Certainly more people watch Penn State football than listen to Vatican pronouncements. But insular, all-male institutions that operate on principles of domination foster a culture of cognitive dissonance where paradoxical things are held to be true, e.g. “I am an upright and moral defensive coordinator for a winning team and I sexually molest boys” or “I am a good Catholic, successful coach, who works with good people and whatever’s going on in the showers is none of my business.”
Jerry Sandusky, former defensive coordinator for Penn State is charged with multiple counts of deviant sexual acts with at least eight male minors — most under age 12. But around a long-term child sexual abuser is always a complicit community. As Mark Esposito writes in this case it was made up of “university administrators who did nothing despite horrific credible eyewitness accounts of explicit sexual acts in locker rooms and showers.” And we end up with “Disadvantaged kids taken advantage of by an authority figure who founded an organization ostensibly to help them, but apparently designed to fulfill his own aberrational desires.”
Child molesters don’t see themselves as sexual predators. They most often see themselves as regular folks who love kids and want to help them and whose affinity for children just happens to have a sexual element. Then, under stress, their need to satisfy that sexual urge compels them to take an action which they convince themselves isn’t such a big deal. They hardly ever believe that they are harming children – and often believe they are helping them.
Fixated child molesters exist – in small numbers, but they exist. However, the rest of us often participate in cultures and emotional habits that protect them and those practices can be dismantled. Those narratives that we create of “protecting the greater good” or “he’s such a nice guy” or “to make a great Penn State omelet a few eggs gotta get broken” must be dismantled.
… using the term “scandal” to describe what went on at Penn State, where a former defensive coordinator under Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, stands accused of molesting several boys over 15 years, seems to diminish it.
In the world of big-time college sports, the term has been cheapened by overuse. If these allegations prove to be true — Sandusky has maintained his innocence — they’ll be a far cry from football players’ trading memorabilia for discounts on their tattoos.
A better comparison would be the sexual molestation scandals that rocked another insular, all-male institution, the Roman Catholic Church.
The parallels are too striking to ignore. A suspected predator who exploits his position to take advantage of his young charges. The trusting colleagues who don’t want to believe it — and so don’t.
Even confronted with convincing proof, they choose to protect their institution’s reputation. In the face of a moral imperative to act, there is silence.
This was the dynamic that pervaded the Catholic clerical culture during its sexual abuse scandals, and it seems to have been no less pervasive at Penn State.
Where does Paterno fit in?
If Penn State was the Catholic Church, Paterno was the Holy See of Happy Valley. Unlike two other top university officials implicated in the scandal, he has not been charged with a crime. But he is almost certainly guilty of cowardice and hypocrisy.
When a distraught graduate assistant told Paterno in 2002 that he had seen Sandusky with a boy in the locker-room showers, Paterno reported the incident to the athletic director but did nothing further, according to the grand jury statement. In other words, the great molder of young men discharged his legal obligation and moved on.
To be clear, this happened in 2002, when the Catholic Church sex scandals were front-page news just about every day. As a practicing Catholic himself, Paterno must have been following them; he was probably even pained by them.
Of course, Paterno did have other things on his mind. The Nittany Lions were coming off a dismal season and he was fighting off the first calls for his retirement.
With his effective silence, Paterno was protecting not only himself but also 50 years of mythology that had been building up around him since he arrived at Penn State as an assistant during the Truman administration.
Laurie Goodstein, the NYT’s religion reporter extraordinaire, along with David M. Halbfinger and Rachel Donadio published an excellent overview of the Catholic Churches response to the sexual abuse scandal, Church Office Failed to Act on Abuse Scandal, in yesterday’s paper.
For me, one of the saddest items in the story is simply the title of the confidential apostolic letter written by Pope John Paul II instructing that all cases of sexual abuse by priests were thenceforth to be handled by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger’s office. The letter’s title: “Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela,” Latin for “Safeguarding the Sanctity of the Sacraments.”
