone, in a few minutes, to read what Ratzinger actually said in a few minutes and come up with a coherent and succinct summary of his views re Newman. The passage is subtle, complex, and highly nuanced; it is the address of a deep-thinking theologian meditating on one of his equals if not superiors. Wills's reduction of Newman to a dissident is absolutely wrong, and Naughton's commendation of this reduction is equally wrong.

But it is worse than just wrong, because Naugtton is, after all, an agent of the ecclesiastical establishment, not a dissident. So just two posts earlier in Episcopalian Cafe, he mounts an attack on the character of Dan Martins, bishop-elect in the Diocese of Springfield, which it is hard to characterize as anything other than a deliberate misrepresentation of what Martins said. And you can hear exactly what he said, or go from there to a copy of the remarks as he intended to say them, and you can see and hear for yourself that Naughton's claim of what Martins found shameful simply isn't true.

The posturing in the remarks on Naughton's post is, as usual, quite routine and tiresome, with plenty of powerful people bemoaning the rebuke to their acts. What is more striking to me is how this fits into a long pattern of Naughton serving as an agent of agitation for the liberal establishment. Naughton is, you may recall, the person behind publicizing the Chapman memo and trying to raise the alarms about IRD and Howard Ahramson. It all fits into a consistent campaign-- and everything shows that the present presiding bishop is a participant in it-- to deny dissenting traditionalists any access to power. I think Martins has a pretty good chance at this point to survive these attacks, because I think there are probably enough bishops in the middle who will stick to their guns in allowing him to be a dissident, especially since he isn't making any noises about taking his diocese out of the church. But the pattern of hypocrisy continues: people of power commending "dissidents" like Newman, and then moving to quash any dissidence within their own ranks, even if it means saying things about the opposition that really aren't true, and beyond that, attacking others for practicing politics when everything about their acts is political in the extreme. If prophecy is speaking to power, then these are the people to whom prophecy must speak, not a man whose words at GC were not heeded and whose ascent to power is in the hands of these so-called dissidents.

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