Writings by Daniel Durand

August 20, 2009

The Popes and the Abuse of Power‏

Filed under: Daniel Durand — curmudgeondan @ 1:55 am

Some important quotes

It is clear that an exclusively ethical emphasis on right and wrong, good and evil, in Christian education, breeds doubt and not faith. The more we insist that Catholicism must consist in the avoidance of sin (especially in the realm of sex), in “being good” and doing one’s duty, the more we make it difficult for men to really believe, and the more we make faith into a mental and spiritual problem, contingent on a certain ethical achievement. The only way faith continues to be humanly possible in such a situation is for it to be understood as a virtue and a duty among other virtues and duties. One believes because one is told to believe, not because of a living and life-giving aspiration to know the living God. Faith itself becomes shot through with an existential doubt which, nevertheless, one ignores out of duty, while going about one’s business of avoiding evil and doing good.

The tension generated by this struggle of doubt and duty eventually seeks a natural release in crusades and in the persecution of heretics, in order that we may prove ourselves “good” and “right” by judging and condemning evil and error in those who are unlike ourselves.

Thomas Merton – Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander – p. 167, author’s italics

The first sentence may appear a gratuitous assertion, but it flows from what he had previously discussed about ethics.

It is one of the ironies of human history that the illumination which has brought into religion a perception of the unity of God and the brotherhood of mankind should have promoted intolerance and persecution. The explanation is, of course, that the idea of unity in the application of religion impresses the spiritual pioneers who embrace it as being so transcendently important that they are apt to plunge into any short cut which promises to hasten the translation of the idea into reality. This enormity of intolerance and persecution has shown its hideous countenance, almost without fail, whenever and wherever a higher religion has been preached.

Arnold J. Toynbee A Study of History (2 volume reduction by Somervell)

….that well known tendency of the dogmatist to prefer infidels to heretics.

John Julius Norwich Byzantium: the Apogee

O living Love replacing phantasy,
O joy of life revealed in Love’s creation,
Our mood of longing turns to indication;
Space is the Whom our loves are needed by,
Time is our choice of How to love and Why.

W. H. Auden For the Time Being

It is always a source of amazement to me that popes and bishops so indiscreetly wish to be called lords and masters when Christ forbad His disciples to be called either.

Erasmus Enchiridion Militis Christiani

The protagonists of human rights ended by denying the rights of God.

Henri Daniel-Rops The Church in an Age of Revolution

Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere might be happy.


To aim at happiness is to miss the mark; for happiness is not an end at all. It is something that comes of itself, when we are busy about other matters.

Dorothy Sayers The Devil to Pay

Imperfect is the pope – that should help all people,
Yet sendeth men to slay – such as he should save.

William Langland – The Vision of Piers Plowman

It is impossible honestly to apply a moral standard to history without discrediting the Church in her collective action.

Lord Acton to Döllinger

Canon law is like cheese to the masses;
It binds for awhile, and then it passes.


“Fie! Fie! de la grace!” (said to some Jansenists)

Anne of Austria, wife of Louis XIII

Long-haired preachers come out every night,
Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right;
But when asked how ‘bout something to eat
They will answer with voices so sweet:

You will eat, bye and bye,
In that glorious land above the sky;
Work and pray, live on hay,
You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.

Joe Hill (IWW’s Little Red Song Book)

As an introduction, I tell you that I am a practicing Catholic. I used to say adamantly that I am a Roman and not a Vatican Catholic. That distiction has no validity in law, and I made it for the listener to probe his or her own ideas. Presently I simply say I am a Catholic.

I was born a Catholic and have been one all my life. I worked in the Latin rite of the Catholic Church as a musician most of my professional life. I believe in the Triune God. The Catholic Church formed my relationship with Him Who is supreme goodness, beauty and truth through its teachings and by means of the sacraments, and my hope of salvation comes through her having faithfully obeyed her Lord’s commands to teach the whole world for two thousand years.

There are other Catholics than Roman, namely those members of the Church in partibus orientalibus who also are Catholics in that they believe that the pope is the head of the Church. Whenever free of my duties as church musician in a church of the Roman or Latin rite, I worshiped with them, many of whom live here in the United States with their own places of worship and their own ecclesiastical organization free of the American Latin-rite hierarchy but still under the pope. I now worship only with them, especially during my visits to Türkiye.

Their culture and the remnants of their civilization are more related to the Orthodox tradition than the Roman. Ecclesiastically their position is like that of the Catholic families in England who during the centuries between Henry VIII and Queen Victoria remained true to the Catholic faith and tradition, that is, they professed the unity of the Church by recognizing the primacy of the pope which their neighbors and government had repudiated.

I must point out that the historical reading I have done is rooted in scholarship and not at all biased against the Church or the papacy. I began to have difficulties in my early twenties when I read for the first time Henri Daniel-Rops’ multi-volume history of the Church. I have reread it three times over the course of many years and consulted it frequently. M. Daniel-Rops was honored in his lifetime for his service to the Roman Church by that same Church. Since then, I have been scrupulous to avoid the scurrilous and self-serving kind of history that can charitably be described as sensationalism. Anti-Catholic bias is not my intent, nor have I any respect for such an attitude.

Defining the line between legitimate authority and abusive authoritarianism is very difficult. However, the intent here is not to define the line but to point out areas where the line was obviously and deliberately crossed.

I restrict most of my observations to the papacy of the Catholic religion because I know that world. That there are are parallels in other Christian religions and other religions may be deduced from history and current events. I will make reference to non-Catholic religious leaders when their acts clearly relate to the abuse of religious power as practiced by the popes. The intent of this paper is specifically to show the corruptive nature of religious leadership as practiced by the papacy and the process of the ongoing evolution of papal power, supposedly rooted in the other-worldliness of her Master.

Reading history leads one to the inevitable conclusion that the arrogation of power, or the attempt at same, is a universal condition of the psyche of religious leaders. The exercise of religious power results in, and perhaps stems from, the attempt to subjugate eternal Being to oneself. As Charles Williams wrote in his novel, Many Dimensions, “Chloe was ignorant what things have been done…..or with what passionate anxiety men have struggled to protect the subordination of Omnipotence.”

The arrogance may stem from any number of psychological factors in the persons we will discuss. Suffice it to say that the condition is real. We leave it to the science of psychology to analyse the condition itself. History is our interest.

People not in agreement with those arrogating power to themselves are told that they are going to Hell. Christian religious leaders think they have the right to make that judgment despite Christ’s assertions that He alone has the right to judge. This fundamental contradiction seems to go unnoticed by these same religious leaders.

Gregory VII, Innocent III, Boniface VIII, Julius II, and most popes since the Council of Trent are only the most obvious examples. John Knox, John Calvin, Joseph Smith, Jim Jones and David Koresh are only a few non-Catholic examples.

Concerning Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Monsignor Knox wrote of the tension in the exercise of religion between those who wish to excel and those who merely wish to qualify. He stated the fact but did not treat it at any length. The problem that arises between the two viewpoints is that, often, those who wish to excel want to encourage the other group to do likewise. Thus, they become a nuisance by their ensuing judgmentalism. On the other hand, those who merely wish to qualify do not have the temptation to impose their point of view on others. In contemporary parlance, one position is that of the co-dependent and the other is not.

Msgr. Knox also pointed out that all who make the Bible the norm of religious expression to the exclusion of tradition, apostolic or not, (he called them enthusiasts) are essentially Nestorians. The statement has much merit. The idea of the assured salvation of one’s person grows directly from the (false) idea that Jesus was not God, but a great human chosen by God to save humankind. Such a view encourages people to desire personal aggrandisement and easily leads to judgmentalism against lesser mortals.

To return to the popes, papal power has its roots in the decline of the Roman Empire in the West and the rise of the subsequent barbarian states. The concept of Empire and Church was maintained even after the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire and was a foundation stone of the Roman Church’s policy for centuries even after she decided she had had enough of the Byzantine emperors and decided to create her own emperors in the West who would be, presumably but inevitably not so, more subservient to the Church. The concept of Church and Empire was alive in some ways up to the French Revolution, though the treaty of Westphalia ending the Thirty Years War in 1648 was its lethal wound.

In contrast to the West, the imperial unity of Church and State still survived in Byzantium for nearly a thousand years and remained the ideal for the Western church.