When the walls of the Vatican have become so thick that the one wearing the Shoes of the Fisherman and carrying Peter’s key prioritizes the sanctity of ritual over the sanctity of a child then the ritual has not only become meaningless, but blasphemy.
The apostolic letter should have been public and preached from every pulpit and parapet. It should have been titled “Safeguarding the Sanctity of Our Children.” It should have ordered an immediate opening of all files related to possible criminal activities by employees of the Catholic church (including all priests and deacons) to secular authorities for a proper prosecution. It should have called every bishop, archbishop, and cardinal to Rome for a meeting and hearing from victims of sexual abuse by a religious leader – and professional training by psychologists skilled in the nature of pedophilia, gender-related abuse, sexual abuse, and the insidiousness of domination as it relates to emotional and psychological abuse. It should have called for a time period of regular public repentance by Catholic church leaders, plus ongoing investigation to determine whether previous abuse cases were being dealt with in a timely manner and whether new cases were drastically decreasing.
It is, of course, “unfair” to cast aspersions on such a complicated case and process — especially in hindsight. However, I hope the more times we say what we SHOULD have done, will help prepare us for what we WILL do in the future.
Read Goodstein’s article here and there are some excerpts below:
…in May 2001, John Paul issued a confidential apostolic letter instructing that all cases of sexual abuse by priests were thenceforth to be handled by Cardinal Ratzinger’s office. The letter was called “Sacramentorum Sanctitatis Tutela,” Latin for “Safeguarding the Sanctity of the Sacraments.”
In an accompanying cover letter, Cardinal Ratzinger, who is said to have been heavily involved in drafting the main document, wrote that the 1922 and 1962 instructions that gave his office authority over sexual abuse by priests cases were “in force until now.”
The upshot of that phrase, experts say, is that Catholic bishops around the world, who had been so confused for so long about what to do about molestation cases, could and should have simply directed them to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith all along.
Bishops and canon law experts said in interviews that they could only speculate as to why the future pope had not made this clear many years earlier.
“It makes no sense to me that they were sitting on this document,” said the Rev. John P. Beal, a canon law professor at the Catholic University of America. “Why didn’t they just say, ‘Here are the norms. If you need a copy we’ll send them to you?’ ”
Nicholas P. Cafardi, a Catholic expert in canon law who is dean emeritus and professor of law at Duquesne University School of Law, said, “When it came to handling child sexual abuse by priests, our legal system fell apart.”
“When you think how much pain could’ve been prevented, if we only had a clear understanding of our own law,” he said. “It really is a terrible irony. This did not have to happen.”
Though the apostolic letter was praised for bringing clarity to the subject, it also reaffirmed a requirement that such cases be handled with the utmost confidentiality, under the “pontifical secret” — drawing criticism from many who argued that the church remained unwilling to report abusers to civil law enforcement. ….
After the new procedures were adopted, Cardinal Ratzinger’s office became more responsive to requests to discipline priests, said bishops who sought help from his office. But when the sexual abuse scandal erupted again, in Boston in 2002, it immediately became clear to American bishops that the new procedures were inadequate.
Meeting in Dallas in the summer of 2002, the American bishops adopted a stronger set of canonical norms requiring bishops to report all criminal allegations to the secular authorities, and to permanently remove from ministry priests facing even one credible accusation of abuse. They also sought from the Vatican a streamlined way to discipline priests that would not require a drawn-out canonical trial.
… Other reforms enacted by American bishops included requiring background checks for church personnel working with children, improved screening of seminarians, training in recognizing abuse, annual compliance audits in each diocese and lay review boards to advise bishops on how to deal with abuse cases.
Those measures seem to be having an impact. Last year, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 513 people made allegations of sexual abuse against 346 priests or other church officials, roughly a third fewer cases than in 2008.
