The Pope’s War offers a provocative look at three decades of corruption in the Catholic Church, focusing on Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI, and how the devastation the past two papacies has wrought can be a blessing in disguise to reinvent Christianity for a third millennium.
An internationally acclaimed theologian who was a member of the Dominican Order for thirty-four years, Matthew Fox was forbidden to teach theology by the then-cardinal in 1988 and was later dismissed from the order. Now he presents insights from his twelve-year, up-close-and-personal battle with Ratzinger, tracing the historical roots of degradation in the Church and offering a new way to understand why Benedict XVI is mired in crisis as pope.
Fox begins with Ratzinger’s life story as a youth and as an upcoming theologian at the Second Vatican Council as well as his “conversion” from progressive thinker to ecclesial climber and chief inquisitor. Also covered are eight of the 110 theologians that Ratzinger silenced and denounced. He next turns to Ratzinger’s allies—Opus Dei, the Legion of Christ, and Communion and Liberation—three of the special groups that he praised and protected for years while attacking theologians and spiritual movements that did not fit his criteria of über right-wing politics and religiosity. He also explores what has created the priestly pedophilia crisis in the Church and examines Ratzinger’s role in its cover-up. Finally, Fox delivers his vision for a new Catholicism—one that is not Vatican-based but truly universal, celebrating critical thinking, diversity, and justice.
Both analytical and hopeful, The Pope’s War not only presents insights into the state of the Catholic Church today, but also provides inspiration for the dawn of a new spiritual era.
What distinguishes your book from other books on Ratzinger?
As Bruce Chilton points out in his Forward, I am not just a pundit; I am not a journalist per se. I am a theologian. As a theologian I am trying to ponder how the recent events of Catholic history can be seen through the eyes of the Holy Spirit. Is there some good that come out of so much anguish, so much betrayal, so much disappointment with the false direction the church has taken under Pope John Paul II and Ratzinger? And I come to a clear conclusion that Yes, the Holy Spirit is still at work in the events of deconstruction and reconstruction that are at hand. It is time to restart the church. Let many of its forms go; let them die as they are doing.
What if any background do you bring to this study that others do not bring?
The fact that I stepped out of the Roman Catholic box so that I could think and act more true to my conscience some sixteen years ago gives me more freedom to tell the truth as I see it. I know many Roman Catholic theologians and sisters and priests who are too busy looking over their shoulders, too engrossed in surviving in a closed system, too weighed down by the “chill” of heresy hunters to be able to speak their truth. Since the Vatican used the Dominican Order to expel me some sixteen years ago, I am not part of that “chill” that has descended on theology in the church at this moment in history.
Also, my work for forty-some years has been in spirituality, not in ecclesiology as such. Thus my thirty books bring to the fore, I believe, the most important direction that religion needs to go in its reconstruction—that is spirituality, the experiential dimension of religion. The mystical-prophetic tradition I have been recovering including the Cosmic Christ, Hildegard, Aquinas, Eckhart, Julian and others, together with today’s post-modern science, offers new and deeper expressions of healthy religion. They are among the treasure to take from the burning building.
What in your opinion are the most important elements of your book on “The Pope’s War”?
The fact that I relay my conversation with Fr. Schillebeeckx in which he used the “S” word is very important. The “S” word rarely gets used these days but I think that Schism properly summarizes what the past two papacies have been about. They deliberately turned their back on a valid Ecumenical Council and in doing so are in schism. This means that its appointed cardinals and bishops are in schism. They do not represent the lineage of the church. This opens up whole new possibilities of seeing the church anew. All the Yes men and sycophants that have lined up at the papal trough for a piece of the power these recent decades are seen for what they are in their transparent reality.
In addition I analyze the personality and history of this Pope Benedict XVI daring to call him what he is: a bully. Bullies not only hide behind power structures while they abuse others but they love to hunker down with their own ‘wolf pack’ and in this case it is the curia. How interesting that in December, 2010 Ratzinger appointed 24 new cardinals and of these 10 more are in the curia (as if there were not enough there already). The Roman Catholic church in our day is not about the “people of God”; it is about a clique of decision-makers in the curia. Its “service” is to its own pack, its own boys club. That is one reason women are not allowed in. It is also the explanation for the scandalous pedophile cover-up. It is a closed, sick system.
I also remind people of the 92 persons (since I handed in my manuscript there are another ten or so to bring the number over 100) who have been maligned, deprived of their work and reputation, abused, thrown overboard so that the uber-right ideologies of sects like Opus Dei and Legion of Christ and Communion and Liberation can prevail. All is sacrificed on the altar of obedience and control. By exploring more deeply how these groups operate and what they stand for, I think the book sheds light on the ugly and scary and unholy marriage of fascism and fundamentalist religion in our day.
But I also remind people of the genuine heroism and gracious gifting of many theologians and activists whom the past two papacies attacked as heretical. I know no movement of the past 500 years that was more Christ-like than that of base communities and liberation theology. Memory and gratitude are very important for they feed the courage that is needed today to start Christianity over again.
Of course the pedophile disaster and its awful cover-up by hierarchy to “preserve the church institution” in itself deprives the Vatican of all moral and spiritual credibility and lays bare the real motives of its so-called leadership. The role of money and power is fully integrated into this sordid story as well, as Jason Berry has made clear.
And I have tried to sketch out some directions for new versions of Christianity that are needed today with of course the primary emphasis on lay leadership. We do not need another Council (after all the last one was totally stuffed); what we need is a rise and indeed a take over of the church by lay leaders. Jesus was not a clericalist. He never heard of the Vatican (or of cardinals) all of which developed centuries after his death. Time to start over. And with the courage and imagination and generosity that characterizes all authentic spirituality.
