There is a reasonable and thoughtful Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times that addresses the recent anger directed at the Pope regarding that he allegedly allowed a priest sex-offender to continue in ministry and/or not face punitive action.
We are well aware that enemies of the Church will often make more of evidence than is allowable or even accurate due to their anger and suspicion of the Church. Some charges directed against us are also pure fiction. But it also seems clear to me that all of us in the Church, including the Pope are destined to suffer for the true malfeasance of others. The fact is that were surely Church leaders who have handled this poorly in the past. I would also like to add that there are also countless example of how poorly our judicial system has handled sexual offenders. Recently, two women were murdered by a sexual predator with a very long record. Such offenses are far too common in our country and judges and the criminal justice system seem unwilling or unable to keep truly dangerous offender locked up and/or truly isolated. As usual though, special venom is reserved for the Catholic Church. Be that as it may, we have exercised poor judgement in the past and will continue to experience heightened scrutiny.
Not all of it is fair and it seems clear that our Pope is being accused of things that do not reasonably flow from the evidence. In today’s New York Times (Op-Ed page), Ross Douthat has written a reasonably fair piece on this topic and I’d like to excerpt it here. My own comments are in RED. You can read the full text here: A Time for Contrition
…What the American and Irish churches have endured in the last decade and what German Catholics find themselves enduring today is all part of the same grim story: the exposure, years after the fact, of an appalling period in which the Catholic hierarchy responded to an explosion of priestly sex abuse with cover-ups, evasions and criminal negligence.
Now the scandal has touched the pope himself. There are two charges against Benedict XVI: first, that he allowed a pedophile priest to return to ministry while archbishop of Munich in 1980; and second, that as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the 1990s, he failed to defrock a Wisconsin priest who had abused deaf children 30 years before.
The second charge seems unfair. The case was finally forwarded to the Vatican by the archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, more than 20 years after the last allegation of abuse. With the approval of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy, the statute of limitations was waived and a canonical trial ordered. It was only suspended because the priest was terminally ill; indeed, pretrial proceedings were halted just before he died.
But the first charge is more serious. The Vatican insists that the crucial decision was made without the future pope’s knowledge, but the paper trail suggests that he could have been in the loop. At best, then-Archbishop Ratzinger was negligent. At worst, he enabled further abuse. Charges of the Pope’s negligence may still be premature.
For those of us who admire the pope, either possibility is distressing, but neither should come as a great surprise. The lesson of the American experience, now exhaustively documented, is that almost everyone was complicit in the scandal. From diocese to diocese, the same cover-ups and gross errors of judgment repeated themselves regardless of who found themselves in charge. Neither theology nor geography mattered: the worst offenders were Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles — a conservative and a liberal, on opposite ends of the country. It is appropriate that Mr. Douthat refers to the charges against the Pope as a “possibility” since again, the world will rush to judge, the very thing they often accuse us of. His assessment that no sector of the Church is completely off the hook here is a good one however. We Catholics have often wanted to chalk it all up to one thing or another, the fact is that it is a lot of things that came together in a “perfect storm.” Yes, we embraced too many modern and often sinful notions of human sexuality. But it is also true that a lot of cover-up behavior comes from the “old days” too. Lots of blame to go around really. I would also add however that not everything was due to evil intent. The Church by nature is in the work of healing people. We are on biblical ground as he work for and hope for the healing of even terrible sinners. This is the kind of work we do. But we erred, for our hopes were not balanced with sobriety and the proper desire to protect the innocent from possible relapse of addicts. Relapse is a reality for many addicts. We cannot allow our hopes to put the vulnerable at risk. This is surely crystal clear today and we emerge from this crisis more sober and clear in our duty to facilitate healing in a way that does not place others at risk.
In reality, the scandal implicates left and right alike. The permissive sexual culture that prevailed everywhere, seminaries included, during the silly season of the ’70s deserves a share of the blame, as does that era’s overemphasis on therapy. (Again and again, bishops relied on psychiatrists rather than common sense in deciding how to handle abusive clerics.) But it was the church’s conservative instincts — the insistence on institutional loyalty, obedience and the absolute authority of clerics — that allowed the abuse to spread unpunished….. I am glad to finally see somebody in the mainstream culture assign a due share of the responsibility to our sexually immature and decadent culture. This is long overdue. There is some collective responsibility for letting promiscuity in our culture go unchecked. One of the most reprehensible aspects of or hypersexualized culture is the sexualization of children.
[Pope Benedict has]…. come to grips with the crisis in ways that his predecessor did not: after years of drift and denial under John Paul II, the Vatican has taken vigorous steps to promote zero tolerance, expedite the dismissal of abusive priests and organize investigations that should have happened long ago. Because of Benedict’s recent efforts, and the efforts of clerics and laypeople dating back to the first wave of revelations in the 1980s, Catholics can reasonably hope that the crisis of abuse is a thing of the past. Yes, these facts are being left out of too many current discussions about Pope Benedict.
But the crisis of authority endures. There has been some accountability for the abusers, but not nearly enough for the bishops who enabled them. And now the shadow of past sins threatens to engulf this papacy.
Popes do not resign. But a pope can clean house. And a pope can show contrition, on his own behalf and on behalf of an entire generation of bishops, for what was done and left undone in one of Catholicism’s darkest eras…Pope John Paul was quite well known for publicly admitting and asking forgiveness for some the Church’s past sins. Some critics of his felt at times he went to far and admitted too much, but in the end we do have sins that we can express regret for and thus model true Christian humility and the mandate of the Lord, who commands us to go first and be reconciled with our brethren if we have wronged them in any way.
This piece is a companion piece I will post for tomorrow (Spy Wednesday). Meanwhile we ought to pray for our Pope who is currently suffering for the sins of many, in and out of the Church.