Protecting the Power Structure
Boston Globe columnist James Carroll had an interesting column yesterday about the current crisis in the Catholic Church. It could have just as well been written about the current crisis in the Church of Scientology.
In his column, entitled “Rescue Catholicism from Vatican,” Carroll makes the point that the current crisis is not about the collapse of Catholicism, but the collapse of Catholic fundamentalism, which he describes as “the raising of religious barricades against tides of change.” Where Protestant fundamentalists fall back on the authority of the Bible, Catholic fundamentalists fall back on the authority of the Pope.
“Today’s Vatican,” he continues, “presides as center of a command society with global reach, attempting to exert absolute control over all aspects of Catholic life.”
He could just as well be talking about Scientology, where “central management” seeks control not only over every Sea Org and staff member, but over the actions and thoughts of every Scientologist as well. It is no accident that Miscavige likes to style himself as the “Pope of Scientology.”
Carroll points out that within Catholicism, this type of papal dominance is a relatively modern phenomenon. Bishops used to be elected by local churches, and they had significant autonomy. With the rise of 19th century nationalism, organized around all-powerful strong men, papal authority and power was centralized and solidified. Vatican II (1962-1965) tried to democratize the Catholic Church and return local authority, but, Carroll charges, these reforms are being undone by today’s Catholic fundamentalists, led by Joseph Ratzinger, better known today as Pope Benedict XVI. Carroll concludes:
“Across three decades, Ratzinger was key to the appointment of bishops whose overriding commitment was the protection of pope-centered clerical authority. Terrified of acting on their own, they had one eye eternally on Rome. ‘Scandal’ was their nightmare. Between an abused child and a predator priest, their choice was always simple: protecting the power structure meant protecting the priest. That structure is the problem, which means the pope’s resignation is not the issue.”
This paragraph could have been written about David Miscavige’s Church of Scientology. Since his takeover of the Church, Miscavige has sought to appoint managers (like LeSevre, Starkey, Yaeger, and Jenny Linson), whose overriding commitment is the protection of Miscavige-centered authority. They are terrified of acting on their own, and have one eye always on Miscavige. When faced with “scandal” (the allegations of abuse, violence and human rights violations), their priority is simple – protect the power structure. And that means protecting Miscavige. As CMO Int executive Sue Wilhere told the St. Petersburg Times, “David Miscavige is Scientology.”
As James Carroll notes, the structure is the problem. Sure, Miscavige could resign, but unless the fundamentalist structure of the Church of Scientology is addressed, we will just end up with another authoritative manager whose only priority is protecting the central power structure at all costs – including covering up abuse and crimes.