Yet the Vatican did not proactively apply those policies to other countries, and it is only now grappling with abuse problems elsewhere. Reports have surfaced of bishops in Chile, Brazil, India and Italy who quietly kept accused priests in ministry without informing local parishioners or prosecutors.
Benedict, now five years into his papacy, has yet to make clear if he intends to demand of bishops throughout the world — and of his own Curia — that all priests who committed abuse and bishops who abetted it must be punished. Benedict, now five years into his papacy, has yet to make clear if he intends to demand of bishops throughout the world — and of his own Curia — that all priests who committed abuse and bishops who abetted it must be punished.
As the crisis has mushroomed internationally this year, some cardinals in the Vatican have continued to blame the news media and label the criticism anti-Catholic persecution. Benedict himself has veered from defensiveness to contrition, saying in March that the faithful should not be intimidated by “the petty gossip of dominant opinion” — and then in May telling reporters that “the greatest persecution of the church does not come from the enemies outside, but is born from the sin in the church.”
The Vatican, moreover, has never made it mandatory for bishops around the world to report molesters to the civil authorities, or to alert parishes and communities where the abusive priests worked — information that often propels more victims to step forward. (Vatican officials caution that a reporting requirement could be dangerous in dictatorships and countries where the church is already subject to persecution.)
It was only in April that the Vatican posted “guidelines” on its Web site saying that church officials should comply with civil laws on reporting abuse. But those are recommendations, not requirements.
Today, a debate is roiling the Vatican, pitting those who see the American zero-tolerance norms as problematic because they lack due process for accused priests, against those who want to change canon law to make it easier to penalize and dismiss priests.
Where Benedict lies on this spectrum, even after nearly three decades of handling abuse cases, is still an open question.
On the papal plane, Shepherd One, en route to Portugal to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, National Catholic Reporter senior correspondent John Allen got an interesting response from the Pope on the issue of the “sin within the church.”
Benedict’s emphasis on the greatest challenge to the church being from within, rather than attacks from the outside, is different from what other church leaders have recently claimed, that the media, the Jews, or secularists were to blame for unjust criticism of the church. (Really? That old playbook?)
The Pope’s response in the interview with Allen is intriguing because Benedict aligns the suffering of the church as embodied in the suffering of the pope – “because the Pope stands for the church” – but then states clearly that the greatest challenge of the church is sin from within. This raises the final corollary question – does the Pope carry the sin of the church within himself? The question is, of course, both theological and personal.
That the whole conversation is couched in the mysticism of the appearances of Mary at Fatima in 1917 is also fascinating. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
John Allen: Now we look to Fatima, which will be the spiritual culmination of this trip. What meaning do the apparitions of Fatima have for us today? When you presented the Third Secret of Fatima in a press conference at the Vatican Press Office in June 2000, you were asked if the message of the secret could be extended beyond the assassination attempt against John Paul II to other sufferings of the popes. Could it also be extended to put the suffering of the church today in the context of that vision, including the sins of the sexual abuse of minors?
Pope Benedict XVI: First of all, I want to express my joy to go to Fatima, to pray before the Madonna of Fatima, and to experience the presence of the faith there, where from the little ones a new force of the faith was born. It’s not limited to the little ones, but has a message for the whole world and all epochs of history, it illuminates this history. As I said in the presentation, there is a supernatural impulse which doesn’t come simply from someone’s imagination but from the supernatural reality of the Virgin Mary. That impulse enters into a subject, and is expressed according to the possibilities of the subject, who is determined by his or her historic situation. The supernatural impulse is translated, so to speak, according to the subject’s possibilities for imagining it and expressing it. In this expression formed by the subject, there are always hidden possibilities to go beyond, to go deeper. Only with time can we see all the depth which was, so to speak, dressed in this vision, which was possible for the concrete person.