Do you see any precedents for what you are speaking of?
Let us remember what Thomas Aquinas taught about religion. That it is, he felt, primarily a virtue, that is a habit that persons carry within them. Indeed, for Aquinas religion’s essence is Gratitude. Gratitude for existence. This means that institutions are NOT what religion is primarily about. What goes on in the heart and mind and gives birth to outer form is what is at the essence of religion. This means that social constructs like basilicas, cathedrals, churches, vaticans, popes, cardinals, bishops, canon laws, etc. are on the periphery of real religion. And they render themselves religiously irrelevant when their thrust at certain times of history is very far from the love and compassion and service that Jesus preached. They have more to do with accumulation of power and prestige and institutional and personal ego.
At the bottom, the crisis in Roman Catholicism is a crisis in spirituality or the lack thereof. Real people want spirituality. The church as we know it today is the last place they go looking. We are talking about the future of religion, the future of spirituality and very likely the sustainability or unsustainability of our species on this planet. This is why the issues at hand are of deep importance to us all, whether within or outside of organized religion.
If I am not Catholic (or even Christian), should I be at all interested in this book on the woes of the Catholic Church?
The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination by far. Its global influence is profound for good or for ill. It has at times drawn many wonderful and generous souls into its service even if today many are tripping over each other to exit. When it chooses at its hierarchical level to support dictatorships and fascist rulers—and to imitate them—that impacts on all of us. When it teaches that birth control and condoms are wrong when the world is being swamped by excessive human population as well as by sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS, that affects us all. When its theatrical rituals suck all the religious air out of the room because it is pleasing to television’s needs to elevate a person dressed in white to cult status, that affects us all. When Ratzinger interfered in the US presidential election of 2004 by telling bishops to publicly announce that a Roman Catholic voter cannot vote for a politician (i.e. Kerry) who favors women’s choice and the vote of three states (Iowa, Ohio and New Mexico) was determined by that intervention as studies show, then the fact that the Vatican got Bush elected his second term is of concern for all. When theological thinkers are suspended and pedophile priests are countenanced and their hierarchical defenders are promoted (a la Cardinal Law), that affects us all. When fascist cults like Opus Dei and Legion of Christ and Communion and Liberation are promoted by the Vatican, that affects us all. When base communities and liberation theology are denounced, that affects us all. When the spirit and teachings of the great Vatican Council including outreach to all world religions are denied, that affects us all. And when morality is reduced almost exclusively to sexual issues instead of the great issues of planetary survival and social and economic justice, that affects us all.
The hijacking of the name and teachings of Jesus in the name of Ecclesiolatry affects us all. Ours are not a time for keeping silent about the sins of organized religion. Ours are a time for starting over.
Writing The Pope’s War (Sterling, May 2011) was so dour, so dark, so dreary, the news was so much the opposite of uplifting that I told a friend I felt like Oscar the Grouch who lived in the garbage can on Sesame Street. Yes, it was like living with garbage. What to do? I put the project, about 60% finished, on a shelf not sure I would ever return to it. All my other books had uplifted me in the writing; not that one. It dragged me down day after day. It was not fun.
But there is a second connection between the two books as well. The culmination of the pope book was my conviction that the Holy Spirit is so decimating Catholicism as we know it today that we can and need to push the restart button on Christianity. This includes “taking the treasure from the burning building” as I put it in the book. And first and foremost of those treasures is our mystical and prophetic heritage. Thus Christian Mystics is a deep part of the treasure that our lineage contains. It points the way to Christianity’s greatest accomplishments and its greatest future potential. The task is not that complicated: It is about turning out mystics and prophets. Like Jesus did; and was.
Matthew Fox’s latest book! CLICK HERE TO ORDER
A NOTE FROM BISHOP SPONG:
ONE OF THE MOST CREATIVE THEOLOGIANS IN OUR GENERATION IS MATTHEW FOX, THE AUTHOR OF MANY BOOKS, THE BEST KNOWN OF WHICH IS ORIGINAL BLESSINGS, a book in which he challenged for the first time the Christian Church’s doctrine of “original sin.” Matthew is also a good friend of mine, who has had a tumultuous relationship with the Roman Catholic Church in which he served as a priest for years. He has just published a chronicle of that relationship under the title “The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How it Can Be Saved.” I include here a press release from his publisher:
“Theologian Matthew Fox, a former Catholic priest silenced by Pope Benedict XVI when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, recounts the “war for the soul of the Catholic Church” waged by Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul II. His new book, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved is a searing indictment that portrays a church hierarchy obsessed with rooting out theological dissent and crushing creativity, while covering up the pedophile crisis. The Pope’s War begins by recounting Ratzinger’s life story, including his “conversion” from an up-and-coming progressive theologian at Vatican II to “ecclesial climber and chief inquisitor” who proceeded, along with Pope John Paul II, to dismantle the work of Vatican II, including the promises of collegiality, lay leadership, and theological pluralism. Fox concludes that the last two papacies have created a schism in the church by ignoring Vatican II but ends with a hopeful vision for the future. He believes that the Holy Spirit is at work in “ending the Catholic Church as we know it” and making it possible to “push the restart button on Christianity.”
The book is hard hitting and revealing. It poses for us the crisis that is in our sister church and points to a way out of that crisis. I doubt if it will be welcomed in the Vatican, but it should be. It is the kind of criticism that only one who loves the Catholic Church as an insider could write. This book will cause enormous discussion. I want you to be aware of it.
~John Shelby Spong