THE BLOG

Pope To Be Named Later: Authority, Leader or Both?

03/01/2013 10:28 am ET | Updated May 01, 2013

There is a distinction that must be made between leadership and authority. Consider the Catholic Church, which for the first time in 600 years is being led by "The Pope to be named later." He will be touted as both authority and leader of billions of Catholics. Yet the people who are the Catholic Church possess views that are in dissonance with the authority: many Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals and The Holy See.

The issues, which I prefer to call actual lives, center on how people of God respond to the emotional topics of the day: birth control, women's' rights, reproductive justice, same sex marriage and the poor. Doctrines, bishop/papal letters, encyclicals are very clear. Priests need to be male, celibate. Homosexuality is contrary to human nature. Pope Paul VI's 1969 encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) decreed life begins at conception and any form of birth control, voluntary sterilization or artificial fertilization is morally wrong. Marriage is between one man and one woman. Subsequent official letters noted that even in cases of rape, incest or health of the mother, there is no ending of the pregnancy.

Same sex marriage or supporting LGBT families? Suffice to say there is a plethora of official documents that outline what is permissible and what is sinful. Yet as the needs of the people change, as the attitudes of the world change, authority can also change. But such adapting of authority takes leadership.

Leadership is an action. It requires an observation of the true state of the church (the people), and objective assessment, which leads to action. Fruitful action. In the past decades the Church's authoritative voice has been repetitive and her actions dismal. Active leadership seems to be lacking from those with the most powerful authority in the Catholic Church.

Despite the fact that a majority of Catholics support sex marriage and do not consider homosexuality a moral issue (some statistics put this at70 percent), those in authority continue to threaten Catholics who believe otherwise. Canon law is clear that it is in extreme cases Holy Communion be denied; yet, Archbishops and priests continue to refuse Eucharist to homosexuals.

Services to the poor? This past summer, the USCCB held a multimillion dollar "Fortnight For Freedom Campaign." Complete with red/white stars and stripes and red foam fingers, the campaign had no shortage of how the Affordable Care Act was trampling religious freedom (meaning Catholicism). They followed this in the months leading to the election with pastoral letters to be read at all Masses, which had the disclaimer the USCCB wasn't telling who to vote for, only that if one voted for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy." (I take this to be LGBT issues, marriage equality, reproductive justice, affordable care act.)

These are examples of authority, not necessarily leadership. Thankfully in all of the above situations, there has been true leadership. Individual priests, nuns, prominent Catholic theologians, and the Bishops of France have all supported equal rights for same sex couples.

In 1971, 47 Catholic Sisters from across America joined in the Vatican's call to seek justice in the world. They took it literally -- and took action. For 40 years now they have grown and joined in civil rights issues, women's issues and healthcare reform. From this network came "Nuns on the Bus."

During the council before Humanae Vitae, Cardinal Albino Luciano sent a letter to Pope Paul VI expressing his view that the newly developed contraceptive pill be permitted. He hoped for dialog. Paul VI didn't respond except by issuing Humanae Vitae within days. Later, when elected as Pope John Paul I, he was invited to speak at the 10th anniversary of Humanae Vitae (he decline to attend). His leadership is apparent as he tells his secretary that the situation (BC) cannot stand. He has been quoted as saying to his secretary once:

"Eminence, we have been discussing birth control for about forty-five minutes. If the information I have been given, the various statistics, if that information is accurate, then
during the period of time we have been talking, over one thousand children under the
age of five have died of malnutrition.

Sadly, before he could take any action, he died suspiciously after only 28 days as pontiff.

Another bright spot of leadership came in the 1990s when Germany reunified. German bishops set up counseling centers for women up to 12 weeks pregnant who wanted counseling on abortion. Thousands chose abortion. John Paul II had them stop this. Authority overrules the leadership that has the needs of people foremost.

The shortage of priests is increasing globally. Priests are the only ones who can celebrate Mass and consecrate the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Rather than ordain women, priests find themselves consecrating large amounts of hosts, which will be distributed to those parishes and areas that have no priest. More and more true church leaders called for ordination of women. In 1994 John Paul II issued a papal letter stating that ordination of women would result in excommunication.

The most horrendous and disturbing example of the Catholic Church displaying authority without effective leadership, is in the numerous cover-ups of abuse at the hands of priests and nuns. As of 1981 Cardinal Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) was cardinal prefect of the Holy Office until he became pope. From 2001 on, every case of alleged sexual abuse by priests was to come under his personal review. Every. One. Bishops from numerous areas around the world often repeatedly requested that abusive priests be removed, without action. Bishops in Kansas City, Milwaukee, Boston, Los Angeles, Ireland and unfortunately numerous others all knew of abuse and perpetuated it.

The Magdalen Laundries, operated by religious orders in Ireland for 74 years and with help from Irish government enslaved over 10,000 women and girls to brutal and inhumane conditions. More than 988 of them spent their lives there and are buried on the grounds. (The "Maggies" were unmarried mothers, orphans or others regarded as morally wayward.)

In these massive abusive situations, the action most often taken was denial and silence (to young victims and parents as well as investigators). The sign of a true leader is to take responsibility for actions, or inactions. The Church has expressed some contrition, yet without true disclosure of all facts or often by rationalizing their behavior. Again, authority rules.

There are many more examples of true leadership in the Church, of those who see injustice and work to correct it. Their voices are sometimes silenced, but always provide comfort. These voices come from those who embrace their authority in the Church as leaders who encourage action and change.

Leadership with authority is difficult and risky. It takes reflection before action. The Church has had decades to reflect, and has people in the pews and with the people, everyday. It is time the Conclave of Cardinals action is one that displays leadership, not authority. It is time they acknowledge the leaders they already have for the faithful.