With regard to this great vision of the suffering of the popes, beyond the circumstances of John Paul II, other realities are indicated which over time will develop and become clear. Thus it’s true that beyond the moment indicated in the vision, one speaks about and sees the necessity of suffering by the church. It’s focused on the person of the pope, but the pope stands for the church, and therefore sufferings of the church are announced. The church will always be suffering in various ways, up to the end of the world. The important point is that the message of Fatima in its substance is not addressed to particular situations, but a fundamental response: permanent conversion, penance, prayer, and the three cardinal virtues: faith, hope and charity. One sees there the true, fundamental response the church must give, which each of us individually must give, in this situation.
In terms of what we today can discover in this message, attacks against the pope or the church don’t come just from outside the church. The suffering of the church also comes from within the church, because sin exists in the church. This too has always been known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way. The greatest persecution of the church doesn’t come from enemies on the outside, but is born in sin within the church. The church thus has a deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. Forgiveness does not exclude justice. We have to re-learn the essentials: conversion, prayer, penance, and the theological virtues. That’s how we respond, and we can be realistic in expecting that evil will always launch attacks from within and from outside, but the forces of good are also always present, and finally the Lord is stronger than evil. The Madonna for us is the visible maternal guarantee that the will of God is always the last word in history.
When I was in Venezuela in in 2004, the country was 95% Catholic and 60% of the people lived in poverty. Hugo Chavez–for better or worse–was trying to change the poverty statistics. But he was alienated from the Catholic hierarchy (the cardinal had plotted a coup against Chavez) and he was not well-connected to the popular Catholic Church on the ground.
It was with this “popular church” that I spent most of my time. In one very poor barrio high in the mountains above Caracas, I met Norma who talked to me about there being “two Catholic Churches”: one is the hierarchy and one is the people.
She said: “The bishop in his black cassock and scarlet came once to our barrio and said it was the most horrible place and he hated coming here, but I said this is my life, my reality, can it be so terrible for him? Our question is why are the church hierarchy not coming to be involved with us rather than always expecting that we will be involved with them?”
I remembered Norma’s wisdom when I read Nick Kristof’s wonderful op-ed in the New York Times titled A Church Mary Can Love. I’m reprinting the whole thing here, as a sign of encouragement to all of us downcast and discouraged by the Vatican’s child abuse scandal. Read Kristof’s column below:
I heard a joke the other day about a pious soul who dies, goes to heaven, and gains an audience with the Virgin Mary. The visitor asks Mary why, for all her blessings, she always appears in paintings as a bit sad, a bit wistful: Is everything O.K.? Mary reassures her visitor: “Oh, everything’s great. No problems. It’s just … it’s just that we had always wanted a daughter.”
That story comes to mind as the Vatican wrestles with the consequences of a patriarchal premodern mind-set: scandal, cover-up and the clumsiest self-defense since Watergate. That’s what happens with old boys’ clubs.
It wasn’t inevitable that the Catholic Church would grow so addicted to male domination, celibacy and rigid hierarchies. Jesus himself focused on the needy rather than dogma, and went out of his way to engage women and treat them with respect.
The first-century church was inclusive and democratic, even including a proto-feminist wing and texts. The Gospel of Philip, a Gnostic text from the third century, declares of Mary Magdalene: “She is the one the Savior loved more than all the disciples.” Likewise, the Gospel of Mary (from the early second century) suggests that Jesus entrusted Mary Magdalene to instruct the disciples on his religious teachings.
St. Paul refers in Romans 16 to a first-century woman named Junia as prominent among the early apostles, and to a woman named Phoebe who served as a deacon. The Apostle Junia became a Christian before St. Paul did (chauvinist translators have sometimes rendered her name masculine, with no scholarly basis).
Yet over the ensuing centuries, the church reverted to strong patriarchal attitudes, while also becoming increasingly uncomfortable with sexuality. The shift may have come with the move from house churches, where women were naturally accepted, to more public gatherings.
