Followers of Vaticanologist (and, increasingly, Vatican head cheerleader) John Allen at National Catholic Reporter will find his latest screed at that site interesting, I think. It compares critics of the Vatican to–get this–sharks. Sharks circling in the water, who are now revved up by the blood they sense leaking out of the poor old Vatican as it encounters one hard knock after another in recent weeks.
Allen writes, “Right now, people with a beef against the Vatican smell blood in the water.” And, later:”The novelty [of the current situation] is instead the brazenness of these outbursts, which suggest a sense of a wounded foe.”
And as I wrote yesterday in a comment yet to appear at the NCR site, that’s one way to look at it.
But another might be to see the current critical reaction to the Vatican in places like deeply Catholic Ireland as a manifestation of a longstanding and very powerful desire among faithful Catholics to see the papacy finally do what it’s meant to do, according to the gospels. And that’s to serve. Not to dominate. Not to rule. Not to issue orders and condemnations.
To serve. To serve as Jesus served. To serve the unity of the body of Christ with a papacy embodying the ideal of service that Jesus bequeathed as the supreme ideal for those who seek to exercise leadership in the Christian community: to be the servus servorum Christi.
Maybe the “sharks” circling in the water aren’t smelling blood. And maybe they’re not sharks at all. Maybe they’re actually faithful Catholics who are delighted to see the imperial structures of a papacy modeled more on the values of Caesar than those of Christ crumbling before our eyes.
Crumbling because it has behaved in imperial ways rather than embodying Christ’s ideal of service.
John Allen has made much over the years out of the notion that Benedict represents a springtime of new evangelism in the Catholic church. St. Francis, who laid the spiritual foundations of the Capuchins who taught John Allen as a schoolboy in Kansas, famously said that we evangelize far more by doing than by saying.
Maybe faithful Catholics celebrating the demise of the imperial papacy aren’t sharks circling in the water at all: maybe we take heart at the thought that the crumbling of those imperial structures might, just might, begin to allow the papacy to do what it claims it’s all about–that is, embody the values of Christ for the church and the world in its own actions–as it proclaims the Christian message to us.