The refusal of the Church to purge abusers and pedophiles from the clergy and accept human sexuality as a blessing, is leading to the end of the Church as we know it, says Matthew Fox on Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay. This is an episode of Reality Asserts Itself, produced June 13, 2019.
PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself. I’m Paul Jay. We’re continuing our discussion with former Catholic priest, and now Episcopal priest, Matthew Fox. Thanks for joining us again.
MATTHEW FOX: Thank you, Paul.
PAUL JAY: And as you’ve been–if you’ve been watching, and you really should go back to Part 1 to understand where we’re at–but Matthew was a Catholic priest who got in the crosshairs of the Inquisition, led by Cardinal Ratzinger, and was first–well, first of all silenced, and then asked to leave the Dominican order; more or less turfed, and continued to speak out. And here he is speaking out.
You’ve been–when we first interviewed, Pope Francis had just been appointed. And you, and I have to say I, were pretty dubious about Francis in terms of his history in Latin America. Some connections to not Opus Dei directly, but an Italian version of something like Opus Dei that Francis seemed to have some connection of. And the whole history of the last 30 some-odd, 40 years. You describe the Catholic Church as being as decrepit as the Borgias. But he surprised you. And he seemed to have surprised a lot of people with his positions on climate change and his speaking out on inequality, and other kinds of issues. And essentially a kind of social democrat.
But you’ve not been satisfied with his response on the issue of the church and the covering up of crimes of priests of pedophilia. So what has been the Pope’s response and why are you not satisfied with it?
MATTHEW FOX: This latest revelation from the the civic side of the state of Pennsylvania, mainly the attorney general, as it were, is truly horrific. And the Pope took a couple of days to respond, and then he wrote a public letter about pedophilia in the priesthood. And he makes some points in there that are good points about the culture of clericalism, which I would kind of define as a club mentality of boys getting together and keeping secrets from everyone else, and so forth. And he criticizes that.
PAUL JAY: Is the idea there to sort of defend the brotherhood of the priests first, and then you can worry about the negative effects, perhaps?
MATTHEW FOX: Yes, that’s part of it. Yeah. And it’s kind of a mini version of the idea that you defend the church at all costs, and you don’t tell the truth to the world about what’s going on in the dark corners of the church. So it’s it’s kind of a mini version of that, I think. Again, I think it’s a very tribal thing. And it’s a very male thing, I think, where you get together and keep secrets.
So he has some good points in that letter. But to me it’s a very disappointing letter, because first of all, he goes he goes on and on about prayer and fasting, and fasting and prayer. And to me that’s not what what blew the whistle on this thing. It was good lawyering that blew the whistle on this thing. And so that’s one disappointment. But further, he does not say how to undo the clericalism. He does not lay out any steps for what can be done. And good words–you know, we’ve had a lot of those for the last 25 years about how awful pedophilia is. So we need more than words. We need more action.
And so if I were advising him on the action, first of all, how do you undo clericalism? Well, you bring women into the picture. And so a lot–getting women to to appropriate their power, their authority, their decision making in the church, is a number one thing. That would undo a lot of this stuff. It would not happen if women were allowed to make decisions.
PAUL JAY: Now, in the Episcopal Church there are women in the positions of power. Is the culture different in the Episcopal Church?
MATTHEW FOX: Oh, very much so. Women are ordained priests.
PAUL JAY: But has it made a difference on the issues like pedophilia?
MATTHEW FOX: I think so. I think so. Now, you know, let’s agree that pedophilia is a human problem. It’s not just the Catholic Church problem. And we see it at Ohio State. We see it in the sports of Penn State, and wrestling teams in Ohio, and this doctor and Michigan State, and USC. But notice what happened. When it was found out that this was going on, the presidents were fired, whereas in the Catholic Church when you found out this going on, the bishops just kind of–they’re still in place. They’ve not been fired. And the Pope wasn’t fired. And a lot of this stuff happened under the previous two popes.
PAUL JAY: This is Ratzinger.
MATTHEW FOX: Ratzinger. Ratzinger sat as chief inquisitor, as head of the Congregation of the Faith. One of his jobs was to oversee wayward priests. And he sat on a report for nine years about this horrible man, Father Maciel, who started seminaries all over South America, and brought in lots of money for the church. And he was personally abusing his seminarians, young teenagers. Terrible. And this stuff sat on Ratzinger’s desk for nine years. When he became pope he acted on–he began to act on it. And eventually the truth came out.
