Death of a Prophet

April 4, 2005 | 42 comments
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When Pope John Paul II was named “Man of the Year” in 1994 by Time Magazine, I cut off the cover, framed it, and put it up in our apartment. We kept it up, from one apartment to the next, for a couple of years, and even at one point had a framed photo of President Hinckley on the wall next to it as well. (No visitor ever commented on our arrangement, though I often wonder what some of them may have thought.) So yes, you could say I was a major fan of the Pope. I mourn his passing, and I was glad to hear President Hinckley’s kind comments about the man. He deserved nothing less–and indeed, probably deserved much more.

Am I saying that we owe something–something beyond simple respect, perhaps–to this pontiff, whether as a man or as a leader of the Roman Catholic faith, or even both? Yes.

I don’t say this as a major fan of Roman Catholicism. I was educated in part at Catholic University of America, spent many thoughtful hours at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception located just next door, and have a profound admiration for the culture of beauty and piety which the Catholic church has built and preserved over the centuries. I strongly suspect that at the Day of Judgment, God will receive believing Catholics and the worship and service they have performed in Jesus’s name with open arms. Still, in the end, I consider many of their doctrines of Christ to be misguided at best and idolatrous at worst; Catholic teachings often leave little room for grace, and consequently misunderstand the theological importance of justification in how we make covenants, enter into a relationship with the Savior, and thus receive God’s gifts into our life. I’m moderately more appreciative of Catholic theology as it pertains to church life and living a life of holiness, but not excessively so. There has been, in recent years, a number of educated Mormons who have turned to Catholic thought in addressing any number of philosophical and moral dilemmas, but (unless you consider continental philosophy as essentially Catholic endeavor–a strained but not impossible argument to make) I’m not one of them. Though he has been terribly abused by his intellectual heirs, I’d still rather sit and talk with Martin Luther in the afterlife than Thomas Aquinas.

Plus, I’m agnostic on Catholicism’s impact historically and socially. While I think I hear more anti-Protestant feeling amongst my fellow Mormons today than anti-Catholicism, I know the latter is still around, frequently as a result of rough encounters with Catholic opposition in the mission field in Western Europe or Latin America. (My older brother, who served a mission in Argentina, once told me he considered Catholicism “just plain evil”; my older sister, who served a mission in Paraguay, described the nuns she knew there as “witches and vultures.”) I’ve never experienced any of the kind of corruption which these and other stories attribute to Catholic environments and leaders, but I’m sure their accusations are not groundless. As far as organizations go, Catholicism probably has more to answer for than most (but then, it’s been around longer than most too).

But Catholicism is greater than the sum of its theology and its institutions; it is, most importantly, a practice, a way of making the principles of Christianity work in the world–and, as is often necessary, making them into a defense against, or an alternative to, a world that has for the better part of four centuries equated “progress” and “modernity” with the rejection of religious authority and collective concern. In this particular matter, I fear that Mormon culture today for the most part flails around with minor league stuff. Of course, 19th-century Mormonism, with the united orders and occasional gestures in the direction of outright theocracy, was about as radical a “counter-culture” as America has ever seen, but when hard social and economic realities intruded–in the form of the federal government as well as the railroad–that counter-culture was for the most part abandoned. Since then, while some prophetic voices have continued to hold out the promise of a true Mormon economic, social, and artistic alterantive to modern life, it seems to me that even those Mormons most educated in and concerned about these problems can see no other alternative than to engage in some thoughtful nostalgic mourning, and then continue on with being “in but not of” the world. Which means, as I see it, that the serious work of creating a broad and living response to a world whose wickedness we want to reject but whose basic economy and sociality we cannot avoid remains to be done.

Which is where Pope John Paul II, and the Roman Catholic church under his pontificate, come in. In a number of insightful and important encyclicals–especially Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (“On Social Concern”) and Evangelium Vitae (“The Gospel of Life”)–John Paul laid down a set of principles which forced Catholic teachings beyond the antimodern conservatism of earlier pontiffs and instead presented them as an alternative modernity, one which was arrayed against the dominant trends of modern life in every particular. The “culture of life” denounced both the right and the left; it was pro-life and pro-labor, anti-abortion and anti-acquisitiveness. More than just a “third way,” this pope’s “new evangelization” was a radical call to embrace the fundamentals of Christ’s witness–speaking love to power–in the most everyday of struggles: in linking justice with the broader culture, in renouncing war and proclaiming peace, and most of all in defending the poor, the weak, and the defenseless as the most representatively human of us all. The force of this call, over the decades, created a “Catholic moment” that brought Protestants and others flocking to the Catholic banner, sometimes just stragetically but often literally as well.

I remember seeing these energized flocks up close and personal early one cold February morning, streaming off the Washington DC Metro at the CUA stop. Old and young, of all races and nationalities, they gathered at the National Shrine and turned it into a base camp. They were there to participate later that day in the annual March for Life, the protest which clogs the streets of the capital on the anniversary of the despicable Roe v. Wade decision. I spent an hour walking through that cavernous basilica, eavesdropping on parish priests performing masses, activists and veterans counseling young volunteers, students carrying clipboards and practicing cheers, organizers running through plan after marching plan, feeling the energy and righteous joy of the participants build to a cresendo. And what I thought was: “This is like the MTC–only more.”

