Monday, March 29, 2010

Here Comes Everybody ... Speaking Out on the Pope

In the midst of the recent media attention the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI have received on the painful issue of clergy sexual abuse, voices from across the colorful spectrum that is the U.S. Church have come to Pope Benedict's defense and restated the commitment of the Church to combating sex abuse. As he usually does, Archbishop Tim Dolan of New York summed it up incredibly well at Palm Sunday Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral:

May I ask your patience a couple of minutes longer in what has already been a lengthy — yet hopefully uplifting —Sunday Mass?

The somberness of Holy Week is intensified for Catholics this year.

The recent tidal wave of headlines about abuse of minors by some few priests, this time in Ireland, Germany, and a re-run of an old story from Wisconsin, has knocked us to our knees once again.

Anytime this horror, vicious sin, and nauseating crime is reported, as it needs to be, victims and their families are wounded again, the vast majority of faithful priests bow their heads in shame anew, and sincere Catholics experience another dose of shock, sorrow, and even anger.

What deepens the sadness now is the unrelenting insinuations against the Holy Father himself, as certain sources seem frenzied to implicate the man who, perhaps more than anyone else has been the leader in purification, reform, and renewal that the Church so needs.

Sunday Mass is hardly the place to document the inaccuracy, bias, and hyperbole of such aspersions.

But, Sunday Mass is indeed the time for Catholics to pray for “ . . . Benedict our Pope.”

And Palm Sunday Mass is sure a fitting place for us to express our love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.

No one has been more vigorous in cleansing the Church of the effects of this sickening sin than the man we now call Pope Benedict XVI. The dramatic progress that the Catholic Church in the United States has made — — documented again just last week by the report made by independent forensic auditors — — could never have happened without the insistence and support of the very man now being daily crowned with thorns by groundless innuendo.

Does the Church and her Pastor, Pope Benedict XVI, need intense scrutiny and just criticism for tragic horrors long past?

Yes! He himself has asked for it, encouraging complete honesty, at the same time expressing contrition, and urging a thorough cleansing.

All we ask is that it be fair, and that the Catholic Church not be singled-out for a horror that has cursed every culture, religion, organization, institution, school, agency, and family in the world.

Sorry to bring this up … but, then again, the Eucharist is the Sunday meal of the spiritual family we call the Church. At Sunday dinner we share both joys and sorrows. The father of our family, Il Papa, needs our love, support, and prayers.

While it's difficult to add to something that so eloquently frames the entire issue as that does, various commentators have teased out elements touched on by Archbishop Dolan, giving further context, detail and clarity to the ugly matters currently confronting the pope and the Church.

First, John Allen provided
this excellent piece for National Catholic Reporter that, as one might expect from Allen, lends a broader context to the issue of Pope Benedict and clergy sexual abuse. The most striking portion of Allen's analysis is his depiction of then-Cardinal Ratzinger's "conversion" from the old Church mindset to someone who really understood and, as a result of that understanding, became a leader on this issue. This underscores what Archbishop Dolan said about Pope Benedict doing so much to help the Church heal.

Allen also provides a narrative of Ratzinger's career that shows how, as Archbishop of Munich, the future pope probably wasn't involved with a decision to move an abuser priest. Of course this was before the New York Times ran a series of stories on the pope and clergy sexual abuse, generating even more media attention, the sort that Archbishop Dolan refers to as "unrelenting insinuations" that, in some cases, "seem frenzied to implicate" the pope himself.

In the wake of this, John Allen wrote
another piece, this one clarifying some of the oft-repeated claims against the pope being inaccurately, or at least imprecisely, proliferated in the media. While Allen debunks many of the criticisms being leveled at Benedict, attributing much of it to a lack of understanding of how the Church works, he stops short of clearing the pope and says a thorough accounting should be made of Ratzinger's Munich years. In the words of Archbishop Dolan, "Does the Church and her Pastor, Pope Benedict XVI, need intense scrutiny and just criticism for tragic horrors long past? Yes!"

The New York Times coverage also elicited some passionate rebuttals from voices in the Church that probably don't find themselves on the same side of many debates. Writing for America,
Michael Sean Winters castigates the Times for its treatment of Benedict, accusing the paper of bungling the facts and unfairly singling out the Church (the latter point also touched on by Dolan). Such shoddy journalism, Winters asserts, is beneath a great publication like the New York Times.

Writing for the First Things blog,
George Weigel isn't nearly as charitable. Not only did the Times get the story wrong, he argues, but this is part of a deliberate and consistent effort to destroy the moral authority of the Catholic Church, thus eliminating it from the cultural debate where it is seen as an obstacle to secular progress. Another point-by-point break down of the Times and its coverage of the pope can be found here. And a detailed account by the priest who served as tribunal judge in one of the cases the Times levies against the pope can be found here.

To be fair to the Times, they did run
this tough, but fair analysis on Palm Sunday.

And even as I finish compiling this round-up, the Executive Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a statement in
English and Spanish on the matter.

The bishops dedicate a great deal of their statement to the
safeguards they have put in place and their ongoing commitment to the protection of children and young people. This seems appropriate for a couple of reasons. First, the Catholic Church in the U.S. has already been through the painful purification now facing Europe. This is a good time to offer the rest of the world a model that is already bearing fruit

Second, these are the steps that will lead the Church out of this crisis once and for all. The Church can insist on fair coverage from the media and check their facts, but the most important fact-checking going forward will be to ensure that the Church as a whole remains committed to protecting young people, educating everyone to the realities of this crime, and demanding transparency, accountability and vigilance from its leadership.


Anonymous said...

The Church might do well to document all the steps it has taken to rid itself of this scourge. Even I, as a Catholic am not sure of what has been done. I do know about the classes for priests, laity, and children on what is appropriate touch etc but I am not really aware of all the steps that have been instituted.
I know when these scandals hit the Episcopal Church, their insurance company gave its clergy a list of steps they had to take in order to continue to receive insurance. Some of these steps were to make sure no priest was ever alone with a parishioner without another adult present. This was to protect the priest as well as parishioner.

iaccocca said...

This is amazingly difficult and very troubling. I personally know as a former seminarian of abuses that took place and were covered up; in the eighties, not the long ago fifties. The now current pope has addressed cover-ups and follow ups of substantiated accusations, but are we as the church looking into why priests have a tendency for this behavior. Yes, I know that it is a small percentage of priests, God bless our priests. But, it does seem to be a higher percentage of priests than a percentage of the rest of society that is behaving in this manner. This cannot be ignored. Let us look at the restrictions we put on our priesthood, let us look at our seminaries, let us look honestly at our church. I believe that God will give the wisdom to our Pope as to how to deal with this and I pray that our Pope recognizes God’s grace and follows his direction.

BrentBillock said...

It's amazing how a post like this, that goes so far into hyperbole, attracted only two comments, both glowingly supportive of the Holy Father.

That's either the Holy Spirit at work, or some very selective and cowardly blog moderation.