Monday, November 21, 2005

Frosted mini-popes

Cardinal Christophe Schoenborn has evidently become some kind of "intelligent design" cause celebre. A new Reuters story following up on the Vienna cardinal's New York Times op-ed piece defending ID begins this way: "When Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn waded into a heated debate over evolution in the United States, his goal was not to persuade American schools to teach that God created the world in six days."

And there's the problem: Why is the archbishop of Vienna (Austria!!) "wading into" a debate occurring in Kansas for pete's sake? Why isn't anyone asking the bishops of Kansas what they think instead? With all the mess in Austria--a major sex scandal at a seminary (think dirty pictures of seminarians and child porn on seminary computers), diocesan finances in ruins--how does the cardinal have time to stick his nose in other peoples' business.

The attitude lying behind his intervention is the idea that because the church is "universal" and because Schoenborn is a cardinal, he exists in some ecclesial superstructure that makes him competent to intervene elsewhere. But the theological fact of the matter is this: Schoenborn is head of the church of Vienna, nothing more; his service to the Holy See as a member of the College of Cardinals is something else altogether, but it certainly doesn't make him a mini-pope who can tell other local churches what to do. One pope is enough, thanks very much.

The church may be "universal," but it's also local, and as subsidiarity--an oft-forgotten principal of Catholic social teaching--reminds us, issues should be handled at the local level whenever possible, where decision-makers know the situation and can respond appropriately. (Not that I'm confident the bishops of Kansas will come up with anything "intelligent.")

Or, to be blunt: Butt out, Bornie!

Now I have to go ice my "intelligently designed" right ankle, which was not made to roll sideways. Why didn't God have tennis in mind when putting human joints together?


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