What I’m saying, in other words, is that when it comes to how a Christian should and must respond to this world, Pope John Paul II was a prophet, and one who put forward more thorough responses to the complexities of modern life than any Mormon leader since perhaps Brigham Young has felt inspired to give. Obviously, only a small minority of Catholics and others have responded this pope’s call with anything approaching true comprehensiveness–though I think that lopsidedness had more to do with the left’s tragic rejection of this message than with anything inherent to those who have striven to respond to it. And to be sure, more than little hypocrisy and self-indulgence have taken shelter in the skewed shadow cast by the pope’s misinterpreted teachings; many of the politicians (and that includes church leaders and intellectuals) who talk about the “culture of life” today clearly don’t share even the basics of this vision, but rather just crave the support and votes of those who do. Still, I doubt the partiality, selfishness and inconsistency of many of those who have claimed to follow this pope is much of an argument in favor of more typically Mormon pragmatic, small-scale, and mostly inwardly directed counsel. I don’t think, and don’t want, it turn out to be the case that Mormonism can be fully lived without demanding of us a bit of Mormon social and economic world-making. But I suppose that it’s just not our moment at present…which means that, to the extent that as Christians we Mormons need recourse against the world (against poverty and inhumanity and materialism and despair), the path charted by Catholics inspired by this pontiff will remain the one most used by publicly engaged Mormons. And for that, our whole church owes this great, charismatic, wise man an enormous debt.

I don’t mean to demean our own priesthood leadership in comparison to those currently gathering at the Vatican. As was pointed out during this general conference, President Hinckley is not just a prophet, but also a seer and a revelator, something Pope John Paul II never was and never could have been. So assuming we take the Book of Mormon at its word, President Hinckley is greater than John Paul. But insofar as the calling to speak truth to the world goes, and speaking so that all can hear, I don’t think our church has yet produced his equal.

But give us time.

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42 Responses to Death of a Prophet

  1. danithew on April 4, 2005 at 1:53 am

    I’m a little bit wary of how the word “prophet” is used at T&S, even if sometimes it is tongue-in-cheek.

    After all, Hugh Nibley is a prophet: http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=2000

    So is Bob Dylan: http://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=1466

    Now the Pope is a prophet too.

    Maybe (excepting Mr. Dylan) it has something to do with the nostalgia and appreciation we have for a great figure who has recently died. Should we refer to those we admire greatly as prophets, because we admire them? There should be much more to it than that.

    I don’t mean to demean the Pope. Without question he is a tremendous positive figure in human history. My understanding is that he had a pivotal influence in bringing down the totalitarian communist USSR government. That alone is a very significant and fantastic achievement. And without a doubt he had many other achievements. But I’m not sure that any of those great characteristics and actions add up to him being a prophet.

    Do even Catholics refer to the Pope as a prophet? I’m not so sure. I know they consider him to be a holy man and one who communes closely with God. But do they specifically call him a prophet?

    RAF writes: But insofar as the calling to speak truth to the world goes, and speaking so that all can hear, I don’t think our church has produced yet his equal.

    Without meaning any disrespect to the Pope or Catholicism, it would seem that a certain young lad who walked into a grove, said a prayer and had a vision of God the Father and the Son qualifies as more than equal to the recently deceased Pontiff. Joseph Smith’s voice is still being heard and as history unfolds his prophetic legacy will endlessly expand. Due to the clarity and majesty of his vision, there are few who can surpass his ability to “speak truth to the world.”

  2. Keith on April 4, 2005 at 3:55 am

    Russell,

    Without getting into a discussion of who’s been better at what and when, I wanted to voice my admiration and gratitude for John Paul II. He’s done so much on on the world stage.

    But my particular gratitude here is for his thought. I have read his Gift and Mystery (about his entering the priesthood), and his Crossing the Threshold of Hope. I am part way through his Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way (about being a bishop). I’ve also read several of his smaller treatises, including those on faith and reason, and on the relation of the RC Church and the religions of the world, etc. (His last book, Memory and Identity, is also supposed to be good.) He studied philosophy and talks about that some in Gift and Mystery. I think it shows in his clear and careful writing. Between that and his person/ethos that came out in the writing, there was also something I could take and use to see my own faith and religious life in a new light, sometimes with very little tweaking, sometimes with more.

    Along with the care and compassion he had, and along with his ability to communicate, John Paul always struck me as a person of integrity and faith.

  3. Lamonte on April 4, 2005 at 7:07 am

    Russell,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments about Pope John Paul. Your time spent at Catholic University has most likely given you a persepctive that most non-Catholics don’t have. The thing I appreciate most about Pope John Paul is what I perceive as a lack of political motivation in any of his actions or statements. Your reference to his “pro-life and pro-labor” positions seems to put him in the middle (or completely on the outside) of either the right or the left and is most often where I find my own feelings. As you state, the “‘culture of life’ denounced both the right and the left.” His courage in speaking the truth about any subject and in promoting the peaceful, merciful gospel of Jesus Christ, whether or not it was politically popular to do so, is what distinguishes him as a true man of God.

  4. Russell Arben Fox on April 4, 2005 at 7:37 am

    Daniel,

    A prophet is a truth-teller; that’s what the word means. Moreover, in common use (as the passage Greg quoted from Abraham Herschel indicated), the truths which prophets speak challenge those in power, and demand that the universal and holy be seen in the weak and mundane. They’re witnesses, in other words; testifiers. I think Greg is giving Bob Dylan (who, while often wise, has also always been exceedingly insular and self-conscious) too much credit, but I think it is quite clear that many poets have achieved this status, as have numerous preachers and authors. Aren’t we all called to be prophets, witnesses of the truth in our own home and communities? I think the title fits JPII perfectly.

    Of course, you’re correct that Catholics don’t identify the pope as “a prophet”; that’s not a term they use regularly, though many of them speak of “prophetic power” or “prophetic witnessing.” And admittedly, using the term as I’ve described above in a church which attaches “Prophet” to a single individual as a label is a little disconcerting. But I think that’s a good thing. As I said in my post, President Hinckley is also a “seer” and a “revelator,” somthing which neither JPII nor Hugh Nibley (and especially not Bob Dylan) ever was. So our leader is more than just a truth-teller; he’s also a high priest.