But the truth is that–and a sad part of Pope Francis’s letter is he quotes Ratzinger right near the beginning. Ratzinger had, again, some fancy, strong words about how horrible this is, pedophile priests. But to quote Ratzinger, if you know the whole story about how slow he was to move on this, and he got no support from John Paul II, was very close to this Father Maciel, he put him on a plane with him when you go traveling, and everything. He ordained 49 of his priests in a big ceremony outdoors at St. Peter’s in Rome. Pope John Paul did this. And yet the rumors even then were around.
So it’s horrible, the way that–the coverup is the real sin here. Well, obviously pedophilia is a sin and an evil, but the coverup is a double.
PAUL JAY: And is it because many of the priests involved are actually themselves quite senior? Not just in covering up, but actually involved in it? Why wouldn’t they just–it would be in their interest, one would think, not to let this thing get so malignant.
MATTHEW FOX: They run on this ideology that everything is about keeping the church looking pure and holy. And so you don’t want to show the-
PAUL JAY: But do they also think it’s actually not so bad?
MATTHEW FOX: Well, that’s–you could come to that conclusion. You could come to that conclusion, that it’s more bad to shed light on the darkness of the church than it is to destroy a person’s life. Because when this happens to a child, it haunts you the rest of your life. And many [are there] suicides. Of course, the addiction, the drug addicts, the alcoholics that come out of this kind of abuse. And of course, the fact that it’s in the name of religion does add a whole nother dimension of perversion and sorrow to the entire experience.
So yeah, it’s just beyond the pale. And of course, look what happened in Ireland. When this blew up a few years ago in Ireland, the Irish church has practically totally collapsed. Fifteen years ago, something like 85-90 percent of Catholics in Ireland were practicing. Now it’s 15 percent. In just a few years. And the whole younger generation is just off. They’ve left the church. And I remember hearing a 30-year old or so woman, Catholic theologian here in the States, talk about how her generation–she was 12 years old when the stories broke about the abuse of 12-year-olds. You know, and you know, she immediately got it. I mean, she felt it quite personally, to say the least. And even though she herself has hung in the church, she said she can understand why her whole generation has just turned its back.
I–a few years ago I was invited to speak in Detroit, and I got an email saying “Could I drive you in from the airport?” I said sure. It was this young woman, 30, 31. She just had a baby. I remember the baby was in the back seat and in a baby seat. And she said, I was raised Catholic. Now I have a baby. I want my baby to grow up with morality and all that stuff, but I’m not going to put put him in danger by sending him to Catholic schools, or even the Catholic Church. She said, what do I do? That’s why she wanted to drive in with me, to talk about this. You know, it’s a dilemma for young couples, young parents, that they can’t trust the Catholic Church.
And of course, I see this in kind of the bigger picture that I’ve written about in my book The Pope’s War, that we’re living in a time of the end of the Catholic Church as we know it. And that’s not a bad thing. I think it’s–the call, the challenge, is to go back and find out who is this Jesus about? What is he teaching? What is he teaching us? How does it connect to the wisdom of the East, the wisdom of the Indigenous people, the wisdom we need as a species to survive today? And there’s a lot of stuff; a lot of, as I say, we don’t have to travel with basilicas on our back anymore. Just backpacks. We have to get rid a lot of stuff.
And I think these kinds of tragedies are a stripping down of the very meaning of religion. We have to go back to what I call spirituality. Religion just carries a lot of stuff with it, and it’s time to kind of move on.
PAUL JAY: You said earlier, and you’ve written, that in the fourth century when the church takes over the empire, you have a real class division within the church. This top tier hierarchy are the feudal aristocracy. And the Borgias are the most outrageous example of how depraved and corrupt that stratum of the church can be. But it didn’t end with the Borgias, and they’re allied with the whole sections of, first of all, the feudal aristocracy, and then sections of the fascist capitalist aristocracy. And then you’ve got ordinary priests, who as young Irish kids decide this is the way to do good. That fight’s still going on. And how much has Francis’s not being stronger in purging the Church of this decrepit stratum is that he’s in a big struggle with them and they want to overthrow him because of his positions? Particularly on climate, and inequality, and even just threatening this whole stratum? And that he can’t do a lot more, at least not too openly right now, because there’s an active movement to get rid of him?
MATTHEW FOX: Well, that’s true. He has an impossible job, I think. Lord Acton the historian said power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And I think that you see this playing out in a lot of history today. Not just in church history, but in other political issues that we face today. But I think–for example, my solution, one of my solutions–it has to be a multipronged solution–to pedophilia is, of course, to bring women in. Well, that’s very hard in the Catholic Church, because the last few popes said women can never be ordained, women can never be ordained. And this pope has repeated that mantra. So you’re not going to do away with clericalism if women are not brought into the room.
PAUL JAY: But doesn’t he also, if he can, have to fire a whole lot of senior people?
