The Catholic Thing
HOME        ARCHIVES        IN THE NEWS        COMMENTARY        NOTABLE        DONATE
Why I Don’t Write About the Vatican Print E-mail
By Randall Smith   
Wednesday, 16 April 2014

As a theology professor, I sometimes get calls to comment about “developments” at the Vatican. “Can you comment on Pope Francis shifting this cardinal here or changing that cardinal there?”  “What does this mean for the Church?”  “How will this affect Catholics?”  I have to tell them: “I’m sorry, I don’t do Vatican politics.” 

For one thing, I don’t know whether people realize this or not, but they generally don’t cover Vatican politics in graduate courses in theology. Oddly enough, “Shifting Cardinals Around at the Vatican” was not one of the courses at any of the graduate programs I attended. Nor was “Dealing with Dicasteries,” or “Cleaning House at the Vatican Bank.” For some reason, the universities generally preferred to focus on Jesus Christ, the Trinity, the Scriptures, the Church, Salvation, the Virtues, Grace, the Sacraments – stuff like that.

So I’m no more qualified to comment on the latest dust-up at the Vatican than anyone else. And when I hear other people comment on such matters, they usually don’t know what they’re talking about either. You can count the number of reliable Vatican commentators on the fingers of one hand – even if you’ve lost a few fingers.

I’ve found that many people parrot the notion that we need “reform at the Vatican” even though they haven’t the slightest idea what the people at the Vatican do. They’ve just heard people say “we need reform at the Vatican” enough times that they repeat it. My supposition is that of course we need reform. When have we ever not needed reform – constant reform, renewal, repentance for faults and rededication to the primary goals of the institution – in any human community?  It comes with being fallen creatures.

There are undoubtedly times when the Vatican is better and others when it’s worse. I prefer better to worse, but even when it’s “better,” it’s still always made up of wretched sinners in need of the forgiveness, redemption, and sanctification offered by Jesus Christ.

It’s not that I don’t care about what happens at the Vatican; it’s just that there’s nothing I can do about it. And I know all I need to know to pray for the Pope and the members of the curia. So I do. They don’t really need my advice.


        Most Vatican gossip: monkey see, monkey do

Am I benignly convinced that they will always make the right choices? A quick glance at any period of Church history suggests a big fat “no.” But then again, a glance at the whole course of Church history suggests (to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear) that the Holy Spirit still guards the Church and guides Her through the mists of history. Given the screw-ups who have often been running the show (like the guy who denied that he even knew Christ, who became its first pope and the rock upon which it was built), if the Holy Spirit hadn’t been protecting the Church all these years, how could it have survived?

I sometimes worry when I see a person with immature faith venturing to glance “behind the scenes” in the Church. When a person becomes a Eucharistic minister, for example, handling the hosts can lead to a certain “de-mystification” of the Eucharist. A person unready for this may be tempted to start thinking: “this really is just a lousy piece of bread. I mean, they mail the hosts in a plastic bag, for heaven’s sake.”  Angels don’t deliver them mystically to the back door of the Church.

No, in fact they don’t. And before consecration, it really is just a piece of bread. The problem is, there are some people who just aren’t mature enough in their faith to realize that God can take the cheapest bit of stuff and make something truly wondrous out of it.

So, too, there are people who probably aren’t mature enough in their faith to be thinking about the latest confusing mess at the Vatican because they won’t be able to see how God can take even this mess – scattering of the disciplines, denials of Christ, crucifixion of the Savior – and make it a vessel of grace. If seeing how the food is prepared ruins your appetite, then stay out of the kitchen.

By the same token, when the pope publishes an actual encyclical or apostolic exhortation, read it. Try to understand it and live it. This is what the Vatican does that people should take a real interest in.

Sadly, it’s not so clear to me that they do. “Complaint” and “worry” blogs get a lot of traffic. Articles explaining Catholic teaching more deeply aren’t “trending” — or so I’ve been told. Didn’t St. Paul warn us to “Set your minds on the things that are above”? Is Paul’s wisdom reflected in the things we read?