    As for the comparison to Joseph Smith, you’re probably correct. As I noted, I was thinking about post-Brigham Young prophets. Still, I think it doesn’t hurt anyone to acknowledge that Smith did not personally engage the world (because he simply wasn’t in a position to) in the comprehensive way some of those who have followed him have attempted to do, and which JPII so successfully did.

  5. Steve Evans on April 4, 2005 at 8:49 am

    Russell, very thoughtful. That said, I find it interesting that your interest in Catholicism straddles both pre- and post- Vatican II systems. I must admit that the old Catholicism holds appeal for me that the new one does not, partially because I find it hard to justify the changed liturgy, etc., partially because I like the High Church ceremony and the feeling of Mystery (that tells you what parts of our Church I like best as well).

    Do you think that a truth-teller prophet can exist in a changing church?

  6. Jim F. on April 4, 2005 at 9:45 am

    Just a note from someone more interested in talking about religion with contemporary Catholic philosophers (who generally owe more to Augustine than to Aquinas) than with Luther and his intellectual descendants: you are right, of course, that grace is sometimes insufficiently recognized in Catholic thinking, but Protestant thinkers have little or no sense for ordinance or authority, both of which, I think, are crucial to understanding our experience of religion.

  7. danithew on April 4, 2005 at 9:50 am

    RAF, maybe my post above was too snappy. I can see what you mean by the Pope having the immediate attention of the world. I have to admit too that I haven’t read any of the works by the Pope and I’m impressed that you’ve paid attention to what he has written. All in all, I really do admire this Pope and I’m grateful for the positive influence he had on the world.

  8. Seth Rogers on April 4, 2005 at 9:50 am

    I think that the LDS faith has not produced world leadership on the magnitude of the late Pope simply because we are not yet a full world religion (recent trends to the contrary).

    The outside world is thus far, content to let us sit on the political sidelines. The world at large expects world leadership from the Pope to a degree they just don’t expect of the Mormon prophet. I think our General Authorities are more or less content with this arrangement. Annonymity often equals freedom of action and church leadership has certainly capitalized on this.

    Once Mormonism is unquestionably recognized as a major world religion, this permissive annonymity will end. Reporters will no longer settle for evasive generalities, the citizenry will not be satisfied with “no comment.” They will demand not just moral, but political leadership from our prophet. He will be expected to contribute more actively to the world dialogue.

    This is a reality that the Catholic church has always had to live with. Eventually, our religion will have to live with it too.

  9. Russell Arben Fox on April 4, 2005 at 10:27 am

    Steve,

    “I find it interesting that your interest in Catholicism straddles both pre- and post- Vatican II systems. I must admit that the old Catholicism holds appeal for me that the new one does not, partially because I find it hard to justify the changed liturgy, etc., partially because I like the High Church ceremony and the feeling of Mystery (that tells you what parts of our Church I like best as well).”

    To the degree that I’ve studied and thought about Catholic ecclesiology, I think those who believe Vatican II went too far have some strong points. However, overall I think the post-Vatican II church is the superior one; too much of that old High Church mystery was more leftover medieval privilege than anything essential to the order of the church itself. If the Mass today seems weak or unfocused (as many Catholics I’ve known complain), then I think that’s a reflection of what that act of worship actually consists of more than of the negative consequences of various changes. But then, that judgment probably also just reflects what part of our church that I like best.

    “Do you think that a truth-teller prophet can exist in a changing church?”

    Interesting question! Not in the same way, clearly. Of course, prophets throughout the Old Testament innovated, but those innovations were mostly circumstantial; in terms of doctrine, it was supposedly the case the the prophetic role was one of standing fast against the tide of the world, pointing resolutely towards the mountaintop (whether in the past or the distant future) where God has made/will make His eternal will known. If we believe that God can actually tell us “No, not this mountain any longer; instead, that mountain over there,” then clearly the role of the prophet is changes. Maybe that’s why restored scriptures suggest that revelation and seership is even more important than testifying, as important as that may be? We sing and speak mostly about “prophets,” and our leadership’s rhetoric mostly embraces that position, but maybe that emphasis makes it difficult to see where Mormonism’s real contributions to the world and to Christianity lie.

  10. Steve Evans on April 4, 2005 at 10:35 am

    Truth-tellers straddle the roles of the Voice of Conservatism and the Voice of Change. Neither voice is very popular, I’m afraid, but it would seem to me that conservatism relates best to liturgies/doctrinal matters, while change relates best to social phenomena and inclusion. Pres. Hinckley, like JPII, is very talented at both.

  11. Russell Arben Fox on April 4, 2005 at 10:43 am

    Jim,

    “Protestant thinkers have little or no sense for ordinance or authority, both of which, I think, are crucial to understanding our experience of religion.”

    I would dissent from that judgment, at least slightly, Jim; the better Protestant thinkers strive to balance the cultural and willful foundation for receiving God’s grace into the person with the necessary role which an authoritative structure for receiving such has to play. Of course, all this means is that I prefer those Protestants who hold to the mystical “catholicity” of the Reformation. And by the same token, you can point to Catholic thinkers who are far more sensitive to the Augustinian/nominalist (and, hence, Protestant) emphasis on grace in their theology than those influenced by Thomism. So there’s a wide spectrum on either side.

    In the case of JPII’s philosophy in particular, he was schooled in hermeneutics, and made use of Gadamer and other continental thinkers in developing much of his theology. But one can see, particularly in his emphasis on the worship of Mary and his rapid canonization of saints right and left, a fundamental commitment to finding God’s love through a complex divine superstructure of things, rather than through (or at least beginning with) Augustinian interiority. The better Catholic thinkers, like Charles Taylor for example, are a lot more Pauline/Protestant than that which, from what I can tell, is mostly taught in Catholic schools of theology today, at least in the U.S.

