Saturday, February 10, 2007

Collaborations with bad guys nothing new

The recent revelation that Polish clergy sought personal advantage by working with the Communist Party is nothing new. The church has been collaborating with oppressive regimes for centuries.

Judas was the first follower of Jesus to align himself with an evil empire. He betrayed his master for 30 pieces of silver. That triggered Jesus' arrest and crucifixion and set high the bar for treachery.

Bishops began going along to get along with Constantine in the early fourth century just as soon as the state recognized the church. The emperor called the conference that gave the church its articles of belief in the Nicene Creed.

The latest flap involves clergy working with the secret police of Poland's ruling government in the 1970s. Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus resigned in January. He admitted cooperating with communists in exchange for the chance to study in the West.

The dean of Krakow's cathedral, Janusz Bielanski, resigned next. The church estimates as many as 10 percent of its priests in Poland were informers, and clergy in the Czech Republic, Hungary and other former communist bloc countries are implicated.

Catholics by no means corner the market on political corruption. Protestant and Orthodox clergy in Eastern Europe have also lusted for the benefits of serving two masters — the church and the state it opposed.

In the high Middle Ages, the church was the corrupt government. The Pope ruled kings and monarchs and generously sold favors. In later centuries, the church has happily linked its destiny to the blighted star of worldly governments.

The cross came with the Spanish sword to the New World. The Protestant Church in Germany caved in to Nazi pressure in the 1930s and merged into the Protestant Reich Church ruled by Hitler's minions. That drove Dietrich Bonhoeffer to organize "the Confessing Church" loyal to the Gospel. The Nazis killed him for his efforts. The church in South America long opposed the liberation theology of its own clergy in the 1980s to support ruling parties.

The church — like most institutions — is drawn to power. There have always been religious leaders who fail to understand that power corrupts, that Jesus abdicated power and that Paul called weakness strength. Too many still seek power and privilege where they can find it.

They know that governments will share it for a price — the current equivalent of 30 pieces of silver.