The upshot is that proto-feminist texts were not included when the Bible was compiled (and were mostly lost until modern times). Tertullian, an early Christian leader, denounced women as “the gateway to the devil,” while a contemporary account reports that the great Origen of Alexandria took his piety a step further and castrated himself.
The Catholic Church still seems stuck today in that patriarchal rut. The same faith that was so pioneering that it had Junia as a female apostle way back in the first century can’t even have a woman as the lowliest parish priest. Female deacons, permitted for centuries, are banned today.
That old boys’ club in the Vatican became as self-absorbed as other old boys’ clubs, like Lehman Brothers, with similar results. And that is the reason the Vatican is floundering today.
But there’s more to the picture than that. In my travels around the world, I encounter two Catholic Churches. One is the rigid all-male Vatican hierarchy that seems out of touch when it bans condoms even among married couples where one partner is H.I.V.-positive. To me at least, this church — obsessed with dogma and rules and distracted from social justice — is a modern echo of the Pharisees whom Jesus criticized.
Yet there’s another Catholic Church as well, one I admire intensely. This is the grass-roots Catholic Church that does far more good in the world than it ever gets credit for. This is the church that supports extraordinary aid organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, saving lives every day, and that operates superb schools that provide needy children an escalator out of poverty.
This is the church of the nuns and priests in Congo, toiling in obscurity to feed and educate children. This is the church of the Brazilian priest fighting AIDS who told me that if he were pope, he would build a condom factory in the Vatican to save lives.
This is the church of the Maryknoll Sisters in Central America and the Cabrini Sisters in Africa. There’s a stereotype of nuns as stodgy Victorian traditionalists. I learned otherwise while hanging on for my life in a passenger seat as an American nun with a lead foot drove her jeep over ruts and through a creek in Swaziland to visit AIDS orphans. After a number of encounters like that, I’ve come to believe that the very coolest people in the world today may be nuns.
So when you read about the scandals, remember that the Vatican is not the same as the Catholic Church. Ordinary lepers, prostitutes and slum-dwellers may never see a cardinal, but they daily encounter a truly noble Catholic Church in the form of priests, nuns and lay workers toiling to make a difference.
It’s high time for the Vatican to take inspiration from that sublime — even divine — side of the Catholic Church, from those church workers whose magnificence lies not in their vestments, but in their selflessness. They’re enough to make the Virgin Mary smile.
I’m a practicing Catholic. I practice and practice and practice. I hope when I get to the pearly gates, Saints Peter and Mary Magdalene will tell me that all my practicing made me perfectly eligible for heaven. God willing. Until then, we muddle along here in the earthly realm that, while shot through with light-bent beauty, is also riddled with sin-punched hearts.
The Catholic hierarchy is on trial right now in the world court of public scrutiny for aiding and abetting child abusers. If the Catholic church indeed represents “organized religion,” then – given the multiple jurisdictions crossed transnationally moving priests to avoid being caught and punished – this is certainly an example of organized crime. In this context Jesus’ words in Luke come to mind:
“Watch yourselves carefully,” said Jesus, “so you don’t get contaminated with Pharisee yeast, Pharisee phoniness. You can’t keep your true self hidden forever; before long you’ll be exposed. You can’t hide behind a religious mask forever; sooner or later the mask will slip and your true face will be known. You can’t whisper one thing in private and preach the opposite in public; the day’s coming when those whispers will be repeated all over town” (Luke 12:1-3, The Message).
Structural sin has long been a concept in Catholic theology. Structural sin, said Pope John Paul II, (see Sollicitudo rei socialis) proceeds from the accumulation of personal sins. It is, said the Pope, “a question of a moral evil, the fruit of many which lead to ‘structures of sin.'”
This is a time for the lens of such scrutiny to be turned on the Catholic church hierarchy itself. But the church leaders can not heal themselves from the inside out. They must humble themselves before the laity and ask for forgiveness and help in shaping the Catholic church more into a body that is less occluded with secrecy, silence, dominance, and clericalism, and that with greater transparency allows for the light of Christ the shine through.