  12. seven bohanan on April 4, 2005 at 10:46 am

    Which of the Lord’s true prophets has ever had the “immediate attention of the world” or anything close to the popularity of this Pope? None. The Lord himself did not have it while living. I don’t think the LDS church will ever produce world leadership on the magnitude of the Vatican. God’s prophets don’t lead the world; they serve it, warn it, and stand apart from it.

  13. Russell Arben Fox on April 4, 2005 at 10:48 am

    Seth,

    “The world at large expects world leadership from the Pope to a degree they just don’t expect of the Mormon prophet. I think our General Authorities are more or less content with this arrangement….Once Mormonism is unquestionably recognized as a major world religion, this permissive anonymity will end. Reporters will no longer settle for evasive generalities, the citizenry will not be satisfied with ‘no comment.’ They will demand not just moral, but political leadership from our prophet. He will be expected to contribute more actively to the world dialogue. This is a reality that the Catholic church has always had to live with. Eventually, our religion will have to live with it too.”

    I think there may be elements of this comment I disagree with, but in general, I think you’re right. The particularly kind of truth-telling which JPII was capable of, and successfully (I think) achieved, is partly a function of the stage on which he stood. No church leader (since, again, arguably Brigham Young) has stood on such an analogous stage. But I think it’ll eventually be the case that one will; and I assume our understanding of what it means for a prophet to do will be adequate to that challenge when God gives it to us.

  14. Eric James Stone on April 4, 2005 at 10:52 am

    > A prophet is a truth-teller; that’s what the word means.

    Is this some bit of etymology with which I am unfamiliar? I thought the word meant “one who predicts the future,” which is in line with Dictionary.com’s etymology: from the Greek pro-, meaning “before.” and phetes meaning “speaker” — presumably meaning one who speaks of something before it happens.

    While the word has taken on other meanings based on association with the power to predict the future (i.e., one who can see the future is inspired by God, so the word came to include those who speak by inspiration from God, even if they are not predicting the future), I think it’s a stretch to say that “truth-teller” is “what the word means.” It might be one of the meanings, but certainly not the most common meaning, particularly among Mormons.

  15. Russell Arben Fox on April 4, 2005 at 11:03 am

    Eric,

    My underanding is that the primary definition of a prophet–that is, a “before-speaker”–is not that of someone who speaks “before” something happens, but someone who speaks “before” (on behalf of, on the part of, having been sent by) someone else, presumably God. In other words, prophets were and are God’s spokesmen, interpreters of His will, people who go before the people with a call to truth that they do not know or have forgotten. The idea of “prophecy”–telling the future–is I think only a secondary and subsequent definition. But someone who knows Greek and/or Hebrew better than I can correct me, if necessary.

  16. danithew on April 4, 2005 at 11:16 am

    Here are two scriptural verses that I think are useful for defining the role of a prophet as God’s mouthpiece:

    Deuteronomy 18:18
    I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.

    Doctrine and Covenants 1:38
    What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

  17. Eric James Stone on April 4, 2005 at 11:30 am

    Russell,

    You may be right about the etymology. But you still have to go through a couple of steps of explanation before getting to “truth-teller,” so I don’t think it’s quite so obvious as to deserve your assertion: “A prophet is a truth-teller; that’s what the word means.”

  18. Jeremiah J. on April 4, 2005 at 12:01 pm

    Russell: Your kind and informed comments about a great man are very appropriate right now. I agree with the assessment of many that JP II was one of the great forces for good in the world in the 20th century. His role in the fall of communism and in fostering peace and reconciliation is hard to underestimate. But it seems his role was not primarily “[forcing] Catholic teachings beyond the antimodern conservatism of earlier pontiffs”. Indeed Vatican II and before that the teachings of John XXIII had already embraced democracy, human rights, and religious freedom. Here JP II’s most important role was the prudent, moderate work of consolidation of Vatican II. He gave that council legitimacy, and a wise voice, and ensured that it would not be reversed. And yet this work of consolidation was also conservative, in more ways than one–hierarchical structures in the church were probably hardened and narrowed during JP II’s administration.
    This is the side of JP II that those outside the church rarely take notice of. I’m not saying it’s ‘the bad side’. But it is the side which has more uncertain implications going forward. It’s not clear (and for some Catholics emphatically not the case) that JP II positively changed those institutional structures which allowed the recent spiritual nightmare of the American church (the abuse scandal) to happen.

    In addition to On Social Concern and The Gospel of Life, Laborem Exercens, “On Human Work”, I think, also has to be placed among the classics of John Paul II’s social thought, as one of his enduring contributions.

    Setting aside somewhat the full Biblical and traditional senses, the most emphatically Mormon meaning of the spirit of prophecy, both from the BoM and the Teachings of Joseph Smith, seems to be that ‘the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ (Rev. 19:10).

  19. pd mallamo on April 4, 2005 at 1:03 pm

    So much for that “Great and Abominable Church” of yesteryear. I guess we’ve grown up. Only one brief mention of the so-called “scandal” (comment 18) – but many Catholics will tell you that what occurred on JPII’s watch was just this side of holocaust, on the very edge of beyond belief. (See the Jimmy Breslin interview in 09/11/05 Salon.) Here’s the elephant, folks: tens of thousands of damaged children all over the world.

    Tell me, am I unfair here?

  20. Russell Arben Fox on April 4, 2005 at 1:40 pm

    PD,

    “Here’s the elephant, folks: tens of thousands of damaged children all over the world. Tell me, am I unfair here?”