I know that many people are “into” Vatican politics. But I prefer for the faithful largely to ignore it if possible. The faithful have more important things to worry about than the latest little “intrigue” at the Vatican – things like, oh, I don’t know: feeding the poor, going to Mass, taking care of their elderly parents, raising their children, making their local schools better, neighborhood renewal, voting for responsible politicians, making a good confession, being faithful spouses. The list of things more important to think about as a Catholic – things we can (and should) actually do something about – just goes on and on and on.

So please pray constantly for the pope, the cardinals, and the bishops. Pray that they’ll have the wisdom and love to respond faithfully to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Then let the Holy Father and the bishops do the jobs they have the special charism from the Spirit to do. Let the pope worry about the Vatican bureaucracy. That’s one of his – less interesting and more tedious – jobs. We among the laity have other fish to fry – especially as we approach the end of Lent.

           
Randall B. Smith is Professor at the University of St. Thomas, where he has recently been appointed to the Scanlan Chair in Theology.
 
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

Rules for Commenting

The Catholic Thing welcomes comments, which should reflect a sense of brevity and a spirit of Christian civility, and which, as discretion indicates, we reserve the right to publish or not. And, please, do not include links to other websites; we simply haven't time to check them all.

Comments (18)Add Comment
0
...
written by Mack Hall, April 16, 2014
Thank you!
0
...
written by schm0e, April 16, 2014
This will be emailed to a few friends.
0
...
written by Dean Stroud, April 16, 2014
Wise advice. There is much truth here.
0
...
written by Thomas J. Hennigan, April 16, 2014
I "there are some people who just aren’t mature enough in their faith". This is so true and many people seem to form their consciences according to what they see on TV. I have had people come to confession to say that they have "assasinated a dog". I am not in favor of cruelty to animals, but there is the danger of converting the killing of a dog to the killing of a human being. Many of those who are so worreid about animals are in favor of abortion. So, it seems that we need a great emphasis on catechesis. In fact, catechesis should be directed principally to adults, as they as parents and granparents can then hel catechize children and youth. I also think that a good knowledge of Church history would help many people to achieve a much better understanding of how te Holy Spirit guides the Church. In the periods of history when the Church was in dire need of reform, and it seemed from a human persepctive that it would come to an end, were followed by peridos of great interior reform and missionary zeal. This is the case of the 16th century when the Protestand Reform took place. Before that in the 10th and 11th centuries thee was the Cluniac reform which han an enormous influence in the Church with the foundation of more than 1000 Cluniac monasteries in the whole of Europe. Church reform which is always necessary (Ecclesia semper reformanda) comes about principally through saints. So, the best way to reform the Church, including the Vatican, is for all of us to truly seek holiness, each one in his or her own walk of life. Pointing the finger at others is a real cop out.
0
...
written by Heidi Cole, April 16, 2014
So well said. Could not be anymore on point. I'm studying for my Masters in Catholic Theology and haven't found that "Brhind the Scenes at the Vatican" course either. As one of the faithful, I know that God tells me to tend to other matters. They are so much more fulfilling.

Thank you!
0
...
written by John Nagy, April 16, 2014
Bravo! We'd all do well to stick to what's essential -- while keeping an eye now and then on what those "reliable Vatican commentators" have to say.
0
...
written by Stanley Anderson, April 16, 2014
Randall Smith wrote, "By the same token, when the pope publishes an actual encyclical or apostolic exhortation, read it."

Rats. I guess reading a quick summary paragraph of what the Huffington Post thinks are important interpretations to remember isn't good enough, eh?

(Now where DID I leave my reading glasses?)
0
...
written by Myshkin, April 16, 2014
But ... If I can't distract myself by pouring over the doings of the pope, cardinals, bishops and priests, excoriating them for every thing they do, I might have to face my own my own sinfulness ... The devil wouldn't want me to do that, since then I might repent and turn back to The Lord ... So distract myself, I will!