MATTHEW FOX: Well, there is that, too. You may know that in Chile, when the pedophilia thing blew up a few years ago, all the bishops volunteered to retire. They sent in their retirement papers. He’s only accepted, I think, five of them as retired. But now people are calling for that now in the American church. They’re saying every bishop should hand in their papers and retire.
But again, this just shows the, what can I say, the chaos that the Catholic Church is in today. And obviously one man at the top cannot solve all this. And as you say, there’s a right wing pulling on him very strongly. And the right wing, of course, is not just about Catholics. The Catholics are in bed with the right-wing evangelicals today. They’re in bed with Rush Limbaugh. You know, when the Pope put out his good encyclical on the environment, Rush Limbaugh said this guy’s a Marxist. This pope is a Marxist. Well, that says a lot about this pope. And it’s complimentary, I think, to be–to have an enemy like Rush Limbaugh. But the point is there are these–there’s all this, these pressures coming.
But again, if I were to go through a list, I mentioned bringing women in. I think of course making celibacy voluntary would be a plus. It’s not going to solve the problem entirely. All of these people who committed pedophilia at these universities were married men. So being married doesn’t guarantee anything. But nevertheless, to make celibacy optional, it would be less attractive, I think, to pedophiles to think “I can get away with it in that organization.” And of course, I think it’s the civil–I think many people have said now the state of Pennsylvania has found this–now we need 49 other investigations in the other states. And I think that’s true. The civic powers can show the light on this. The Catholic Church has proven it cannot shine the light on this. It’s not capable of it. And you need legal demands like subpoenas, and bring forth the secrets, the secret papers that you have, to see what’s really been going on in secret.
But one thing that should be said is the vast amount of these horrible stories from Pennsylvania are from the past.
PAUL JAY: As far as we know.
MATTHEW FOX: As far as we know. They did put in–beginning putting in rules about 15 years ago, and more rules, and more rules. So you know, they made some progress. But nevertheless, you know, the truths have to come out. =.
Now, another issue that has to be faced, I’ve alluded to it earlier, is the bad theology of sexuality that does not come from the scriptures. It comes from neurotics like St. Augustine, and some other patriarchal men. For example, Origen, if you’ve heard his name, he’s a well-known theologian from I think the third century; a very smart guy. He castrated himself as a young man. That’s how he dealt with his sense of lust. Well, you know, I think that’s pretty severe, to put it mildly. But here is a guy who is telling the rest of us how to live our sexual lives, you know. And he’s not saying everyone castrate yourself, but that’s how he dealt with it. It’s not a very hospitable way welcoming your your sexuality. The second chakra. You know, we have to, you know, think smart. And of course, psychology, Freud and the rest, can help us with this. This is some advancement of human consciousness in the last 200 years, that we can think a little more benignly about our sexuality. And again, that sexuality is a blessing. It’s an original blessing. It’s not a problem. But of course, you’ve got to learn to deal with it well so it doesn’t run away with you. But that’s true of all our other passions, too, including anger, and so forth.
So again, this is where traditions of the world can really help us. That even be able to talk about sexuality as a second chakra puts it into another language context which is not just Western, and it kind of opens your mind about thinking differently about it. And you know, in the Bible there’s a whole book, the Song of Songs, which is a celebration of the mysticism of lovemaking; the theophany, the experience of God when people make love. That’s what it’s about. So the Bible is not against sex. But a lot of these patriarchal men who’ve come along as ascetics, trying to beat themselves up because they don’t know how to deal with their sexuality, that’s been projected on the church. That stuff has to be deconstructed to get around to really solving the pedophile issue, because–And then, of course, the homophobia, too. The putting down of homosexuals is inviting homosexuals into closets to hide.
PAUL JAY: But also into the church, is the irony of it.
MATTHEW FOX: That’s the irony of it. But you know, Indigenous people around the world teach that homosexuals bring a special spiritual dimension to the community. And so gay and lesbian people will be attracted to spirituality. And so the idea that you’re going to solve this, as some stupid cardinals have said, by banishing all gay people from seminaries, is utterly stupid, because you’re shooting yourself in the foot in terms of spiritual energy. So moving from homophobia to recognizing what science is saying, that 8 or 10 percent of any given human population is going to be gay, is very important, so that we welcome the gifts and the charisms that gay and lesbian people bring to religion.
PAUL JAY: OK. In the next segment of our interview we’re going to talk about the fascist cabal Opus Dei, Steve Bannon, the American Cardinal Burke, who are targeting not only Pope Francis, but are trying to encourage a rise of far right, really fascist, movements in Europe, and here, and right into the White House. So please join us for the continuation of Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.