    Not at all. As I mentioned in my post, I don’t care to defend the institution or its rules. Can I separate JPII from all that? No–he did not react to the sexual abuse scandals with the kind of horror and swiftness that his American flock demanded, and that was mostly a result of the fact that he apparently saw those scandals as a piece with the general breakdown of restraint and sexual morality in the world, and thus was primarily motivated by a desire to limit the reach and hysteria over that breakdown from damaging Catholic vocations any further. The possibility that this particular breakdown was a consequence of Catholic vocations in particular–the vows of celibacy, and insularity and secretiveness of priesthood orders, etc.–was simply not something that he considered. A failure? Well, yes, if you think Catholic vocations are anything other than absolute. But if you consider them a necessary instrument of God’s will, then of course you’ll look for culprits elsewhere. Do I think anyone ought to give him a pass on that point? No. But neither do I think he can be made a simple accomplice to the tragedy; the institutional structures which allowed it to occur were components of his overall alternative vision of the world, and he couldn’t stop and take apart the basic elements of his religious challenge without undermining the whole thing. (Of course, from the perspective of those unimpressed with his challenge, his concern for the institution and the vocations appeared morally blind and power hungry. I disagree with that assessment, but it’s a valid one nonetheless.)

  21. Kaimi on April 4, 2005 at 2:03 pm

    To follow up on Russell’s point, I think that we as Mormons become upset when people sum up Joseph Smith’s legacy as “a bunch of unhappy polygamous wives.” Or for that matter, when they point to current FLDS polygamy as being a product of Joseph Smith’s work.

    And yet it is inescapably a product of Smith’s legacy. Take away Joseph Smith, and you have no FLDS, it’s as simple as that.

    Similarly, we would probably be upset if Gordon B. Hinckley were held personally responsible for every bishop or stake president or scoutmaster or random ward member who abused another — and there are many of these.

    If abuse by bishops is not an elephant for GBH, if the FLDS is not an elephant for Joseph Smith, then should the current Catholic scandal be considered an elephant for any particular Catholic leader? It is what it is — not a pretty thing, but not an elephant, either.

  22. Mark B. on April 4, 2005 at 2:33 pm

    Kaimi: and there are many of these

    What do you mean many and how do you know? Is there any reliable data out there or is this just an uninformed guess?

  23. seven bohanan on April 4, 2005 at 4:05 pm

    I think Kaimi is speculating, but he may not be too far off the mark. I was deposing a witness the other day in the swank offices of a plaintiff’s law firm. You may know the type–marble and granite and statues, and blondes … On the wall of fame dedicated to large jury verdicts for the principal partner of the firm was a lengthy article about the church getting popped millions of dollars for a primary teacher’s abuse of several children. Although I had heard of the case, it was sad to read. No, the elephant in the Catholic Church’s room certainly is not the misdeeds of its adherents and/or leaders.

  24. LRC on April 4, 2005 at 4:16 pm

    Mark B. –

    Just one is Too Many. There are more than one abusees in my ward. There have been more than 20 abusers in stakes in which I have lived. How many do you think is “many”?

  25. Seth Rogers on April 4, 2005 at 5:20 pm

    I read an interesting article about a month ago. It talked about how Catholic and Mormon scholars and leaders throughout the 19th century, tended to villify each other.

    The author pointed out that both religions were regarded with suspicion in mainstream 19th century America. The author suggested that both religions sought to cury favor with the American mainstream by attacking the other.

    “Well, at least we’re not like those wierd Catholics.”

    “But thank goodness we’re not as strange as those Mormons.”

    Each sought to gain acceptance by distancing themselves from the other underdog.

    Thank goodness that chapter in history has, more or less, passed.

  26. danithew on April 4, 2005 at 6:33 pm

    It appears there was a herd of elephants in the Boston Archdiocese. One has only to look at the numerous articles in the archives at the site created by the Boston Globe:

    http://www.boston.com/globe/spotlight/abuse/

    The LDS Church has had its share of people in ecclesiastical positions who committed abuse or mishandled cases of abuse. What happened in the Catholic Church in just recent years was a real wake-up call to everyone.

  27. pd mallamo on April 4, 2005 at 7:35 pm

    My point in making the comment was certainly not, as a Mormon, to bash Catholics (although, admit it, our historical enmity is pretty interesting), but rather to comment on the online assessments of John Paul’s legacy. The late columnist Michael Kelly, a Catholic, called what was happenning, and what had been happening in the Catholic Church long before John Paul’s reign, “the systematic corruption of an institution.” (Washington Post 03/25/02) His dire evalution included not only the sexual abuse perpetrated by priests, but the coverups and enabling that inevitably followed – inevitable, in my opinion, because the church is administered by a unaccountable patriarchal hierarchy.

    The scale and duration of these crimes is fantastic. We’re not talking a “blip here and a blip there.” As I read Kelly, the practice of pedophilia was literally a viable structure within the church, so widespread and accepted had it become. How could JPII not have had an inkling – or does the Ken Lay defense not fly for a pontiff?

    We can’t, we must not ever, rationalize or minimize child rape by the minions of Christ, whatever mansion of Christianity they may inhabit. And we’d all be much better off if, like Breslin and Kelly, we call it what it is, no matter what we call ourselves.

  28. Salem on April 4, 2005 at 8:23 pm

    “If abuse by bishops is not an elephant for GBH, if the FLDS is not an elephant for Joseph Smith”

    Please see “Gordon B. Hinckley, ‘Personal Worthiness to Exercise the Priesthood,’ Ensign, May 2002, 52″

    This most certainly is an elephant for Pres. Hinckley. He has been blunt about abuse many times. I understand JPII or course did not condone these actions, but with such worldwide leadership, it seems he could have done more. I also do not mean to cut down a man who has done so much good, however, I believe the leaders of the LDS church have done and would do more to help rectify the situation the Catholic church faced.