Indeed for over two hundred and fifty years after the dissolution of the western Roman Empire, the popes regularly asked the Emperor of the East for permission to be crowned, which permission upon its arrival in Rome from Constantinople was the actual date of the inception of the pontificate, not the date of election.

Eventually, the inevitably long delay was avoided by sending the notification to the Exarch of Ravenna, the Basileus’ representative in Italy, instead of the Emperor. The result was the same: Church and State together imposed the good order of Christian society upon all, and there was no admission of contrary thought. The pope was a good subject of the Emperor even though Italy itself was subject to the organization of de facto states established by barbarian tribes which were Arian. Gregory III was the last pope to send notification to the exarch in 731. Note the date.

Elaine Pagels in Adam, Eve, and the Serpent traces the development of the Church’s process bolstering the Roman Empire and its good order in society. During the age of the persecutions the emperor was considered the beast of the Apocalypse. It was considered unnecessary to govern Christians who obeyed God and submitted to His justice.

When Church and Empire became intertwined, however, it was easy to submit to the Emperor, now considered the equal of the apostles, and use him to maintain the unity of the Church against the the Donatists and the Pelagians and all the others. The Donatists appealed to Constantine the Great in 316 and received a negative. When their protests turned violent, he used force to bring them to order, though he was surprisingly kind to the Novatians and the Melitians because his overriding political ambition was peace for the Empire. The Arian business was his te noire. The Arian vs. orthodox disruptions in Alexandria were becoming intolerable, and he called the council of Nicaea.

The pagan Roman Empire intertwined religion and the state as a habit of thought. The Christian Church had been persecuted off and on for more than two centuries because the adherents of the religion were perceived as not conforming to the habits of good citizens of the Empire in recognizing the religious aura or even religious authority of the emperors. When the Church was finally accepted in 313 and in less than one hundred years became the established religion of the State, the formerly persecuted became the persecutors and it began in its turn to persecute non-conformists, both within its organization and without. Toynbee says, “ In the hour of victory the intransigence of the Christian martyrs passed into the intolerance of the Christian persecutors.”

However, this was done with the full authority of the Empire. When Constantine began to give state support to the Christians, he hit a snag. Who were the Christians? The Alexandrian supporters of Athanasius and his school, or the followers of Arius? The Donatists who refused to recognize baptism by the so-called traducers (those who had turned over to the government the sacred books during Diocletian’s persecution) or those who recognized the validity of baptism at any Christian font? Who was going to get the cash and the power?

Constantine and his successors, who had a stake in the peace of the empire’s subjects as well as their own religious bents, called the first ecumenical councils to reconcile these differences. Brute power-plays, shady backroom politics and questionable tactical manoeuvres all had their part in these developments of Christian dogma. The stakes were high; those whose viewpoints prevailed became orthodox and got the power and the wealth. The rest became persecuted.

Only later did the popes insist upon their prerogatives to call councils. Yet even so, the councils were subject to the same brute power-plays, shady backroom politics and questionable tactical manoevres. One only needs to read the history of Vatican I and the reports of Xavier Rynne concerning Vatican II to understand that this is not an exaggeration.

The position of the Church from Constantine’s last years to Theodosius became precarious. The orthodox lost Constantine’s allegiance because Arianism was still strong in the eastern areas of the Empire and he leaned to it, even accepting baptism on his deathbed from Eusebius of Nicomedia, an Arian bishop. After Constantine and his son, the Arian Constantius, came Julian the Apostate, who restored paganism, then Jovian, an adherent of Nicaea. He was followed by two brothers, of whom the Arian Valens ruled from Constantinople. The Nicene adherents were nervous.

After Valen’ death in 378 Theodosius, who adhered firmly to the Nicene creed, took over the eastern Empire. He declared that the Nicene creed was the only creed to be followed and all other Christian sects were persecuted. Paganism was outlawed. Thus the Church acquired from a secular ruler a bad habit of going after heretics, the beginning of the union of throne and altar that would cause so much evil and bloodshed for so many years.

The Church’s persecution of dissent was not unique to the fourth and fifth centuries. It had been a pattern in her behavior previously and still is. In his Memoirs, Berlioz called the Roman Catholic Church charming, so attractive since it stopped burning people. I insist that, had sixteenth century Protestant reforms failed, there would still be a stake for burning heretics in every town square in Europe, as well as North and South America. The latter continents would still be ruled by the kings of England, Spain and Portugal. Representative democracy would not have evolved, for it was against the teachings of the Church and, indeed, remained so long after the establishment of that form of political solution.

Indeed, the establishment in Western civilization of representative democracies is a direct result of the overweening pride and arrogance of the popes and of the subsequent leaders of breakaway Western Christianity. After long centuries of violence, bloodshed and warfare, the West, through the assumptions of kings and princes in their worse overweening pride and arrogance claiming divine right, (remember the concept of the subordination of Omnipotence) put an end to the power of the popes and subjugated the breakaway churches except in Geneva. Then the kings and princes were done away with, and ostensibly sensible secular representative governments were established with or without them. Unfortunately, that led to Napoleon, Stalin, Hitler and others like them with their overweening pride and arrogance causing even more violence, bloodshed and warfare, but that is not our present subject.

A superior example of the driving force of the Church’s tendency toward persecution is found in this quote from St. Isidore of Seville (7th cent.) : “Secular princes sometimes occupy positions of supreme authority in the Church. Moreover these powers would not be necessary in the Church, were it not necessary to impose by terror what the priests are unable to make prevail by words alone.” Quoted by Daniel-Rops in The Church in the Dark Ages, chapter VII.

The Lateran Council of 1179 decreed: “Although the Church is content with spiritual judgement, and makes no use of bloody executions, she must still have recourse to secular law and invoke the aid of princes, so that fear of temporal punishment may force men to seek a spiritual cure for their shortcomings.”

Lest anyone think those opinions a dead letter from the past, I quote from the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, issued October 1, 1986 by the Inquisition (that is the original name of the Congregation for the Defence of the Faith) by its prefect, then Cardinal Ratzinger now pope Benedict XVI, and published by order of pope John Paul II. “But the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.” Pastoral care, indeed! Tell that to Matthew Shephard’s mother.

The persecuting church is still alive and well after almost two thousand years. Instead of appealing to the secular arm (she no longer can, but would if she could), she now appeals to mob violence to “impose by terror what the priests are unable to make prevail by words alone” and to “force men to seek a spiritual cure for their shortcomings.”

So, the arrogation of power leads to persecution as a matter of course. Another example of the persecuting Church is her attempt to rid society of the persistent dualistic religious thought in both East and West so strongly influenced by the previous cultures east of the Byzantine Empire and by the Mediterranean Islamic culture (cf Christoper Dawson). This was a constant worry to the temporal and ecclesiastical authorities, though Caesar’s interest in the matter did not always correspond exactly with the popes’ or the patriarchs’ . The Bogomils and Waldensians persist yet, though the Albigensians or Cathars were destroyed in one of the Western Church’s less noble and definitely uncharitable but too frequent episodes thanks to Innocent III and his immediate successors.

The persecuting habit is rooted in the tendency of societies to achieve conformity. All societies suffer from this tendency, not just the Church. However, conformity in itself neither defines truth nor differentiates truth objectively from non-essential ideas imposed by the leaders of a society in their efforts to attain conformity. Conformity, not truth, becomes the desired end. Non-essential ideas may or may not have validity in truth; to use them as manipulation towards an end that is not essential to the society’s view of truth leads to persecution. The drive to conformity results in persecution of the non-conformist, but the point of the non-conformist is that he is not necessarily straying from the profounder truths of the group and might even be more faithful to those profounder truths than those who are persecuting.

“…..it began to dawn on the Roman authorities that Dr. (John Henry) Newman was a man of ideas. Was it possible that Dr. Newman did not understand that ideas in Rome were, to say the least of it, out of place? When that was known, the politeness in high places was seen to be wearing decidedly thin.” quoted from Lytton Strachey’s essay on Cardinal Manning in Eminent Victorians. Dr. Newman received the red hat of a cardinal from pope Leo XIII who succeeded Pius IX under whom Newman’s ideas brought frigidity of manners.