Below are excerpts from a few commentaries I’ve found particularly insightful on the “scandal.”
They kept women far from any power, then and since. It’s a male-run church, now steaming ahead full throttle in legalistic mode. Shocking headlines pop up daily about what one or another Catholic bishop knew or didn’t know about pederasty in his diocese. From Munich to Milwaukee, across Ireland and into nearly every country in the world, the tales multiply.
What’s not been heard so loudly is the story of diversionary strikes emanating from the Vatican, perhaps aimed at discrediting U.S. nuns who built the charitable and educational infrastructure of the church.
Two separate investigations — one led by the Vatican department charged with overseeing religious institutes worldwide, another led by Pope Benedict’s successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — are burrowing into the lives and work of U.S. Catholic sisters.
The Vatican appointed an American sister to lead the larger investigation, but didn’t fund the effort. She’s asking the convents her teams are visiting to pay for the intrusion. Some say that is typical of how bishops treat nuns: ask them to do something, as well as the money to do it.
The other investigation focuses on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group for heads of most women’s religious orders and institutes. American Cardinal William J. Levada is directing a paper chase looking for doctrinal errors. He is the same man who called the (female) process server “a disgrace to the Catholic Church” when he was subpoenaed to testify about priestly pederasty.
Hello? What is going on? In the United States, not one bishop who oversaw pederasty or who used church money to break the minds and hearts of complaining victims has suffered any consequence. As Duquesne law professor Nicholas Cafardi points out in the lay Catholic magazine Commonweal, the only bishop to resign — Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston — got promoted to a cushy job in Rome. Law also belongs to the Vatican congregation that nominates bishops.
That’s right. The U.S. bishop who presided over the biggest pederasty scandal in history helps choose new bishops, and can even vote for another pope (at least until he turns 80 in November 2011).
The capital of trust between the people of the church and their leaders is dangerously close to empty. The bishops cannot take the people for granted any longer. We were raised to love the gospel, to seek the truth, to serve justice, to grow in the bosom of the sacraments. But we will not do it under their leadership unless they change.
What’s needed is a conversion of the bishops and the pope himself. That’s right: It’s time for the pope and the bishops to convert their culture to one that is centered on loving God from the depths of their souls and to leading a church that is as much mother as father, as much pastoral as theological, as much spiritual as doctrinal. It is time for them to listen to the deep and authentic witness of the people of faith, to trust the spirit that blows where it will, to abandon their defensiveness of their positions and trust only the gospel, and not their edifice of control. Conversion is a total experience — letting go of the old and putting on the new.
The conversion we seek for them is the same conversion they invite for us: Put on a contrite heart and fall in love with God, recklessly, totally and passionately. Let the love of God be the only measure of their actions.
For American Catholics there is no consolation in the confirmation of what we have known all along: namely, the sexual abuse crisis is not uniquely American. Our season of Lent is long and protracted, and the heartbreaking discussions, discouragement and dismay are as fresh these weeks as they were in 2002. There are multiple opinions– constructive, emotional, factually inaccurate, prejudicial, insightful and heartbreaking. Whether one’s objective is to exonerate or excoriate the pope, surely what matters most for those who belong to and care about the Church is that the outcome be a genuine commitment to penitence and penance, stronger accountability, deeper humility, exemplary managerial and governance oversight practices, openness, restored trust and credibility.
Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, president of the German bishops’ conference, likened the spreading sex abuse scandal to other recent causes of “suffering in our lives,” including earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, and this week’s attack by terrorists on the Moscow subway.
“In many cases the victims could not put their injuries into words,” Zollitsch wrote, in a statement posted on his archdiocese’s Web site. “The wounds inflicted on them can scarcely be cured … This is a painful reality that we have to face.” Writing on the day when Christians commemorate the death of Jesus, the archbishop likened children and young people molested by priests to the crucified Christ, as fellow victims of “injustice and violence.”