  29. SF Taylor on April 4, 2005 at 8:40 pm

    Comment 19, is right on. JPII may have his good qualities, but he gets an “F” (a big fat one!) for running from his duty toward the child rape scandals. Remember this?

    Matthew 18:6
    6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and [that] he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

    The pope had the responsibility to excommunicate all involved in this most repulsive sin. Instead, he looked the other way. Sorry, he may have his good qualities, but to me, this overshadows them.

    And….he still needs to be baptized.

  30. pd mallamo on April 4, 2005 at 9:28 pm

    Unfortunately, Salem, I saw the same dynamic at work in our church some years back. Stake leadership slapped the hand of a branch president who had been accused of abuse (he was disfellowshipped) and did not excommunicate him (despite encouragement from at least half the branch who knew the facts) until other children he’d abused came forward and he was sent to prison. Meanwhile, the family of the abused child fell away and stays away.

    Much of this is, of course, organizational behavior 101. Corporations are famous for protecting executives and punishing the aggreived and the whistle blower. It’s just too damn much when it’s a church, and even more unendurable when the injured are children.

    I agree with SF Taylor that abuse in the church overshadowed the Pope’s accomplishments, and I think that’s really a tragedy. As Russell Fox said in his essay, John Paul was willing and able to engage the world on a very large scale -something our church has not yet been able to do. The world could have used his unalloyed blessing.

  31. Steve L on April 5, 2005 at 1:58 am

    I’d just like to voice my outrage in a friendly and safe (?) forum. I am so disgusted with the media right now. They can only discuss the pope’s death in political and cultural terms. EVERY story I have read or viewed has spent substantial time on the “controversies” of his reign: abortion, birth control, women in the priesthood, etc. These things are only controversies because the media makes them so. An insignificant and selfish minority of Catholics disagrees with church doctrine and the pope is encouraging controversy because he preserves traditional church teaching? May God only give us such popes: men of integrity and charity who are uninterested in the opinions of Mr.s Worldly Wisemen. I have nothing but the highest respect for the pope–he almost convinces me to be a Catholic. ha.

    danithew: I think the use of the word “prophet” in such places as make you uncomfortable is much more free than the scriptural idea of prophet (obviously). This is sloppy when it comes to building an objective religious vocabulary, but is not untrue to the common usage of the word prophet in English. Why should the scriptures keep us from speaking our own language? Besides: “would God that all the LORD’s people were prophets!”

  32. Alan Phipps on April 5, 2005 at 2:03 am

    SF Taylor said:

    “The pope had the responsibility to excommunicate all involved in this most repulsive sin.”

    Just two points of clarification from a Roman Catholic;

    From the Catholic point of view, one can be excommunicated because of certain grave sin – but excommunication is not a general penalty for sin. If that were the case, the Church would be empty, because the Church is here to bring the Gospel, grace, and reconciliation to sinners and call them to repentance. The Church should remove abusers from active ministry, but the Church’s proper response to abusers is to call them to repentance — not excommunicate them, unless they are obstinate. They may incur other penalties (which include removal from active ministry), not including any civil penalties imposed by civil courts.

    The second point is a clarification on Catholic ecclesiology. The Pope is the shepherd of the universal church, which entails a certain jurisdictional authority, but this does not annul the authority of the local diocesan bishop. In point of fact, the individual diocesan bishops are not “branch managers” of Rome. Rather, they each possess an authority that is their own by virtue of their unity with Rome as they oversee the affairs in their region or diocese. This means that the bishops are the primary persons responsible for dealing with sexual abuse in their diocese – not the pope. Whether *they* handle it correctly, well, I’ll stop here! The pope did react by calling all the american cardinals to Rome to assess and advise them, which was prudent.

    (I’m a Catholic who loves to read “Times and Seasons” occasionally :) Keep up the conversations!)

  33. Russell Arben Fox on April 5, 2005 at 6:52 am

    Alan is correct. (Thanks for reading–I’m always happy to see Catholics stop by!) The sexual abuse scandal in the U.S. was, in terms of both ecclesiology and doctrine, the responsibility of U.S. bishops to resolve. Could the pope have done more force a certain kind of “resolution”? Probably. He could have, for example, sacked Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston when it had become apparent how implicated he was in covering up for abusive priests, rather than awaiting his resignation and then providing him with a job in Rome. Indeed, he could have sacked several bishops, as well as called them all to the Vatican for a dressing down immediately, rather than allowing months to go by before finally calling a conclave and then primarily just telling them to get their act together and stop errant priests from giving the vocations a bad name. Still, the pope himself could not have taken direct action in the U.S. to remove and discipline priests or dioceses; that simply wasn’t possible for him, organizationally speaking. Also, another mitigating factor–by 2002, Pope JPII has already in very bad physical shape and wasn’t calling all the shots in the Vatican. (We Mormons, knowing what we know about the final years of President Benson, President Kimball, President McKay, and more, should be able to relate.)

    Again, as I said in #20, the pope’s ultimate reaction to the scandal, if only rhetorically, was weak from the American point of view primarily because “cleansing the church” in his mind apparently did not, and probably could not, have meant significantly interfering with the whole vocational structure of the priesthood, since it was exactly that priesthood which embodied his challenge to the sexualized, materialistic, individualistic worldy culture he detested and condemned. So in the end, you can condemn the pope for believing what he did about what speaking prophetically to our corrupt world entailed (i.e., the protection of priests and their vocational orders), but you can’t condemn him for being “hypocritical” regarding his message of life, since the church (his church) was central to that message of life.