Many theologians who contributed much to the Second Vatican Council had been condemned and/or silenced in the previous pontificate of Pius XII. Among those silenced was the great paleontologist and teleologist, Teilhard de Chardin, who died in 1955 before John XXIII came to the throne. Arguably, he too would have been an expert at the Second Vatican Council. He had been treated shabbily by the Vatican and by his Jesuit superiors and was forbidden to publish anything theological. His friends avenged him by publishing his theological writings, including The Phenomenon of Man, after his death. The Phenomenon of Man became a best-seller. My cynical mind wonders whether the Jesuits claimed the royalties.

On a larger plane, the Syllabus of Errors of Pius IX and Pius X’s condemnation of Modernism were erased by the decrees of Vatican II. My ever cynical mind wonders whether the rush by John Paul II and Benedict XVI to canonize Pius IX and Pius XII is not a ploy to overcome the realities of John XXIII’s beatification and lay the groundwork for the removal of the inconvenient (to the Vatican) teachings of the Council he called. John XXIII was canonized practically by popular acclaim (in the early days of the Church, that was the method). On the other hand, what crowds of admirers are acclaiming Pius IX, a kidnapper and theological ignoramus (he was poorly trained in theology), and Pius XII who is so severely criticised for his actions and non-actions against the Holocaust?

Those striving for conformity forget that Christ said that He is the truth, not a conformist. Indeed, when we are urged to become more Christ-like, we must become very harsh toward and critical of religious leaders. The intent of that statement is not glibness. Jesus was a Jew and he castigated the hypocrites of his religion. We should do likewise. Naturally, the religious leaders refuse to accept that they are hypocritical; then the persecution starts up against those perceived to be non-conforming.

footnote: Conservative Catholics have become vociferous in their criticism of the Church since Vatican II. In a kind of perverse form of cafeteria Catholicism, they will go after anything that displeases them about the contemporary Church without realizing that they are doing what they accuse the liberals of. I have no cite for this story, but it was told me by one of the participants. A conservative was tearing into a priest about something that displeased him. He ended his tirade by saying that he wished the Church would return to the days before Vatican II. The priest replied, “You mean the days when you would not dare to speak to a priest this way?” A bit of a digression, but worth it.

The imposition of conformity is simply and obviously an attempt to exercise power; such an aim at unity ends by creating division and factions. The arrogation of power, when rooted in such a spurious and specious concept, results in the deflection of the society from its deeper norms. Raw power replaces legitimate authority and leads to conservatism in its blackest mode such as the dark behavior of the Vatican in the two long pontificates of Paul VI and John Paul II after Vatican II and, outside the Roman Church, to the wearying and worrisome procession of those who have enthroned the paper pope (Bible) in the present time.

Very few of the popes were holy and humble enough to practice patience and forbearance in office, Gregory I and John XXIII the only two that spring immediately to mind. Among their many antitheses are Gregory VII, considered one of the great popes but sometimes called the Napoleon of the papacy because he exercised great power and died in exile, Innocent III, another “great” pope who began the Albigensian crusade, Gregory IX, a man of “a proud, unconciliating, and revengeful character” (Mackay) who founded the Inquisition, Boniface VIII, who said everyone and everything on the earth is subject to the pope and died from the outrage of Anagni, Paul III, Pius V, Pius IX, Pius X, and John Paul II, three of whom are canonized, a fourth beatified, a fifth popularly acclaimed.

footnote The Council of Chalcedon granted the Patriarch of Constantinople the title of “Oecumenical Patriarch” on the grounds that Constantinople, the new Rome, was on equal footing with old Rome. Pope Leo I, under whom the council was called, objected and declared the canon invalid in that it contravened the decisions of Nicaea I (325). Over a century later, Gregory I was apocrisiarius (pope’s ambassador) at the court of the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople, an experience we can surmise did not impress him. When he became pope, he objected to the use of the title, “Oecumenical Patriarch” by the Patriarch of Constantinople, on the ground that to call anyone oecumenical would deprive others of their due by giving undue honor to another. Perhaps in the course of the growing irritation of the patriarchal usage, Gregory had already instituted the papal title, “Servant of the servants of God”. The implied humility cannot belie an arrogance which was unique in Gregory’s life so far as I can find. It also set a very bad precedent, for Innocent III hundreds of years later ominously and arrogantly changed a title of the pope, “Vicar of Peter”, and called himself “Vicar of Christ” instead.

An interesting parallel between Henry VIII and pope Pius IX springs to mind when we realize that both murdered people’s consciences in their greed for power. Pius IX put his foot on the neck of a church dignitary while pointing out in haughty tones that he was the pope. (Henry VIII would have removed the head.)

At the same time he was noted for his gentleness and sense of humor with those who were obvious in their awe of his papacy. John Paul II operated in that way also, though with more subtle violence. He left that to his Grand Inquisitor, who succeeded him.

In the Roman Church, the persecutory weapon of choice for power-mad popes was excommunication. Today it is used less freely, and in Canon Law its imposition is limited to punishment for specific acts. Before the revised code of Canon Law promulgated toward the end of the twentieth century, its use was not limited in the minds of those who wielded it with such disregard for the principles of Christian charity and justice that half of Europe finally shook off its allegiance to the popes. Martin Luther laughed; Elizabeth I created more martyrs.

The abuse of the power of excommunication in the Roman church is best exemplified by citing its use by the popes in an area which may surprise the reader when roaming through such innocuous documents as those dealing with sacred music.

Pope St. Clement, though not using the awful power, wrote to the Corinthians to forbid the singing of liturgical chants and hymns in profane meetings: “If there are some who resist the words that God addresses through us to them, let them know that they have wandered into error and grave danger.”

Leo IV published a Bull defining the official forms of chant to be used in the churches. If anyone uses any other musical tradition: “We declare by our authority and also the authority of all our predecessors that he shall remain in perpetual anathema for his presumptuous audacity.” The musician gets to burn in hell forever for choosing the wrong piece of music!

Centuries later, Paul V gave G. B. Raimondi the right to publish the revised (and disastrous) edition of the chants of the Church and wrote to the comission entrusted with the revision: “We will and command that the said experts …. be completely unable to give or show the reform of these books or their patterns, or even a part, to any other person aside from the aforementioned Giovanni Battista Raimondi, under pain of excommunication to be incurred ipso facto.”

The same ferocious pope reinforced Raimondi’s privelege: “It will be applied everywhere, and under penalty of excommunication, to those who would dare or presume to print choral books of cantus firmus which have been established by Giovanni Battista Raimondi. We decree that the present letters …….may not be added to or subtracted from or nullified from our present intention… Moreover, no judges, ordinaries (bishops) ….. may change in any way this law. Any such efforts are to be judged as empty, foolish and inefficacious. No matter how skillfully these may be made or how ignorantly, they have no authority.”

Thus, the corrupt version of the chants, called Medicaean, was the official musical anthology of the Church until the (presumably excommunicated) Benedictines of Solesmes dared to correct them in the nineteenth century! We shall meet Paul V again, unfortunately.

Later in the same century, Alexander VII wrote: “We forbid all and everyone …… under the pain of the sentence of excommunication latae sententiae (automatic)……. to allow anything to be sung in their churches and chapels except those compositions which have words prescribed in the Breviary and Missal.” Would that law were still operative, given the verbal treacle leading to musical mediocrity so popular in American churches today! But excommunication?

In another document, the same Alexander VII gave some directions for choir directors and ended with this: “Any…. who violates the prescriptions just enumerated will be punished by being deprived of his office, to which he will never again be reinstated. It will even be forbidden to him to take part in the Church’s music so long as he lives, and moreover, shall be fined 100 scudi, one fourth of which shall be given to the person denouncing him, whose name shall not be revealed ….” At least no excommunication, but what an indication of the deviounessness, control-freakery and power-madness that were and are the modus operandi of the popes, not to mention the immoral and unjust process of secrecy to protect the informer.

Still in the 17th century, Innocent XI excommunicated latae sententiae anyone who removed music from a church or chapel except for rehearsal or performance. Given the expense of music in those days, and given the annoyance of disappearing music that any choir director is constantly faced with, there is some feeling of justification for Innocent’s decree, but excommunication for theft?

Later, Innocent XI ordered the texts of motets to be taken from Scripture, the Breviary etc. and be previously approved under pain of excommunication latae sententiae to those who disobey, as well as the forfeiture of one month’s stipends for the canons of any church where the choirmaster has been excommunicated. Social justice? This during the time of the counter-Reformation! Not only that, he also threatened to apply other penalties, even corporal ones.

