2 Dec 2010

Pope's messages are vague where clarity is needed, Church hierarchy fails to address the real issue

National Post - Canada April 19, 2010

The Vatican's next move

by Charles Lewis | Columnist

Recently, I met with a group of about a dozen young professionals at Salt and Light Catholic Television Network in Toronto. I was curious to find out their thoughts on the crisis now engulfing their Church, and mine.

The first thing that became clear was that no one’s faith in the Church had been diminished. All agreed the Church was much larger than the sum of its parts.

Some agreed the Pope should do a giant mea culpa for the sin of abuse that has occurred in the Church — not because they felt he was responsible, but that as head of the Church he should show public remorse and humility.

There was also agreement that the Church had not done the best job in making its own case.

This was driven home last week when Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, blamed the abuse crisis on homosexuals in the priesthood.

Let us suppose for a moment that the abuse of young boys was perpetrated by a cadre of gay priests. Or that for some reason the Church had discovered that gay men cannot keep vows of celibacy as well as straight men — and then make the leap that a gay man who could not keep his vows would not seek out an adult partner on the sly but instead would rape a child.

Even if all this were true — and to be clear, many medical experts who deal with abusive priests say it is not — this would not be the reason for the scandal today.

We are here because the men in charge, often bishops, did not report these cases, or they covered them up.

In 1993, A Canadian Catholic bishop wrote to Rome to discuss how to keep a suspected pedophile priest tucked away in the Vatican rather than have him face scrutiny here. The bishop noted it was a good thing the victims were Polish because Poles are good Catholics and did not tend to make trouble.

Since this latest crisis began, the Church hierarchy has responded to everything but the real issue.

There are still those who are defending the Holy Father from an accusation last month in The New York Times that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, did not respond to a letter he received about abuse in Milwaukee. The story proved nothing other than that letters were addressed to the Pope and that he did not answer those letters. What we may have learned from that charge was that Cardinal Ratzinger did not open his own mail.

But what the Times story did reveal were the actions of the late Father Lawrence Murphy who had abused 200 boys. The Vatican could have dismissed the issue about the Pope and then concerned itself with the living victims in Milwaukee.

But it only got worse.

During a papal Easter Sunday Mass, Cardinal Angelo Sodano characterized the scandal as “petty gossip of the moment.” Then the Pope’s priest, Raniero Cantalamessa, compared the accusations to the “collective violence” suffered by the Jews. All this has supplied enemies the enemies of the Church, like the atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, with more ammunition.

Many honourable bishops have spoken up. But now it is the Vatican’s turn.

Late last week, Pope Benedict seemed to make a tentative move. He said: “Now under the attacks of the world that talks to us of our sins, we see that the ability to perform penance is a grace and we see how it is necessary to perform penance, that is, to recognize what is wrong in our life.”

But it is not enough. It is vague when sharp clarity is called for.

Perhaps it is time for the leadership to sit down with young Catholics, as I did this week. They would find these young people secure in their faith, in love with the Church, but frustrated as hell by the very people they want to look up to.

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