Job Description

Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Revision is so difficult. I mentioned that the other day, didn’t I. But it is. It’s hard. It’s like…trying to unknit a bit of a sweater and then knit it up again. It’s like trying to pick through a large pot of chili or minestrone, picking out grains of rice of a particular length. It’s like trying to re-weave a broken spider’s web. It’s like trying to take individual crumbs out of a piece of bread without having the piece of bread fall to bits. It’s – it’s – it’s –

Pause for prolonged scream and bout of self-administered hair-pulling.

I’ve been staring at this same paragraph at intervals for an hour or more. I have to re-write it, and somehow I can’t summon the strength. I’m weak, I’m feeble, I’m a poor wandering erring mortal. I think I’ll convert to Catholicism.

Or maybe not.

The one thing the new pope stands for is hierarchy, and the resolute suppression of anything like democracy within the church. In particular, the opinions of educated lay people are to be shunned – a loathing which is heartily reciprocated. The only time I ever saw him, at a lecture he gave in Cambridge, some of the theology faculty boycotted the event in protest against his treatment of inquiry within their discipline.

Of course, the question immediately occurs to me, what kind of ‘inquiry’ goes on in theology? What kind of ‘discipline’ is theology? But maybe that’s a damn-fool ignorant question. Maybe there really is real inquiry. Maybe there is good empirical evidence for theology, and I’ve just never heard of it. To me it sounds like inquiry in Peter Panology, or Spockology, or Dr Whoology. But then I’ve never studied theology. (Though I did once take a course in Church history, when I was at university. Taught by a priest, too. That was odd…) But leaving all that aside, it’s interesting that theologians find Ratzinger anti-inquiry. If they think so, what would the rest of us think, I wonder.

The fear of change can make perfect sense. If you believe that the Catholic church can only maintain its hold on human minds by force and fraud, then electing the man who used to run the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the bureaucratic guarantor of Catholic doctrine – is a natural thing to do. The road to the top in the Kremlin, after all, used to be through the KGB. But to follow the same logic is an odd process for faithful Catholics.

Hmmmyes and no. That’s part of the nature of Catholicism, after all. That’s why Luther ended up knocking it all over instead of just reforming it. It really is about central authority and being told what to believe. That’s not to say it’s not possible to be a Catholic and ignore all that, because of course it is. (Those Catholics feel a bit queasy right now, I gather.) But it does mean that the Vatican is what it is, and not something else. It’s not an anti-hierarchical type organization, pretty much by definition. If it’s anti-hierarchical it might just as well pack up the stoles and incense and break camp. Being anti-hierarchical ain’t what it’s there for.

I wish Ratzinger would drop in to say hi and revise this paragraph for me.

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