In the eighteenth century, Benedict XIII interfered in the musical establishment at the convent of St. Radegundis. The nuns apparently were spending more time preparing figured music than at their prayers. “Never more and at no time in the future may anyone for any reason, cause or excuse make use of figured music, or dare to introduce musical instruments into the church and choir. Anyone who might do such a thing or dare to disobey this edict will suffer the punishment of interdict of the Church, under the disabilities and threats of excommunication latae sententiae. These same are reserved to us personally, and to our successors, with the exception of the moment of death when one may receive forgiveness.” At least the poor nuns would not have to burn in eternal hellfire.

Clement XII decreed that in missionary lands, Christian musicians were forbidden to take part in the ceremonies of pagan religions, again under pain of excommunication latae sententiae. Any concept of social justice for poor musicians trying to earn a living is absent!

This is the last of the excommunications thundering at poor church musicians. All these references appear in Robert F. Hayburn’s weighty tome, Papal Legislation on Sacred Music. Msgr. Hayburn was a staunchly Catholic priest of the conservative kind who would never think of presenting his work for scurrilous purposes.

If the musicians were under such a threat, what must have been the abuse of power in other and more important issues in the life of the Church? Political history is full of examples.

How excommunications were abused during the Middle Ages from Gregory VII to the humiliations of the papacy after its apparently brilliant apogee to its nadir in the so-called Babylonian captivity at Avignon, the schism and the conciliar movement is told by Arnold Toynbee in volume IV (pp. 512-584) of his Study of History, an urgent read for anyone interested in these matters. I can do no better than to send the reader there. The truth strikes one as more brutal and stupid than what we read in European history class in high school and college.

In the matter of the conciliar movement, Toynbee says,” The Papacy rejected the parliamentary principle and opted for an unrestricted sovereignty in a restricted field as the alternative to accepting a limited constitutional authority over a loyal and undivided Christian Commonwaelth.” Also, ”This Papal impulse to subordinate the reform of the Church to the aggrandisement of the Papacy was perhaps responsible, more than any other factor, for that misunderstanding between the Papacy and the Conciliar Movement which came to an open breach between Pope Eugenius IV and the Council of Basel. And in the intoxication of its victory over the Conciliar Movement in this naked trial of strength the Papacy abandoned itself once more to the lust for power which had been its besetting sin since the days of Hildebrand (Gregory VII)…… Within less than one hundred years after the dissolution of the Council of Basel in 1449 the Papacy was in even worse case than it had been in when the Council of Constance had opened in 1414.” The reader is urged to read the entire passage in Toynbee.

Echoes of this resonate to this day. The first Vatican Council was interrupted and the business of the fathers left unfinished. The second Vatican Council was called and began the process of defining the collegiality of the episcopate and the papacy. The Curia under Paul VI and then pope John Paul II himself brutally put an end to those aspirations. Anyone reading reports of the synods of bishops can only conclude that they are controlled by the pope and the curia as to what is and is not allowed to be discussed and voted on, and are rubber stamped caricatures of collegiality.

The awful power was unquestionably abused during the Italian Renaissance, when popes excommunicated and placed under interdict those who they thought were obstructing their drive to keep the papal states under their own political control. The motivation was fear of losing control of the city of Rome and thus their spiritual independence; they were also busy making their nephews and other relatives wealthy and politically secure. Alexander VI and Julius II were notorious for that immorality (among other sins). They used it so much it became psychologically useless. That is one of the reasons why their successors had so little influence in Germany when Luther began his revolt and in England when Henry VIII and Elizabeth I showed such contempt for it. The sordid story is told admirably by Barbara Tuchman in The March of Folly, by William Manchester in A World Lit Only by Fire, and by Will and Ariel Durant in the volumes on the Renaissance and the Reformation in their Story of Civilization. We need not repeat its ugliness here.

The history of the reactions of the Venetian state to papal interdicts has some interest for the thoughtful reader.

In 1284 the despicable Martin IV, a Frenchman who backed French claims to Naples and Sicily, demanded that Venice take part in the war to attempt the removal of the Spaniard Peter III from Sicily (after the Sicilian Vespers massacre, which put an end to French power in Sicily). When Venice refused, the pope laid her under an interdict (a draconian measure that forbad the clergy to celebrate the sacraments or hold services of any kind, in other words, no baptisms, no marriages and no funerals, or any other sacrament including the Eucharist). The pope abused a spiritual weapon to force a Christian state to wage war against another Christian state. (Martin IV will appear again in this essay.)

In 1481, during one of the almost ceaseless wars in the Italian peninsula, Venice was allied with Pope Sixtus IV. The pope changed sides abruptly and asked Venice to lay down its arms. Venice (rightly) refused. The pope laid Venice under an interdict. Again the abuse of a spiritual power for temporal ends in papal warfare. The Venetian ambassador refused to accept it; the pope sent it by special messenger to the patriarch in Venice who said he was too ill to pass it on to the Doge and Senate. However, the patriarch did privately inform the Council of Ten who gave orders that secrecy be observed and that religious services in the churches be celebrated without interruption.

In 1509 Julius II excommunicated the Venetians and laid the state under another interdict. Again the Venetians refused to observe it, kept it secret and continued to celebrate religious services. Alas, this time they lost the war and had to submit to the pope who had so viciously abused his spiritual power for political purposes.

Venice appealed to the sultan in Constantinople for an alliance. In the words of John Julius Norwich, “To the princes of the West…….such an appeal could only have appeared as an additional proof of Venetian faithlessness, rather than as an act of desperation for which they had only themselves to blame; it is a sad reflection on European political thinking that at a time when Christendom itself was struggling for survival, its leaders, headed by the pope himself, should have combined to destroy the one state which should have constituted their first line of defence, forcing it into an attempted alliance with the common enemy.” That common enemy was the Turks who had arrived where they were by, among other reasons, the behavior of the Venetians themselves especially when they sacked Constantinople three hundred years previously. The Venetians merely reaped the whirlwind they themselves created. The sought-for alliance never happened, by the way.

But back to the Venetians and the popes. The last defiance of papal power occurred in the reign of Paul V, like John Paul II, an implacable and ferocious personality to those who crossed him.

In an act of power-mad aggrandizement, the pope insisted that the candidate named to be the new patriarch of Venice must go to Rome for examination before papal approval of the appointment was given, which appointment until then had always been made by the Venetian government who relayed the information to Rome for rubber-stamp approval. Venice refused to allow the pope to change its prerogatives (Venice was always touchy in the matter of its prerogatives with everybody).

At the same time two felonious priests had been arrested by the Venetians. The pope insisted that the state send them to ecclesiastical court for trial. (It turned out that one of the felons was not even a cleric.) Again Venice refused. The pope laid the city under an interdict. The Venetian Senate hired a canon lawyer, Paolo Sarpi, who defended the Venetians against Rome so brilliantly that the Curia advised the pope that he must back down and find an acceptible solution because all Europe was taking sides in the matter. The Venetians agreed mediation by the French King, and the interdict was removed. The Venetians never admitted they were in the wrong, The interdict failed; the relations between the European powers and the papacy would never be the same. Rome would never again attempt another interdict until the twentieth century when she laid Mexico under the ban in an effort to stop the persecution of the Church by its then communist government. That interdict worked. The reader must imagine the basilica of Our Lady of Guadaloupe without services to the Mexicans who loved her.

The worst abuse of the power of excommunication is the mutual anathemas hurled at each other by the popes and the patriarchs of Constantinople before and after 1054. They show a flurry of paper back and forth across the Via Egnatia between Rome and Constantinople that were so many paper cuts on the body of Christ.

The unity of the Eastern and Western halves of the Christian Roman Empire deteriorated by four internal processes, besides the external pressures of barbarian invasions. First, the Roman Church switched from Greek to Latin in its liturgy in the third century. Interestingly, the Kyrie eleison has remained in Greek to the present day (except for twentieth century translations). Greek replaced Latin as the official language of the court in Constantinople in the sixth century. Over the years the two halves came to understand each other less and less.

The misunderstandings were not addressed over centuries even until the present time. Here are three examples. 1.) When Byzantine Catholics settled in Minnesota in the nineteenth century, the Latin archbishop of St. Paul, the highly regarded John Ireland, was so clumsy and insensitive to their religious traditions, rights and rites that many went over to Russian Orthodoxy. Those that stayed in the Catholic church eventually got their own ordinary and were freed from Western tyranny.