  34. Mark B. on April 5, 2005 at 8:32 am

    I expected a response like LRC’s–my question about Kaimi’s use of “many” gets twisted into a suggestion that I think there is some acceptable level of child sexual abuse in the church, or anywhere else.

    Of course, one instance of child abuse is one too many. But, “many” could be understood to suggest that the problem is endemic, that there are even odds that your bishop or scoutmaster is a child abuser, and I don’t suspect that the data support that conclusion.

  35. danithew on April 5, 2005 at 8:37 am

    Alan Phipps, thanks for dropping by and contributing. Its always nice when those who are from other churches, religions or denominations drop by and provide us with insider insight into a particular question or issue. I hope we’ll see you again.

    RAF, nice comment (#33). I was writing something, went back and read what you wrote, and stopped myself in my tracks. I think you summed up the matter pretty well.

  36. Dustin on April 5, 2005 at 9:14 am

    OK, I’ll bite…

    > “…and one who put forward more thorough responses to the complexities of modern life than any Mormon leader since perhaps Brigham Young has felt inspired to give.”

    I really don’t think you give President Hinckley enough credit. How many media interview requests has he turned down. His whole life he’s been using the media to spread the gospel message. I’ve never seen anyone handle such direct questions with such ease. Really, you don’t think President Hinckley has had an equalled effect on this world? I would say his work has surpassed the Pope’s in furthering the Lord’s work in all aspects.

    > “But insofar as the calling to speak truth to the world goes, and speaking so that all can hear, I don’t think our church has yet produced his equal.”

    How many countries and languages do the words of General Conference span? It might be easier to name the languages and locations to which they don’t.

    How much more would President Hinckley need to do in your mind in order to be equal to the Pope in speaking truth to world – so that all can hear?

  37. Bryan Robert on April 5, 2005 at 12:33 pm

    This is a very interesting thread. On the one hand we are glorifing the Pope for his good works, on the other condeming him for the actions of his church. Can we do both? I believe we can.

    Growing up in a mostly Catholic enviroment, with most of my family being Catholic, and having been to the Catholic Church many many times, I have to respect the Pope. With the exception of my grandfather, every catholic that I have ever known takes their religion extremely lightly. In fact the only time you will see passion for it is when there is a debate about religion going on, or you attack or question their religion. The Catholics are unfortunatly plagued with apathy for their religion,for its rules, and its regulations. Most go to Church, just because that is what they are suppossed to do, and have no intention to actually follow their doctrine. Probably because their is no reprocussions if they have premarital sex, or any other sin.

    Having said that, I respect the Pope for not giving into that apathy, and trying to keep the Church consertave. Trying to use the power that he has to do good for the world on a massive scale. Im sure he pondered many nites how he can help the millions of Catholics around the world, be better people, and keep the commandments of God. I have no doubt that in his heart he was a very good man.

    When looking at the abuse of children from Priests….well I think its time to take a reality check here. I seriously doubt that any person of sound mind in this world, that can think with a bit of logic thinks that this is something new in the Catholic Church. The nature of Priests, the nature of their lifestyle, the fact that they cannot marry, the position that they are in, has led to this type of behavior. It is only because of the decreased power of the Catholic Church, laws that are now in place, modern technology, and media, that it has been exposed. This has undoubtably been going on for well over a thousand years. To say that the Pope, the person that has acended to the highest level of the Church did not know full well what was happening from the begginning is laughable AT BEST, and simply ignorant at worst.

    This is simply a dirty little secret that is part of the Catholic church. In the Popes defence, he was playing with the cards he was dealt. How can you stop something that has always been? He may have personally been against it, but because it is so rampant and wide spread,he was powerless to stop it. We undoubtably know of the tip of the iceberg. We cannot condem the Pope, only the corrupt system that has been in place for over a thousand years.

    The comment that their has been a few abuse reports from Mormon leaders. Im sorry but that is a very bad comparison. Their are people that will sexually abuse children in any profession. They might be firemen,lawyers,doctors,construction workers,teachers etc…If 1 of these people who is an abuser became a scout master, or some sunday school teacher, and did that, it means nothing. It would have hapened anyway. There is no pattern of abuse. If most all firemen ended up being abusers, then we would logically know that something about being a fireman makes you want to abuse children. Well, with Catholic Priests their is a pattern of abuse. The nature of being a priest, the lifestyle they lead, the fact that until now nothing was ever done about it (and still not really) has led them to this.

    Im not trying to offed any Catholics that might be reading this, but it is just the facts. All the serious research that has been done into the abuse cases point to the same conclusions. Really a bit of logic would tell you that though. On a different note, we are in the last days. I do not think it was at all a coincedence that this was exposed now. That in the end the Church is being exposed for what is…an apostate Church. Beautiful on the outside, doing many great things for people, but corrupt and rotten at its core. Throught history, the Catholic Church has been responsibe for the murder of tens of millions of people, with no reprocussions whatsoever.This is not speculation it is documented facts. Is anyone suprised that they are abusing some kids?

  38. Alan Phipps on April 5, 2005 at 7:08 pm

    I’m going to poke in again! ;)

    Bryan Robert said:

    “every catholic that I have ever known takes their religion extremely lightly.”

    Well, now you know me, and so now you know someone who takes their faith very, very seriously.

    “The Catholics are unfortunatly plagued with apathy for their religion.”

    I would strongly suggest you not generalize. I knew more than a few LDS teens who unfortunately became pregnant or found drugs in college, but I have also known many committed ones.

    “The nature of Priests, the nature of their lifestyle, the fact that they cannot marry, the position that they are in, has led to this type of behavior.”

