“It is necessary to dismantle the clerical caste”
Terrence Tilley, chairman of the theology department for Fordham University in New York, says that although the pedophilia scandals in the Catholic Church are serious and have to be dealt with, they can be found in other groups as well. “The problem is that the Catholic Church protects the members of the clerical cast.” Celibacy, argues Tilley, is “one of the images reinforcing prestige, power and privilege of the clerical cast.” The academic reminds us that mandatory celibacy for priests is a thirteen century “innovation.” He adds: “I find it almost impossible to believe that living a celibate life is a necessary condition for ordination for all priests.” Since the authority of the “hierarchy is compromised,” says Tilley, the local parish is what is left.
CartaCapital: In a recent article you say, “it is high season to reporting chaos. There have always been rumors about money, sex and power in the Vatican.” And then you ask: “Is this the moment for a spark?” Is it?
Terrence Tilley: There is a lot of smoke blowing around and I am sure that there is a spark. But whether it is a big or a tiny fire I do not know.
CC: The last reform took place in the early 1960s with the Second Vatican Council. It obviously did not work. Does the Catholic Church need a reform?
TT: I think it is absolutely necessary to dismantle the clerical cast. As one of my friends puts it, the Catholic Church is not an organization worse than others. For example, the pedophilia scandals can be found in other groups as well, though that is a very serious problem that has to be dealt with by the Catholic Church. But the Catholic Church protects the members of the clerical caste – therefore, the real problem is the failure of authority to deal with abusers. The root of the problem, I believe, is the cast-class consciousness. So if there is to be a reform, what will spark it is people’s disgust. This disgust, by the way, is also growing in the privileged class of the clerics.
CC: The end of celibacy, a requirement for ordination to the priesthood, could put an end to sexual scandals?
TT: I would remind you that mandatory clerical celibacy is an innovation of the thirteen century. Before that, secular priests, in most places, could marry. Some, of course, did not. One of the images reinforcing prestige, power, and privilege of the clerical cast is celibacy. I do believe that there are people to whom God had granted the gift of leading a celibate life. However, I find it almost impossible to believe that living a celibate life is a necessary condition for ordination for all priests. That seems to me an inappropriate eligibility for ministers to serve the body of Christ.
CC: Do you believe Pope Benedict XVI abdicated because of the allegations of a gay lobby and corruption in the Church made by the Italian daily La Repubblica?
TT: My speculation regarding the Pope’s abdication is not backed by any facts. I think the Pope has accumulated too much weight on his shoulders. There is the exhaustion after his South American trip. He cannot travel outside Europe, he has to develop new means to evangelize, he has difficulties to deal with the Roman Curia [the administrative apparatus of the Holy See], which from all accounts seems to be in disarray. It may be that some of the factors are related to the scandals that are spoken of, whether they are sexual or banking scandals. There also is the fact that the Benedict XVI’s skills are not administrative, they are academic. When you add all these factors together this 85-year-old man just could not cope. So he resigned.
CC: Several people are speculating that the next Pope should be an Italian because he would know how to deal with the Roman Curia better than a foreigner.
TT: First of all, people’s successors tend to be different from their predecessors. John XXIII was seen as rather impulsive. Paul VI was Hamlet-like, indecisive. John Paul II, in contrast to the indecisive Paul VI, has a decisive personality of an almost media star. For his part, Benedict XVI does not have such a big personality. And he is an academic. So I think the next Pope will have to have administrative and strong pastoral skills. Second, I suspect that either a native Italian, or somebody who is an adopted Italian and really understands the curial culture, may be a frontrunner. So I would agree that the next Pope might be an Italian insofar as the skills that the next Pope has to have will be ones that we typically attribute to Italians familiar with the Roman Curia.
CC: The Pope has said that the report prepared by the cardinals about the sexual and corruption scandals will be seen only by him and by the next Pope. Don’t you believe that the next Pope should reveal the content in the cardinals’ report?
TT: I was rather stunned that there was no quotation from that report in La Repubblica. It was all innuendo and no sources. In the United States we have the tradition of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, which means that if you want to show that you are accurate you should publish the text or even the draft of the text. So I am a little suspicious about La Repubblica, or perhaps I shouldn’t be. On the other hand should the contents of this document be revealed? Without knowing what is in the report my prejudice it that it should be published. But whether that is a good prejudice or not, I don’t know.
CC: What is the impact of the latest allegations – or others such as the pedophile cases in the U.S. – on Catholics worldwide?
TT: I believe that the hierarchy loses its credibility to a certain degree. If the Catholic population is to remain faithful and practicing it will require very strong local churches, that is, parishes. If there is going to be any loyalty remaining it will have to be at the level of the local parish because that is what is left. The authority of the hierarchy has been compromised.
CC: In a survey by a Catholic Italian magazine the majority said that American Cardinal Roger Mahony should not be voting in the Conclave, which chooses the Pope. What is your opinion?
TT: A Cardinal is obliged to be a papal elector unless he has a good conscious reason not to do it. So the question is whether Cardinal Mahony will ask himself if his consciousness tells him he cannot participate. This is not up to public opinion.
CC: Cardinal Keith O’Brien, of the United Kingdom, has just resigned over accusations of “inappropriate behavior” toward other priests…
TT: Cardinal O’Brien was accused of “sexual improprieties” and decided to resign. Mahony has never been criminally accused. He clearly minimized the abuse scandals and clearly covered for the clerical cast as much as he could. Whether he will think that that is sufficient reason for him as an active conscious not to participate I don’t know. But this will not be settled in the press or in the public opinion.
CC: But knowing that you covered up sexual abuses is not enough from stopping you to participate in a Conclave?
TT: If I knew the facts to the case I might have an opinion. I can speculate, but judging a person based on some newspaper articles would be just mean. I do know that bishops who I trust and respect made mistakes in this whole process. I think we have to say that the level of the hierarchy ranged from not very good to truly horrible in handling the abuse crisis.