2.) In 2008 in Rome bishop George Punnakottil of Kothamangalam, India, of the Syro-Malabar Church, offered a gentle rebuke to organizers of the World Synod on the Bible for neglecting the Eastern tradition, noting that the working paper for the synod contained just eight citations from Eastern fathers. He argued that the Eastern perspective of the Scriptures could help achieve one of the synod’s main aims: the restoration of spiritual depth to the way the Bible is read, beyond historical and literary analysis.

3.) I myself heard a Byzantine rite priest say that he had to complain to the Latin bishop of the area where his parish is that Latin rite priests were conferring confirmation on his parishioners who were planning to marry in a Latin rite church as though they had never been confirmed. (Confirmation is conferred only once in one’s lifetime. The Byzantine rite confers baptism, confirmation and Eucharist at the same time, as the Latins are doing now during the Easter Vigil.)

The second reason for the split between the Eastern and Western churches is that the theological development of the West with the triumph of Augustinian thought was foreign to the Greek mind. Augustine knew little or no Greek, and the Latin translations of the Scriptures upon which Augustine based his pessimistic theology which influenced all subsequent theological thinking in the West were faulty. This fact is especially applicable to the verse in the epistle to the Romans 5:12. The translation Augustine used read, “death spread to all men, through one man, in whom all men sinned”. The Greek text reads, “death spread to all men, through one man, because all men sinned”. Volumes have been written on the differences; here is one example. Baptism in the West came to be the means of removing the stain of original sin, a concept which the Western church has never defined precisely and which is still undergoing theological development, whereas in the East baptism was the rite by which a person was initiated into the Christian community. That was also the thought in the West before Augustine, and the concept was restored in the twentieth century, but a millenium and a half of dark thoughts about the human condition have left their mark on the division of the two halves of Christianity. The difference between the two churches can be simplified by saying that the West became legalistic and said “either-or”, whereas the East remained more realistic and pastorally sensitive and proclaimed, “both-and”.

(footnote) This difference shows itself in the Western church’s decree in the Middle Ages that required Catholics to confess and take the Eucharist once a year during Eastertide until Pius X recommended frequent communion. For centuries before him, in the West communion was to be considered a reward and gift to the holy rather than, as in the East, a source of support and sustenance to help develop “a living and life-giving aspiration” (Merton) to participate in the life of grace”.

Augustinian thought led also to the darker views of Luther and Calvin and to the peculiar and condemned views of the Jansenists. In 1642 at the Synod of Jassy (in present day Romania) the Calvinists met with Orthodox leaders in hopes of expanding their theological domain by getting the Orthodox to accept Calvinist teaching. The Orthodox rejected it all outright.

Third, the two episodes of iconoclasm in the East were (rightfully) considered an error by Westerners, who defied imperial decrees suppressing icons, statues and frescoes that depicted the Savior and the saints. This defiance was strongest in Venice, at that time still part of the Byzantine Empire. Thus was born Venice’s sense of independence of Byzantium, and her subsequent rapacity was to bring much harm to the Byzantines in later centuries.

However, the historical importance of the iconoclastic period was its result of mutual suspicion that grew between the two churches with the near contemporaneous crowning of a Western emperor by the pope (see below). The popes were flummoxed by the caesaropapism of the emperors in Constantinople that led to the iconoclastic problem, while the emperors maintained that the popes were not competent to crown emperors.

Caesaropapism is the common term used in histories of the West to describe the acts of the Eastern emperors. Interestingly, the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium maintains that no Byzantine emperor tried to act as pope or patriarch, whereas the bishop of Rome did on occasion act as Caesar.

A short while later, the stubborn and hardheaded pope Nicholas I had to deal with the controversy of the deposition of the patriarch Ignatius and the appointment of Photius, a brilliant but shady layman who was illegally rushed through all the clerical orders in five days. The Bulgars were converted by the Byzantines, and Photius was glad to take them into the Eastern church. He refused, however to appoint a patriarch or even an archbishop for the Bulgars. The proseletizing Eastern clergy, a mix of Byzantines and Armenians, were producing bewilderment among the Bulgars, so their tsar Boris brought in Roman clergy gladly supplied by Nicholas, and the Easterners were thrown out. Photius was indignant. Later, the Latins became arrogant (why should we not be surprised?) and the annoyed Bulgarians returned to the Eastern expression of the Church when they were granted an archbishop and considerable autonomy in their own church. Roman control freaks lost that one to such a simple solution.

(footnote) The history of the early years of the Bulgarian patriarchate and subsequent archbishopric is worth exploring, but it takes us too far afield from our inquiry into the subject of persecuting popes.

Photius actually tried to remove Nicholas I from the papal throne through a council he called in 867 in Constantinople. The pope died before any confrontation could take place.

Photius also brought up the question of the double procession of the Holy Spirit, and, given all these complications during the papacy of Nicholas I who was adamant in matters of the supremacy of the pope, the split of the two churches was assured.

The argument about the double procession was quite old, and has its roots in the Cappadocian Fathers of the Greek church who were followers of the Antiochene acceptance of literal interpretation of Scripture and emphasized the distinction of the divine Persons as opposed to the Alexandrian teaching that Scripture is to be interpreted analogically and emphasized the oneness of the divine Essence. (see McBrien) We leave these distinctions to trained theologians and go on with our historical narrative.

Fourth, the popes did two things that made the final split inevitable. First, Pope Stephen II in 754 (again, note the date) accepted from Pepin land that would evolve into the papal states. The pope knew that what he was accepting was not Pepin’s to give. Though conquered by barbarian states, the land was still the Empire’s by Roman law even though the Emperor in Constantinople could provide no military support for the city of Rome, by then an unimportant town of no consequence except that it was the home of the popes. The pope as subject to the Empire knew better.

Second, Pope Leo III in 800 crowned Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor. He had no right to do that under imperial law. Constantinople was justifiably indignant. The final settlement between Charlemagne and the Basileus was to grant Charlemagne the title of Emperor of the Franks in 812. The period from the cessation of notification to the establishment of the papal states and the crowning of an Emperor in the West was a mere sixty-nine years.

(footnote) Charlemagne came within a whisker of getting the whole thing by marrying the Empress Irene. She was deposed by her subjects who hated her and refused to allow a barbarian to reign in Constantinople. Thirty years after Charlemagne’s death, the whole Western world collapsed again while the Byzantine world was on the rise again.

Since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the popes repeatedly begged the Emperors in the East to send troops to protect Rome from agonies suffered from so much depredation from barbarians, Arabs and Saracens. Rome at that time was a decayed and derelict city, and the Emperors had more important issues to deal with, especially after the ruin of the Empire that grew from Justinian the Great’s overreach three centuries earlier. Even when the Byzantine world was restored under Leo III, the Isaurian, and his successors, there would never be enough troops to support a large Italian adventure. This and the caesaropapism that Leo III strengthened by his iconoclastic decrees led the popes down the path of the fantasy that, if they established their own emperors in the West, they would have rulers obedient to the spiritual power instead of patriarchs obedient to the secular power as in Constantinople. Delusion is the name of that fantasy.

These four developments set the Eastern and Western churches on separate paths. In 1054 the paths would be so far from each other that the open rupture could not be repaired. Nor is it yet after a thousand years.

The excommunication placed by Cardinal Humbert, that most intemperate man, upon the altar of Haghia Sophia in July of 1054 was invalid. The pope who had given the cardinal his legatine power had died in April; when he died, the cardinal’s legateship had lapsed and his authority to act in the name of the pope had ceased. The papal throne would not be filled until the following year. A thousand years of brouhaha over something so ironically simple and totally unnecessary! The Patriarch of Contantinple, Michael Cerularius, knew it. His shame is that he took advantage of it to make himself independent of the Roman See.

(footnote) For the rest of the Empire’s existence, the patriarchs of Constantinople worked to make themselves independent of the Emperor. (See Toynbee vol. IV. pp. 592-623) In the end, they succeeded briefly until the Ottoman sultans became their overlords. They were then subject to the sultans and had to stand for the good behavior of all orthodox subjects in the Ottoman Empire including Armenians and all other Christian groups. In the nineteenth century, the then reigning sultan hanged the patriarch for treason during the Greek War of Independence.

