Can the Morally Twisted Vote for Good?

Photo of Cardinal Keith O'Brien from the http://www.theatlanticwire.com website.

Photo of Cardinal Keith O’Brien from the http://www.theatlanticwire.com website.

Can the morally twisted still recognize and support that which is good?  I ask that in light of the upcoming papal election.

Now, the former Archbishop of Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, has mercifully solved that dilemma for himself.  In the last couple of weeks, as multiple allegations of sexual impropriety against him became public, he did two things. First, he moved his planned retirement forward, so he no longer has the privilege of voting in the elections. Second, he admitted to having crossed sexual boundaries and has pledged to remove himself from any position of influence for the rest of his life.

Would that more would follow his example.

According to a New York Times report, at least a dozen cardinals, careers tainted by sexual abuse charges, plan to take part in the conclave. To date, there is no suggestion that any will follow the example of O’Brien and exempt themselves.

How sad. How self-deluded.

How can those influential perpetuators of a scandal-ridden organization discern with holy wisdom the person who should take over the top leadership post?

The question has much wider application.  Can anyone who leads and perpetuates corrupt systems find adequate wisdom and self-insight to make good decisions?

The acquisition of wisdom is becoming a lost art. Wise people generally have made multiple mistakes, wandered down dead-end paths and have been bruised by life. They used those mistakes, roadblocks and bruises to learn greater humility and unending compassion, and to practice seeing with eyes that look beyond the surface to the factors that make up the system.

Few of the young are really wise. Most, however, have the potential to develop wisdom.

And most won’t.  Why?  Wisdom doesn’t pay particularly well. It often gets in the way of comfortable career paths. Because the development of wisdom usually follows failure and heartbreak, people prefer to choose safer, more assured and comfortable ways of advancement, as in “don’t rock the boat” and “make sure the higher-ups are happy.”

I suspect that many Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church have taken the easier path of career ambition rather than the more challenging one of gaining holy wisdom. That path kept them and keeps them on the side of those who have much stake in maintaining the system as it is.  Radical changes could be dangerous for them.

The culture of cover-up has enabled some simply horrific evils, with more coming to light almost daily.  There has also been much good arising from the Roman Catholic Church. From what I have seen and read, however, most of the good comes from the labor and love of those on the lower, non-decision-making levels of the church hierarchy.

Proverbs 31 speaks of the life of wisdom, using an accomplished woman as the metaphor to describe it. This wise one lives with compassionate, creative generosity, caring well both for her own household and for those outside that household.  It’s a powerful picture of a life well lived.

Now, there will be no women present in the conclave of Cardinals, those Princes of the church, who will elect the next Pope.  Does the absence of women mean wisdom will be lacking?  Of course not.  The absence of women is simply a more visible sign that only those on the inside of this corrupted and archaic system have influential voices.

When only those on the inside can speak, the likelihood of substantive change reduces dramatically.  People who are most likely to burn with compassion for those who have been hurt, damaged, and destroyed by the current system will probably not be heard.

That’s what made Jesus’ life powerful.  He wasn’t on the inside.  He had no temporal power.  He had instead moral power and a willingness to die for what was true.  I do wonder which of those powerful Cardinals are willing to lay down their lives for the least of these harmed by their actions.

(note:  this article was revised on March 5, 2013)

2 thoughts on “Can the Morally Twisted Vote for Good?

  1. Ok, I think the cardinals did a good job with their choice for Pope. If he stays true to what he has done so far with regard to getting back to being with the people just as Jesus did, then they made the right choice.
    This truly was God’s choice and not a corrupt choice of men.

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  2. hmmmm…

    “In the Scriptures, wisdom is shown most embodied in the life of a woman, written about so eloquently in Proverbs 31. But there will be no women present in this decision. Effectively this means that those who are most likely to speak with wisdom for those who have been hurt, damaged, and destroyed will not be present or have a voice.”

    I am NOT standing up for the Catholic church’s history on sexual abuse of children. I am not standing up for the cardinals who will be voting for the new Vicar of Christ. I simply raise a holy “Huh???” to the highly sexist conclusion that the wisdom passage of Proverbs trumps the wisdom passages of …ohhh…. our Lord and Savior in the Sermon on The Mount, the parables in the synoptic Gospels or even the wisdom of Paul, one who surely recognized his failings. The two verses of Ch. 31 which are on point say ‘she helps the poor and needy (v. 20) and ‘her words are sensible and her advice is thoughtful’ (v.26). The rest of the attributes comprise a great list of important but fairly material skills and admonishments to show the respect that should be due them.

    However, it sounds as if you are saying, as a result of their chromosomal makeup, the cardinals are unable to be the voices of the victims. I reject that categorically. It is not a function of their sex – it is a function of their conditioning – in the same way women can be deconditioned to have the care and ear for the victims. The wiles of this world are equal opportunity seducers/seductresses.

    Should there be women priests, monsignoras, bishops, archbishops and cardinals? That is for the Roman Catholics to decide. We, in the United Methodist tradition, have clearly come down on the side of full inclusion and have made it part of our tradition. But to presume ‘wisdom’ is a function of one’s genetic code because one possesses two X’s is both backward, sexist, and antithetical to everything the church struggled through since 1939 as to race and the 1960’s as to gender.

    NOW… if you think there should be women in the room because they bring a different viewpoint than men of the same issues (and i firmly believe we are very different) – not because of superior ‘wisdom’ but a different viewpoint… I am ALL IN with you… ;-)

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