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Sunday, January 25, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Overcast
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Fighting words

Our cover story this week, "Taking on the Bishop" by Esty Dinur, ventures into dangerous territory - religion. It's always problematic getting involved in such matters; by definition the opinions are tenaciously held and not susceptible to negotiation. This article certainly describes such a situation.

It deals with the local dispute, to use a mild term, between the bishop of the Madison diocese, who arrived like a sword of the Inquisition to this liberal area a few years back, and local Catholics who have embraced the vision of the church promulgated by the historic Vatican II conference in the early '60s that seemed to set the church on a new, more democratic course of institutional governance.

Subsequent to Vatican II, the Catholic Church began to change. Latin was dropped as the default language at Mass; some liturgy was altered to more directly involve the congregation; nuns and priests left religious service in droves to pursue more secular though not necessarily less religious ways of life. There was definitely a great reorientation that left many older members confused and younger ones less intimidated by authoritarian church hierarchy.

But authority has always been a prime component in the makeup of the institutional church, and obedience to authority one of its requisite principles. Reading Dinur's article and the contention between certain laity and the bishop reminded me of the old dictum "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Researching the origins of that quote led to the surprising discovery that it was penned by one Lord John Emerich Acton, a Catholic English nobleman writing to Bishop Mandell Creighton. The occasion was the proclamation of papal infallibility by Pope Pius IX in 1870. A prominent philosopher and religious publisher of the time, Lord Acton had something else significant to say that could be applicable to the present situation. "There is no worse heresy than the fact that the office sanctifies the holder of it."

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