Returning to the Schism, doctrinally the main sticking point was the double or single procession of the Holy Spirit. As early as 1098, a mere forty-four years after the start of the Schism, at the Council of Bari called by Urban II, St. Anselm of Canterbury expounded the Latin thesis on the West’s acceptance of the double procession so moderately and clearly that several Greek bishops accepted the doctrine. There was an attempt at reconciliation, but the Latin president demanded that the Greeks submit before any discussion could commence! This intransigence would be the disastrous policy of the popes through all attempts at union, especially the council of Ferrara-Florence, which decree of union enraged the Turks and brought about the fall of Constantinople (the Turks were always careful to discourage anything that would bring another crusade into their world). Intransigence would remain the policy of the Lateran and the Vatican until the reign of John Paul II.

The Greeks correctly maintained that the West had no right to insert the Filioque into the creed because the Council of Ephesus (431), which binds both East and West, decreed that nothing may be added to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Thus, the West erred by inserting the Filioque. The Spanish church started the addition; centuries later Charlemagne put it into the Creed in his domains at a time when the Roman rite was not the universal norm in Europe. According to McBrien, Rome did not insert it into the Creed in its liturgy until 1014, a mere forty years before the final rupture. Vasiliev says Rome inserted it in the ninth century, but that is erroneous, though the question was a large issue at that time with the patriarch Photius (see above).

They argued whether Christians should fast on Saturdays. The Greeks thought the Latins were heretics for using unleavened bread for the Eucharist. Rome said either was all right. (footnote) At the Council of Lyon in 1274 the Emperor Michael VIII was required to recognize the Filioque, unleavened bread and the supremacy of the pope. The Chaldean and Syrian Catholics in union with Rome use the unleavened wafer of the Latin rite at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Byzantine Catholics, that is, Catholics of the Greek tradition, use leavened bread; the Armenians have always used unleavened bread.) When the Byzantine Empire no longer had important possessions in Italy and Sicily under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch in Constantinople, Rome insisted that Greeks remaining in Italy use the Roman rite. The Patriarch then made all Latins in Byzantium use the Greek rite. So it went on and on, constant spit and spite.

Then the Crusades and the Latin Empire in Constantinople (1204-1261) threw psychological and political garbage into the mess and made it harder to be even-tempered in an already difficult morass.

Innocent III was disappointed at the sack of Constantinople in 1204, but his correspondence on the matter indicates that the disappointment was because the Crusaders did not fulfill their vow to liberate the Holy Land, not because of the catastrophe to the Christian world that was the sack of the Christian queen of cities by fellow Christians. He made the best of it and accepted the Latin patriarch of Constantinople appointed by the brigands in Constantinople instead of working to restore both the Greek Church to unity and the Greek Empire to its role of bulwark against Islam, a grievous omission in prudence, justice and charity that guaranteed the further hatred of the Greeks and made the eventual triumph on the Turks in the ancient land of Eastern Christianity easier.

The Byzantines retook the city in 1261. The popes backed Latin efforts to retrieve it, thus blackmailing the Emperor into union.

Practical union was achieved at the Council of Lyon in 1274 (see footnote above), thirteen years after the Greeks retook Constantinople. The Basileus (Emperor in Constantinople), Michael VIII Palaeologus, was originally politically motivated to union in order to counter the threats of the dispossessed Western lords trying to regain their possessions in the East (though there is evidence that he subsequently became sincere). He cajoled, threatened and used force against his own bishops and people to achieve union. Suspicious popes (especially the arrogant Nicholas III) again blackmailed him that if he didn’t proceed more efficiently and quickly in the matter of reunion, they (the popes) would abet Westerners preparing to assault Constantinople to regain it for the Latins. Pope Martin IV later condemned him as a heretic because the pope supported the political aims of Charles of Anjou, king of Sicily and Naples, who was attempting to reconquer Constantinople for himself. Thus, the papacy bears even more responsibility for the victory of Islam as well as the present impasse.

Practical union was again achieved at the Council of Ferrara-Florence in 1439 agreed by the Emperor and the Patriarch in their desperate need of military support against the Turkish menace to Constantinople and whatever was left of the empire in the Morea. However, the majority of Greek lower clergy and laity refused to accept the decisions. George Scholarius, later known as Gennadius, a Greek monk who attended the council, went back to Constantinople, denounced union and retired to his monastery and did not come out again until after the conquest, when he was sold as a slave. The sultan heard of his anti-Roman bias, found him and appointed him Patriarch.

The Greeks decided better the turban than the tiara. John Julius Norwich is right when he speaks of the well known tendency of dogmatists to prefer the company of infidels to that of heretics, in this case Latin heretics (in the Greek view) that had treated them so shabbily and immorally for four hundred years. However, the sixteenth century historian, Francesco Petrarca, wrote, “The Turks are enemies, but the Greeks are schismatics and worse than enemies.” Quoted by A. A. Vasiliev in History of the Byzantine Empire.

In the twentieth century, Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople removed the mutual anathemas between the two churches. Paul called the Council of Lyon a Western Synod, though he does not seem to have mentioned Ferrara-Florence. John Paul II apologized to the Greek bishops for the tragic behavior of the Latins to the Greeks (i.e. the Byzantine Empire, not only modern Greece), especially the sack of Constantinople in 1204 and the subsequent Latin Empire in Constantinople.

Catholicism and Orthodoxy are still not in union. The International Commission for Theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church was established after the second Vatican Council. Meetings ended abruptly and acrimoniously in 2000 over the questions of papal primacy and of the Byzantine and other Eastern rite Catholics in union with Rome. They finally met again in September of 2006. Submission before discussion seems at last and at least to have been shelved as the policy of the Vatican, after only nine hundred years of arrogance and blindness and intolerance.

Regarding Eastern Christians in union with Rome, the Orthodox bishops have nothing to fear. They only need to read the history of the reestablishment of the English hierarchy in the nineteenth century to see what little regard Rome has for those who remain faithful to her when there is a bigger prize to be gained. Some of the story is wittily told by Lytton Strachey in his thumbnail sketch of Cardinal Manning in his Eminent Victorians. Daniel-Rops also wrote of it in his history of the Church.

As for the juridical top-down monarchy of the papacy, so rashly and sweepingly reasserted after the promise of the Second Vatican Council, there is less hope. The papacy has aggrandized beyond all sanity (a layman’s opinion). The scandal continues, and grace is thwarted willfully (not a layman’s opinion). The thousandth anniversary of 1054 is close upon the Christians. Will the Byzantine Orthodox and Romans be able to reunite?

The parties need but to obey their Lord. However, centuries of prejudice preached to the faithful in the East during and after the disasters of the Crusades and centuries of control-freakery in the West have made it very challenging. Astonishment is the only response.

Union is urgent to give a greater testimony to the Trinity and its implications for humanity. The two fastest growing religions in the world are Islam and Mormonism, the former explicitly anti-Trinitarian and the latter implicitly so. In the present time the restatement of the Christian definitions of the Triune God in the simplest terms would appear to be the most urgent task of the Catholic Church, indeed of all Christian churches. Instead, sexual control is the agendum along with the abandonment of the poor to globalism (in spite of lofty words) for the purpose of the political and ecclesiastical aggrandizement of the papacy.

(I did read recently (July 2008) that Fr. Luis Ladaria S.J., the new secretary to the Inquisition [to give the original name of the CDF], is writing a book, “El Dios vivo y verdadero: el misterio de la Trinidad”. The English translation of the title is, “The Living and True God: the Mystery of the Trinity”.)

The disunion begun in 1054 and its continuation are the first of three great historical errors of the papacy. In that case, the error was volitional on both sides. The other two errors rest squarely on the popes themselves.

The second great error is known in history as the Chinese rites controversy. The Jesuit missions in China considered Confucian service to ancestors a social and civil function and not an act of idolatry. They had even consulted with Rome about the matter. When Spanish Dominican missionaries entered China, they were scandalized by the practices of Chinese converts who revered their ancestors in the old way while practicing their Catholic faith. The Dominicans forbade their converts to do so. They complained to Rome. Several popes in several decrees between 1645 and 1715 wavered between tolerance of the rites and intolerance. Finally missionaries were required to swear under oath that they would not allow Chinese converts to observe the rites. That essentially put an end to Catholic proselytizing.

Toynbee says, “the conversion of the Hellenic world would have been as fatally arrested after the first excursions of Christian missionaries on to Gentile ground, if the Judaizing Christian opponents of St. Paul had been victorious in the conferences and conflicts described in the Acts of the Apostles and in the earlier epistles of St. Paul.”

