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Monday, June 23, 2003

David Mills on the Pope's administrative ability.

In a fair-minded, respectful piece which cites to the New Oxford Review and Rod Dreher's comparison of the Pope's handling of the Iraq war and the laissez faire handling of rotten bishops, Mills submits that governance isn't JPII's forte':

Discipline can harm as well as correct, and souls may be lost that might be saved if given more time or approached differently. I know that a pastor will not want to lose any of his flock, no matter how far they have strayed, and that he will know how many of his flock are (to switch metaphors) hanging on to the Faith by their fingertips. (Pawtips. Whatever.)

But I also know that the sheep who have strayed too far will be eaten by wolves — not may be eaten if they are unlucky, but will be eaten simply because they are defenseless outside the fold. They will do things no wise sheep would ever do, because doing these things will not separate them from the flock. Though these things will, eventually, unite them with the wolves in the most intimate way possible.

For their own good, and especially for the good of the so-far obedient sheep who tempted to follow them into the wilds, the shepherd must often bid them goodbye. The shepherd may well alert the straying sheep to their danger by telling them clearly that they are no longer sheep of his flock, and this may well be the only way they will listen to him at all. (And if they don’t listen, are they really any the worse off?) As long as he does not tell them in ways they can understand — and remember that sheep are stupid — they will assume they are safe because they are, they foolishly think, still under his protection, no matter where they go.

The [New Oxford Review] Note concludes that the Pope’s

contribution to Church teaching has been prodigious. But an administrator he is not. He simply does not “mind the store,” does not attend to the chores of Church governance. We have been blessed by this Pope, and his teachings have laid the foundations for the restoration of orthodoxy.

But it will fall to another people to carry out his vision, to insist, over his dead body, that the teachings of the Church are taught by the bishops with conviction, follow-through, and dire consequences for saboteurs in chancery offices, seminaries, Catholic colleges and universities, and elsewhere.

....I love Pope John Paul II, and his picture looks down at me both in my study at home and in my office at the Protestant seminary at which I serve. (Before I moved my office I had his picture on my door, in fact, in the same place as a colleague had his picture of John Calvin.) I pray for him daily, and I not only ask for his healing and his continued reign but thank God for him and his work.

But he is clearly not an administrator and he has let men continue in office who should have been sent to a monastery near the South Pole. An unheated monastery. It is not a sleight to a great man to say that he is not a perfect man, and in acting as if it were Rod [Dreher]’s critics have done him wrong.

And harmed their own thinking to boot, by treating the Church more idealistically than a Catholic should, and forgetting the extent to which it is a living body moving, sometimes with compelling beauty, sometimes staggering as if drunk or dying, through history. No Catholic should expect perfection in a pope. Remember St. Peter.

If I differ from Rod, it is in thinking that we could not reasonably ask for more in a pope than we have gotten in John Paul II. I think Rod may have expected too much. All men, even the greatest, are strong in some things and weak in others. Teachers and prophets almost never run things well, and the men who run things well almost never think and speak as profoundly as John Paul II.

Feel free to hyperventilate, but I think Mills hits all the right notes with this one. Fear of open schism is an important template for understanding the hands-off approach of the Vatican to the multiple problems in the American church. Confront the dissenters where the stakes are too low to provoke a secession (say, inclusive language and similar issues), but plan to wait them out on more hot-button issues that could cause an open rupture and take millions out with them.

Neither strategy (iron fist or velvet glove) is without risk.

But I know which one is more confusing and demoralizing for the faithful, and which is more damaging to the Church's witness.

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