    No study has ever shown that marriage has anything to do with sexual abuse. Fact is, most sexual abuse occurs within homes, within families. What we need are holy priests who are willing to be true to their vocations; For myself, I have known many.

    “That in the end the Church is being exposed for what is…an apostate Church. Beautiful on the outside, doing many great things for people, but corrupt and rotten at its core.”

    Well, of course, I disagree, but then I want to respect this blog and avoid getting into this endless debate here. But suffice it to say – if the implication here is that the true church is one in which you will not find any – or little – sin, well, I simply cannot agree with that assertion. From the point of view of Catholics, the Church is a hospital for sinners. Christ gives us grace and offers us reconciliation, even when we stray in our Christian lives, and we do. For some, sanctification is easy. For others, it ain’t. But in spite of the sinfulness of her members, the Church belongs to Jesus Christ and so will continue to preach, teach, and evangelize. It’s a wonder that such a corrupt institution is still here, still strong, and still evangelizes! ;)

  39. Alan Phipps on April 5, 2005 at 7:10 pm

    Thank you to all who have welcomed me. I respect your intelligent discussions as well as your very even-handed comments concerning those of us who aren’t LDS. I really don’t want to step on anybody’s toes, but merely to offer insights when/if I am able.

    God Bless.

  40. Dustin on April 5, 2005 at 9:02 pm

    I enjoy your comments Alan. I am often guilty of the holier-than-thou attitude that is prevalent is some areas of our church. I don’t want to make generalities either, but I am often reminded by others actions that although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true and perfect church, the members certainly are not! I’ve heard President Hinckely say on many occasions that there is no room for arrogance in this church. But I’ve seen this arrogance. I no I had this attitude, especially at a younger age.

    I feel too often we forget we are all brothers and sisters. We here to help and love each other. James E. Faust said the most important teaching of the Savior was “Come Follow Me.” Certainly there was no arrogance or lack of love in the Savior.

    I think we may all do well to read over Thomas S. Monson’s talk in the Priesthood session concerning the evils of criticism of others. So Alan, please share your comments! I’m sure your thoughts are more welcome here than many of mine! :twisted:

  41. Bryan Robert on April 6, 2005 at 10:42 am

    Alan,
    I re-read my post and I think it came across pretty harsh. I am probably the least perfect person writing on this forum, but im trying. :] I also do not doubt that there are many Catholics that take their religion very seriously. My grandfather just happens to be the only 1 that I have met. All of my frineds growing up were eaither Catholic or baptist. The baptist, while I disagree with their teachings far more than the Catholics, seemed as a whole to take their religion far far more seriously. Now I dont mean this to be a generalization, just my experience.

    True no studies have shown that marrage is the cure of sexual abuse. Their is however a pattern of abuse from Catholic priests. There has to be a reason, logic says so.Not being able to get married, not being accountable for their actions, I am just speculating. There is a reason though, that much is obvious.

    I also never said that the members of our church were perfect. When I said that the Catholic Church was rotten and corrupt. I in know way meant the congregation. Of course their will be sin among all members of any faith. I meant the structure, the leadership. When the case of a person (not even someone actually working for the Church) was found to abuse childern, that person is now sitting in jail. He was not given a new job working at the temple as the Catholic priests were. There is a core of corruption in the Catholic church. It is not speculation, thousands of Children that we know about have testified to it. Im sorry but it is true.

    Yes the Catholic Church is still around, and has many members. Being somewhat of a history buff, I will not delve into the reasons that the Catholic church has so many members, or what means they got them. I think anyone that does a bit of their own reasearch can figure that out. I also agree that the Catholic Church does many great things to help the poor and needy. Probably more than any institution in the world. They have my complete respect and admiration for that.

    We are all Gods children, and I believe as does our Church, that a rightious Catholic, will make it into heaven, just as fast as a rightious Mormon,Muslin,Baptist, etc etc etc. My comments were directed at the institution, not its members. If any of these comments have offended you or anyone else, im sorry. They are all my opinions, and do not reflect in any way our Church as a whole. Sometimes its hard to express what you want to say tactfully, on a message board, esp. on subjects that really need hours of discussion, in a relaxed personal private enviroment.

  42. Brita Graham on April 9, 2005 at 12:19 am

    Alan,
    Welcome welcome!
    Feeling a bit outnumbered by you boys tonight but feeling equal to the task. Have had many staunch and not-so-staunch Catholic friends. Upstairs neighbor is Catholic and we had an enjoyable talk about her love for the PJPII last night, and I saw many similarities between that and my love for Pres H. I have immense respect for Catholics. My fist husband was raised Catholic, and on our wedding day, outside the temple, his grandma said, “You’ll always be a catholic boy!” Turns out she was right, but that’s neither here nor there.

    Russell,
    Have found your observations most intriguing. Thanks for starting the dialogue.

    As to abuse within the church, I have had dealings with many victims of child sexual abuse (and domestic abuse) within our own church. (again the ubiquoitous “many”). To come up with actual statistics would be difficult, because it is often hushed up, unfortunately. Have we just been covering up the problem better than Catholics? Who knows. The causes of sexual deviance are so many and varied, usually having to do with the perpertrators own experiences in youth more than anything else, that to blame celibacy is inadequate, at best. The issue within our church, or the Catholic, as within any church with patriarchal authority, is having a reliable system of checks and balances in place to ensure that the victimized have a chance to be heard, and not hushed. Of course, this is a problem in our society as a whole, a world in which women (and children) still have to prove their own innocence in matters of sexual aggression. If we are to point fingers at the Catholic church, we must – most adamantly – be honest about the difficulties we ourselves face, and the difficulties Americans face in truly protecting the defenseless.