I learned all this from reading Screwtape Letters ...
0
...
written by Jack,CT, April 16, 2014
So Much truth indeed! Thanks Prof Smith
0
...
written by Nick Palmer, April 16, 2014
Timely and thoughtful article by Professor Smith. It brought to mind last Sunday's "60 Minutes" piece on Pope Francis. Their featured interviewee was Robert Mickens "an American known as a 'Vaticanista,' an expert journalist who has covered the Holy See for many years." [Per the CBS website.] Now I will admit to being out of the loop on many of these issues as I have a life, family, job, etc. But I found his snarky, innuendo-laced commentary highly irritating. What I draw from his remarks is that the Vatican bank is laundering money from illegal weapon sales, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI created a papal commission to subdue women, and that the Church is training pederasts at a hidden desert camp. All of this was offered with no evidence, but with a knowing wink. Scott Pelley, the 60 M interviewer, was enthralled.

Given Prof. Smith's piece, I'm guessing that Mr. Mickens is NOT one of those remaining fingers referenced in today's article...
0
...
written by Hen, April 17, 2014
I'm not a dog person or even a tree hugger, But sorry Father, it should be considered seriously when a penitent confesses that, he killed one or cut down the other. It seems to me that, sin is in the eye of the beholding penitent.
0
...
written by Myshkin, April 17, 2014
@Nick Palmer

"Tablet suspends Robert Mickens after Facebook comment looking forward to death of 'Rat' Benedict XVI" -- noted on Damian Thompson's Blog over at the Telegraph.

Mickens is an anti-Catholic Catholic whose antagonistic stance against the teachings of the RCC is what endears him to the Tablet's editors, if not to the subscribers ...
0
...
written by JRF, April 19, 2014
Enjoyed the article very much! Just two thoughts: I am on teams of Eucharistic ministers that serve Catholic groups. Liturgy of the Word with communion service to groups to 10 or more. I have never met any one who thinks the Eucharist "is just a lousy piece of bread" when distributing, but the way the sacred Eucharist is handle before and after does show some disrespect in my mind. Hosts are often picked up and any remaining returned at the convenience of the one distributing . Where they keep the consecrated host over night at home I don't know but that is troublesome when it happens. Point two is : stay up to date on the happenings at the Vatican and Holy See. As was pointed out, many commentators don't know what they are talking about when reporting on the Vatican (city/state) and the Holy See. We must know fact from faction in order to counter intentional and unintentional errors. We don't have to write about them but we may have to defend them in the name of truth.
0
...
written by Laurie, May 04, 2014
and one more thing...many Catholics with immature faith are not cognizant of the ways of the devil. There needs to be more awareness/teaching of the strategies of evil in moving people away from the will of God. These strategies are often not overt but subtle....such as how so many Catholics came to accept the holocaust of the killing of unborn children under the banner of "reproductive health." That is only one example of many.
0
...
written by Marie, May 04, 2014
I once helped an older priest, Fr. Leo Hotze, to prepare for a 6:30 am Mass. The Eucharistic Minister came into the sacristy, and said, "Good morning Father. I will be holding the wine." Fr. Hotze slowly turned to him and placing his hands on this man's shoulders, looked him in the eyes, and said, "My dear son, you will be holding Our Lord's Precious Blood." I almost wept with love of Him. It was as if we were at the Transfiguration when Our Eternal Father said, "This is my Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased." It made my day. I will never forget that moment.
0
...
written by kelso, May 05, 2014
No need for lay people with unconsecrated fingers to handle the Eucharist. This was an innovation of a corrupt Liturgical Commission that had our altars destroyed and Communion rails removed. And on and on with the Protestantized new liturgy. I am not the only calling it a "protestantizing" of the liturgy, the promoters of these outrageous changes said this, including then Cardinal Ratzinger, who called the new liturgy a "fabrication" without any organic developement.
0
...
written by Luz Mina, May 06, 2014
Loved your article. We can only do two things about the vatican situation: have faith in God and pray for them.
0
...
written by Bob Burford, May 18, 2014
We all depend too much on the views of television. Cleanup in the vatican or cleanup our own house in our own community where there are those in need. Good assessment. I pray for the Pope and I will not try to do his job. The comment about Saint Peter the first pope who was also flawed should be a wake up for all Catholics.God uses us and yes I am flawed as well.This should give us all hope that the Holy Spirit is still in charge and working in our church.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

security code
Write the displayed characters


busy
 
CONTACT US FOR ADVERTISERS ABOUT US
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner
Banner