The church needs to cast aside the lawyers, the PR specialists and its own worst instincts, which are human instincts. Benedict could go down as one of the greatest popes in history if he were willing to risk all in the name of institutional self-examination, painful but liberating public honesty, and true contrition.
And then comes something even harder: Especially during Lent, the church teaches that forgiveness requires Catholics to have “a firm purpose of amendment.” The church will have to show not only that it has learned from this scandal, but also that it’s truly willing to transform itself.
MARK SHIELDS: I think — I say this as a practicing Catholic. I think that the church has handled the child abuse scandal from the very beginning in the worst possible manner, that their first inclination seemed to be to protect the priests, and then to protect the bishops who were protecting the priests. And there seemed to be minimal concern, in too many instances, for the child, especially the most vulnerable and the least powerful, and, in some cases, handicapped children who were abused. Are there people who are delighting in seeing the church embarrassed and humiliated and exposed? Sure. But that — that is not — the facts are the facts. That was the first charge that was leveled against The Boston Globe when they revealed the stories about Cardinal Law, that this was part of an anti-Catholic — maybe there was a concern, but the facts stand for themselves.
JIM LEHRER: What about — what about this — the anti-Semitism angle?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, you know, as a semi-practicing Jew, the comparison between a child molestation scandal and the victims of the Holocaust is an offensive comparison. And I think Jews and most people are offended by that comparison. And I think — but what it speaks to is not — is an insularity in the response and a tone-deafness to the response. At least a small coterie of people who are making statements — and this was not reflective of church policy — but who are making statements who have been inside the corridors of a world and have difficulty perceiving how things are understood and interpreted outside.
MARK SHIELDS: The archbishop of Dublin, archbishop of Dublin, Archbishop Martin, made a compelling statement echoing — really taking great issue with the Vatican and its handling of this whole crisis and scandal.
JIM LEHRER: As a semi-practicing Protestant, who is going to win the Final Four?
On Saturday’s Weekend Edition, NPR host Scott Simon talked with John Allen, who reports on the Roman Catholic Church as a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter on the Vatican facing renewed pressure amid charges that Pope Benedict XVI mishandled priest sex abuse cases while serving as archbishop of Munich in the 1980s. Allen calls the scandal “unprecedented” and a “global crisis.” (Listen to the interview here.)
When Simon asked how this scandal has affected Mass-going, financial donations, or dioceses spinning off from the Roman church, Allen responded:
From the beginning of this crisis there has always been the fear that this is going to cause some kind of fundamental rupture that is that it will cause the large number of people to stop going to Mass, it will cause large numbers of Catholic to stop making financial contributions to the church, and that some of them may decide to opt out of the system all together and create a parallel church.
To date the empirical evidence that we have is that really has not happened. At the end of the day the reason for that is fairly simple: Most typical Mass-going Catholics learned a long time ago to make a distinction between what their faith is really based on — which is God, the encounter with Jesus Christ, the supernatural dimension of the church — to distinguish between that and the very fallible human beings who at any given time may be running the show.
The church needs to show it understands the flaws of its own internal culture by examining its own conscience, its own practices, its own reflexives when faced with challenge. As the church rightly teaches, acknowledging the true nature of our sin is the one and only path to redemption and forgiveness.
Of course, this will not be easy. Enemies of the church will use this scandal to discredit the institution no matter what the Vatican does. Many in the hierarchy thought they were doing the right thing, however wrong their decisions were. And the church is not alone in facing problems of this sort.
But defensiveness and institutional self-protection are not Gospel values. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
The church needs to cast aside the lawyers, the PR specialists and its own worst instincts, which are human instincts. Benedict could go down as one of the greatest popes in history if he were willing to risk all in the name of institutional self-examination, painful but liberating public honesty, and true contrition.