A Reasonably Fair Assessment of the Accusations Against the Pope in the NYT

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.

If No one is Pope, Everyone is Pope

Some years ago I was privileged to bring a man into the Church who gave me some insight into the question of authority. He approached entering the Catholic Church with some misgivings. He had come from a Protestant tradition of a simpler but dignified liturgy that featured good preaching and hymn singing. As he looked at the state of Catholic liturgy he found mostly poor preaching and what he considered to be awful music. Also, some Catholic traditions, regarding the saints and devotion to Mary were not doctrinally problematic to him but just felt a little unusual.

But in the end he entered the Catholic Church and I remember that one of the chief reasons he was drawn was over the question of authority. He remembered thinking some years back as he sat in a Protestant service, “How do I know that this man in the pulpit has authority to preach in Jesus’ name?” In the end, authority to preach and teach had to come back to Jesus’ commission: “He who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16). But just because a person mounts a pulpit or gets a divinity degree does not mean they share in the commission of Jesus. Who actually does speak for Jesus and how can their authority be demonstrated?

In the end the Catholic Church (and also the Orthodox Churches) are the only ones who can demonstrate a direct connection to the Apostles. The laying on of hands is a direct connection to the promises of Christ that the apostles and their successors would speak in his name. All the Protestant denominations broke away from that line and explicitly rejected the need to have a connection to the apostolic succession through the laying on of hands. Who speaks for Christ? Only those who share in the charism of Christ promise to the first apostles “He who hears you, hears me.”

This promise of Christ serves as the basis for authority in the Church. It is the Bishops, in union with the Pope who call the Church to order and unity. It is the authority of Christ, but exercised through his designated representatives. A bishop unites his diocese and the Pope unites the college of bishops. Peter was told that he would “strengthen his brethren” (Luke 22:32), the other apostles. What happens when this system is discarded? It is not necessary to look far. Martin Luther, the first Protestant breakaway, substituted the authority of Scripture for that of the Church. The result? Some estimates now list over 30,000 different Protestant denominations. Why, because when no one is Pope every one is Pope. Without an authoritative interpreter the Bible can divide more than it unites. Put four Christians in a room with a quote from scripture and there my be six opinions as to what it means! Without an authoritative interpreter the text will divide the group. Pastor Jones says it is necessary to be baptized, Pastor Smith says not exactly. Pastor Jones says no to infant baptism but Smith says it is OK. Who is right, who is to say? Who speaks for Christ? Protestantism offers no answers to these questions since they have rejected any authority outside the Book.   The Bible is wonderful but what if there are disagreements over how to understand the Book? No answer.

Christ did not write a book. He founded a Church, with apostolic leaders united around Peter to preach and teach in his name. They ordained successors and this system which Christ established comes to our day as the bishops of the world in union with the Pope. The Bible is precious but it emerged from the Church. It is the Church’s book and it must be authoritatively interpreted somehow. Otherwise, huge division.

This video by Fr. Robert Barron says more on this topic. It is a well crafted video and Father uses a sports analogy to explain Church authority. He also does a very good job of explaining the boundaries of that authority which exists not so much to micromanage the discussion of faith, but, rather to referee the discussion.

What Gift is The President Giving the Pope?

The Following article answers the question. Pray today for both our Pope and our President. May their meeting please Jesus Christ.

BALTIMORE (CNS) — During President Barack Obama’s July 10 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, he will present the pope with a stole that was placed on the remains of St. John Neumann. “It’s a delight that something of one of our Redemptorist saints would be given to our Holy Father,” said Father Patrick Woods, provincial of the Redemptorists’ Baltimore province. “We’re delighted as Americans that our president is visiting the Holy Father and delighted that something belonging to our province would be given to him.” Father Woods said in a statement that the stole was an appropriate gift because it symbolizes the priesthood that was “at the heart of St. John Neumann’s life as a Redemptorist.” He also said the stole, placed on the saint who had worked extensively with immigrants, was symbolic of the new wave of immigration in the United States and the Redemptorists’ continued service to these groups. A stole is a long, narrow strip of cloth worn around the neck by a priest or bishop as part of his liturgical vestments. St. John Neumann, Philadelphia’s fourth bishop, is enshrined in a glass casket under an altar at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Philadelphia. New vestments have been placed on his remains four times since his 1860 death — in 1903, 1962, 1989 and 2008.

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