I hate the sex scandals that have swept through the Catholic Church. I know it’s stating the obvious, but it needs to be said. Just because I’m not a big fan of the political power held by the Pope, or specific examples of theological differences–a big one being that whole “Jesus isn’t a god or messiah” thing–doesn’t mean for an instant that I enjoy the growing disquiet within the Church as a result of the sexual abuse at the hands of so-called “men of the cloth” exercising their power over innocent children. Many have suffered severe crises of faith from which they may never recover as a result of this scandal. This is not satisfying to me.
At the risk of sounding like that one guy who always reminds those around him that he “has a black friend,” I want to point out that one of my dearest friends is not only Catholic, but discerning the priesthood as his lifelong vocation. Serious stuff. If I held some kind of “bias against Jesus’ followers,” the two of us wouldn’t be able to sit in the same room together, let alone converse respectfully about our differences as passionately as our similarities. In other words, note my disclaimer: I’m not out to get the Church.
Good to have that out of the way. Let’s get down to business.
The latest news about priests caught in indiscretions is so quick to drop in the media, it’s a bit hard to keep up. I’ll sum up.
Reuters reports: “In Bavaria, a convicted abuser priest whose transfer to Munich in 1980 while Pope Benedict was archbishop there threatened to draw the pontiff into the scandal, was suspended from his post in a spa town, the Munich archdiocese announced. The priest in the spa town of Bad Toelz was identified after a newspaper reported on Friday that he had been moved from northern Germany to Munich in 1980 for therapy for pedophilia but was soon put to work with youths. He later molested a boy. The Vatican has denied the pope knew of the priest’s assignment to youth work, a decision for which his former deputy took responsibility, but the pontiff’s contact to this scandal has raised questions whether he was involved in any cover-up.”
Since the news dropped, the New York Times followed up with this: “Cardinal Sean Brady, the leader of Ireland’s Roman Catholics, said Monday that he would not resign, despite admitting that he helped the church get evidence against a child-molesting priest but never told the police about it. He said that as a priest in 1975, he interviewed two children who said they had been abused by the Rev. Brendan Smyth, who was eventually accused of molesting and raping scores of children in Ireland, Britain and the United States. Both children were required to sign oaths promising not to tell anyone outside the church of their accusations, Cardinal Brady said. He said that church officials had not notified the police because of ‘a culture of silence about this, a culture of secrecy.'”
None of this looks good for Pope Benedict XVI. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not accusing the guy of anything. But this latest pile-up of tragedy on tragedy has backed the hierarchy into a corner. Some Catholics are calling for a reformation of canon law that would remove restrictions on priestly celibacy, a clearly controversial proposal. That’s all well and good, but something tells me it misses the point. These priests weren’t abusers simply out of being sexually repressed. A deeper, more twisted psychosis was at work. Regardless, it’s an issue on the table. Furthermore, secularist organizations are calling for more thorough investigation by the United Nations. Whether or not this happens, it’s clear that a lot of people are distressed: the priests in question for allegedly committing these heinous acts, the hierarchy for its need to respond effectively and quickly to these crises, and many men and women of integrity whose faith is being challenged as they watch a religious establishment that they love fall into scandal.
Do I think Catholicism is a bad thing? Hell no! Catholic Christianity is responsible for many notable social and intellectual developments in the Western world. And Catholic Christians of all ages, shades of color, gender, and persuasions have contributed to what Jews call “Tikkun Olam” (the repair of the world). In short… thank you, each of you, for your genuine contributions to the face of Western religion and culture.
At the same time, these issues have to be resolved. These children and their families deserve justice. Devout Catholics left disillusioned when they look at the disarray deserve closure too.
My prayers are with any left feeling broken in this tragedy’s tracks. Furthermore, men and women of all faiths who have been kicked around by their religious establishment deserve this prayer. I’ve been there. I know that pain of disillusionment intimately. I’m with you, folks. And God, whatever you call God, is present in the pain.