With the close of that door, China in the nineteenth century underwent Catholic and Protestant missionary efforts in the wake of the force of Western arms, another reason for the non-Western, in this case Chinese, world to live in terror of the lethal combination of military force and Christianity (cf Huntington The Clash of Civilizations). By the time of the West’s nineteenth century incursions China could well have been a Catholic nation except for the arrogance of Pope Clement XI and the childish jealousy and spite of the Dominicans and Franciscans. China was the immediate loser.

Ironically, in another example of Rome changing its “immutable” teaching, in 1939 Pius XII declared that the Confucian and ancestral rituals were essentially social in nature and therefore “licit and commendable practices”. Two hundred years too late! Less than ten years later, China became communist; the world and Christianity are still paying the price.

The third major mistake of the papacy is of more recent vintage, and its consequences are not ended. Catholicism in Latin America is eroding at an alarming rate, a major contribution to which is the hardheaded and hard-hearted decisions of John Paul II, that ferocious and implacable man, who insisted on the repudiation of the preferential option for the poor in favor of a church allied with governments that are historically oppressive and insouciant of the poor. As a Polish cleric John Paul II suffered under communist government and consequently denied the validity of anything socialistic, though socialism and even fascism had guarded approval from previous popes. He had the gall to tell the South American bishops to stop the leakage of Catholics into the proselytizing sects.

Protestantism and fundamentalism had already made inroads in the region, but the pope himself made the leak a burst pipe. The erosion is revealed in the United States by the large numbers of fundamentalist churches devoted to Hispanics in cities all over the country and the number of mainstream Protestant churches with services in Spanish.

Latin America has a peculiar Catholic slant to begin with, because, as in China four hundred years later, the Catholic religion was dragged in behind the military conquest of the area. The result was not a successful planting of the seed in spite of the superficial view of the area as staunchly Catholic. The hierarchy and political governments are not the result of popular native populations supporting them. But, the native populations, being oppressed and exploited by the upper classes, are the poor who were the concern of those espousing the preferential option for the poor. No one needs to be amazed at the gradual loss of adherents to the Catholic faith.

Another error of the papacy, not as major as the three mentioned, was committed by Pius VI, that vain, foolish fop who traveled to Austria in the hopes of stemming the effects of Josephism and returned to Rome flattered by Emperor Joseph II but empty-handed.

Not too long after that trip, the pope condemned the Civil Constitution of the Clergy passed during the French Revolution. The law itself was never objectively schismatical; the pope merely reacted conservatively. If he had continued to allow the act (he had accepted it at first), much French anti-clericalism of the next hundred and fifty years would have been avoided, and Louis XVI might have been less intransigent to the Revolution, for there is evidence that his counter-revolution that cost him his head began with Rome’s condemnation of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy.

In the late twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, a scandal erupted which shook the American Church. The sins of some priests became public; the ensuing scandal was deepened by the American bishops themselves when they, in the wonderful American metaphor, circled the wagons to defend the Church rather than give pastoral care to the complaining victims who were coming out in such dramatic numbers. The mess has been adequately documented in the press and in books and is known almost in its entirety through court proceedings. What is of interest in this paper is that, when this blew up in the bishops’ faces, the American hierarchy, indeed the hierarchy of most of the world, had been appointed by the then reigning pontiff, John Paul II.

“By their fruits you shall know them”. Bishops who were more interested in maintaining the Church’s image reflected their master’s ideology, for the pope was far more interested in the aggrandizement of the power of the Vatican and of himself than caring for people despite all his words to the contrary. The failure was horrendous for the well-being of the American Church. And, by the way, I am not the first to maintain that John Paul II’s caring was strictly a show for photo-ops.

One more example in this dreary list of failures may lead to the suggestion that the appointment of bishops should not be the sole prerogative of the reigning pope, especially in these days of medical progress enabling popes to live longer.

During the 2008 Synod of Bishops on the Bible, Msgr. Onaiekan, archbishop of Abruja, Nigeria, was quoted in the press saying that he would vote for Obama in the 2008 election regardless of Obama’s pro-choice stance, if he were allowed to vote. The archbishop explained, “The fact that you oppose abortion doesn’t necessarily mean that you are pro-life. You can be anti-abortion and still be killing people by the millions through war, through poverty, and so on.” This is an indictment of the American bishops.

The American hierarchy (I now use the coined word, “powerarchy”) allied itself to Reagan, the first Bush and to his shrub because of their anti-abortion platforms. Those three presidents cynically bought the Catholic vote on an anti-abortion stance that they knew they would and could do nothing about. Meanwhile in their foreign policies, they indiscriminately bombed millions of people and reduced millions more to unutterable poverty and degredation to serve the industrial-military ideology of the U.S. The bishops stand before history as the servants of the culture of death in a hypocrisy that is a direct result of episcopal appointments by John Paul II. Only Archbishop Hunthausen of Seattle had the courage to stand against it at the beginning; he was squashed by John Paul II in a disgusting backroom deal with Reagan to get an American ambassador posted to the Vatican. (Hunthausen had been appointed by Paul VI.) Reagan got Hunthausen discredited for his anti-military stance, John Paul II got an ambassador, which meant that whenever the pope decided to travel in the U.S. on religious business or any business he got free security as a head of state at the American taxpayers’ expense. (Remember Nicaea. Always follow the cash.)

These arguments are made after reading histories of the popes. The question arises, whence the papacy? Who was the first pope?

If Peter was the first pope, Scripture is clear that his power was limited because he was faced down by Paul at a meeting. That Peter was not infallible is obvious because he was corrected by Christ Himself in the matter of Cornelius the centurion, despite Christ’s assurance that whatever he [Peter] bound on earth would be bound in heaven. This implies that what is bound must be bindable, a precise indication that just because the pope says so does not make it so.

Pope Leo I confirms this limitation when he writes, “And so, if anything is rightly done and rightly decreed by us, if anything is won from the mercy of God by our daily supplications, it is of his (Peter’s) work and merit whose power lives and whose authority prevails in his see.” (Quoted by Eamon Duffy in Saints and Sinners, a History of the Popes.) “If anything is rightly done and rightly decreed” implies inherently that there might be things not rightly done and not rightly decreed. To understand more fully the importance of what he said, we must remember that Leo I was very dedicated to the primacy of the Roman See.

If Peter was not the first pope, the papacy is in a peculiar historical quandary. The claim to primacy resides in Peter, not the bishopric of Rome. If Peter was not the pope, the Roman claim to primacy must find its justification elsewhere. If Peter was not bishop of Rome, the only conclusion that we can draw is that the power of the papacy derives from an historical evolution, not from a divine fiat. Were there Christians in Rome before Peter arrived? If so, they had to have had a leader, even if in those days they had never heard of a territorial diocese, as opposed to the head of a group of Christian people.

Papal power expanded largely in the last three centuries of the first Christian millenium and the first four centuries of the second Christian millenium because of two documents, the Donation of Constantine and the False Decretals. The first claimed that the Emperor Constantine gave Pope Silverius secular power over the Western half of the Roman Empire. The second purported to be documents from popes that gave them juridical power in the Church. Both were proven to be forgeries, yet they were used to justify the increase of the papacy’s control over the Church even after they were proven forgeries. For seven hundred years, papal power was built on lies. Even now papal power still has its foundations on those lies.

Juridically, to be pope, one must be the bishop of Rome (interestingly, McBrien says not necessarily). However, Christ did not tell Peter to go to Rome and become its bishop. Indeed, the concept of bishop as head of a territory was unknown in the very early years of the Church. The bishops of Rome insisted upon their primacy at first because Peter and Paul both shed their blood there, and their blood was the sign of the unity of the Church. Only later did popes insist that Rome possessed primacy in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church as an interpretation of Christ’s “You are Peter, and upon this rock etc.”. But the history of the relations of the popes and the African Church in the third to sixth centuries C.E. needs to be studied to gain some insight into the fragility of the Roman argument. St. Cyprian’s resistance to Roman primacy in some matters and the excommunication of Pope Vigilius by the African bishops are especially worth study. Pope Vigilius himself is worth looking into in the matter of infallibility.

Concerning papal infallibility, historians must return to the story of monothelitism, a heresy which taught that Jesus has only one will and that his one will is divine. It denied that he has a human will. The heresy was popular in the East and espoused in the West by pope Honorius I. Pope John IV, the second pope after Honorius, denied that Honorius was involved in heresy (an example of the structures of deceit that Garry Wills writes about in Papal Sin). Later, the emperor Constantine IV in Constantinople realized that monothelitism was not going to bring religious peace to the empire and asked pope St. Agatho to convene a council to deal with the issue. This was the sixth general council called on orders from pope St. Agatho. Agatho died before the council was completed, but its acts and condemnation were confirmed by the next pope, St. Leo II, who wrote a letter to the emperor ratifying the conciliar decisions with the authority of Peter and anathematizing the monothelite leaders it had condemned including pope Honorius!

Leo II wrote three other letters. To the Latin church he wrote, “Honorius attempted to subvert the pure faith by his profane betrayal.” To the Greeks he wrote, “by his betrayal he allowed pure teaching to be sullied.” To the Spanish bishops, he softened this by accusing the dead pope of having failed through negligence to stamp out the flame of heresy. The condemnation was subsequent to John IV’s claim and directly contradicts it, an interesting (and rare) occurrence of truthfulness from the papal court about a predecessor .

The story has implications for modern times. The opponents of papal infallibility at the first Vatican Council brought up Honorius. Infallibility passed; but Honorius necessarily hovers like a cloud over the issue. The Vatican, naturally, poo-poos the depth of Honorius’ involvement with heresy, no doubt relying heavily on John IV’s lie, but the fact of his condemnation is there for anyone who reads history.

Concerning the vote by which infallibility passed, the tally would have been uncomfortably closer if many bishops had not left Rome before the vote so that they would not embarass the pope by their opposition.

A pope is necessary. Religion by committee has never worked, even among the apostles. Ecumenial councils help, but the history of Iconoclasm in the Byzantine church teaches that councils can be used to proclaim falsehood just as easily as truth. Lyon and Ferrara-Florence teach us that councils don’t work without the sensus fidelium especially if the sense of the faithful is absent as a result of the encouragement of hysterical and historical prejudice. In contrast, Erasmus wrote to Paul III to suggest that councils rather than the pope should teach dogma. He also said that the teachings should be restricted to the important issues and that not every little thing has to become an issue.

The pope considers himself a visible sign of Christ’s continuing presence in His Church. Unfortunately, the top-down monarchy that has evolved in history proclaims a dreary record of liars, thieves, murderers, warmongers against fellow Catholics and other Christians, power-mad control freaks, and money-grubbing narcissistic egomaniacs who taught falsehoods (monothelitism, the moral uprightness of slavery, condemnations of usury, democracy, the revolution of the sun around the earth, evolution), did a volta face of turning the Roman emperors who were considered agents of the devil into viceregents of God and equals of the Apostles, and had and have the bold face to say that no pope ever erred in teaching the faith and morals of the Christian religion and that the teachings of the Church are immutable.

(footnote) For the record, Constantine the Great first came up with the imperial title, Equal of the Apostles.

Lest the reader think such descriptive words are too harsh for such dedicated and supposedly saintly men, we present as example “liars”. Garry Wills, noted Catholic writer, calls the lies “structures of deceit” to soften the blow, but his book, Papal Sin, deals with the lying as a recurring pattern in the modern papacy. Even he, at one point, comes right out and says Pius XII lied.

I mentioned that the union effected between the Orthodox and the papacy in 1439 failed because the lower bishops, clergy and laity rejected it. The pope, the emperor and the patriarch were powerless to overcome the opposition, and Constantinople fell.

I come now to an example of a papal teaching that appears to be a similar phenomenon in the West, an issue of urgency in the lives of millions of faithful Catholics, the issue of contraception. I draw from Catholic sources only and present only history, not theology.

The early history of Christian teaching on marriage assumed that the sex act must be open to conception. Later, in the Middle Ages, other reasons for the sex act became clear, such as mutual pleasure, health and others. By the early nineteenth century birth control in various forms began to be popular, but at the end of the nineteeth century Leo XIII in his major encyclical on marriage, Arcanum Divinae Sapientiae (1880) never mentioned birth control.

In response to the Anglican Church’s Lambeth Conference of 1930, which recognized birth control as a moral option in family planning, Pius XI issued Rome’s response in Casti Connubii, and was followed by Pius XII who repeated the prohibition (though he did open the door by accepting the rhythm method).

When John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, he reserved to himself the question of birth control and established a commission to study the issue and report its findings. John died, and Paul VI reestablished the commission and each time it met added new members that he felt he could rely upon to maintain the teaching of the Church. Alas, the report that came from the commission in 1965 favored changing the teaching by a vote of fifteen to four among the theologians and thirty to five among the laypeople.

In 1968 Paul issued his encyclical Humanae Vitae upholding the ban on contraception, and an explosion was set off around the world. Fr. Andrew Greeley’s sociological studies in the United States alone indicate that the laity has rejected the teaching. Yet, John Paul II made the teaching even stronger by refusing the right of dissent to the people who are now not only rejecting the ban on birth control but also rejecting the Vatican’s canon against dissent.

This letter to the editor appeared in NCR in 2000: “homosexuality is a serious disorder…… Every single non-Catholic church is defective; indeed some are not even truly churches. Men can be icons of Christ, but not women, and we may not even discuss whether women may be ordained. A congregation in Rome knows better than our bishops the best way to translate the Latin ritual into English. Divorced Catholics who have remarried without an ecclesiastical annulment, as well as Catholics who have married without a priest as a witness, may not receive communion without committing a grave sin of sacrilege and probably scandalizing the Christian faithful. And canon 1371 prescribes a “just penalty” for the crime of dissenting from the ordinary, non-infallible magisterium. If I have all this right, just what is the image we project to others? That would seem of utmost importance since I was taught by the council fathers that “the church is a kind of sacrament.” Andrew Galligan, Tracy CA (quoted with the kind permission of Mr. Galligan)

Hopefully someday, some pope will look at the record dispassionately and inaugurate a new kind of association for those who call themselves Church. Juridically, it can only come from him. The only other option is to separate, and we know from history that solution only makes matters worse, because the result of religious revolt is more popes. Henry VIII said he was both king and pope in England when he had completed his Parliamentary sanctioned severance from Rome. Calvin and Knox became more arrogant against dissenters than the popes. Even gentle Ann Lee ruled the Shakers rigorously. Most of the breaks of Greek Orthodoxy from Rome are rooted in the same human process. Modern cultists have achieved their own notoriety.

Ecclesia semper reformanda est. The church must always be reformed. Daniel-Rops pointed out that the Church must undergo some sort of change every thirty years to accomodate generational change. The Second Vatican Council opened new directions for the Church in a post-Christian world of secular representative democracies and their opposite dictatorships. Those directions include reform. When the popes give undivided ear to neo-conservatives and refuse to reform, they run the danger of the Renaissance popes so precisely described by Barbara Tuchman in The March of Folly. The consequences will not be bloody, but they will be serious.

Alexander VI, of all people, decided to begin reforms so vociferously demanded by so many in his time. The cardinals pointed out to him that reforming the church would inevitably cut their (and his) incomes too much. That was the end of Alexander’s reforms. Remember Nicaea and follow the money.

Ecclesia semper reformanda est. We can hope that a bold pope will come along and scrape the barnacles off the hull of Peter’s barque. Not the least obstacle to smooth sailing is distorted and overbearing papal power.

A twentieth-century spiritual writer of impeccable theological precision, Henri Nouwen, spoke in a 1987 lecture to the Center for Human Development, Washington D.C., of the irony in Christian history that its leaders constantly gave in to the temptation of power while speaking in the name of Jesus, who did not cling to his divine power, but emptied himself of it and became like us. Nouwen said we keep saying that having power, provided it is used in a good cause, is a good thing. The evils that have come from that rationalization of the almost two millenia of the Church are legion. Fr. Nouwen said, ” …the long painful history of the Church is the history of people who chose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led.”

I have no cite for the following; I heard it in college in a class taught by a Roman Catholic priest over fifty years ago:

While Napoleon was negotiating the Concordat of 1801 with Cardinal Consalvi, the Consul became irate over something or other and threatened to destroy the Church. The cardinal pointed out to him that the clergy had been trying to do that for seventeen hundred years and had not yet succeeded. Just how was his excellency going to succeed? In that vignette, historically true or not, the mystery of the Catholic Church lies wrapped.


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