An excellent reflection on the sede vacante, the vacant seat of St. Peter.
“There’s no need to rehash the recent disastrous track record of the all-male Roman Catholic hierarchy. The sordid abuse of children by priests, the sinister coverups, the callous treatment of nuns, the deaf ear turned toward Catholics who happen to be gay or divorced — it’s all on the front page. The Catholic Church is hemorrhaging moral authority.
What’s much more devastating is that it is losing believers, too. If you can’t trust the messengers, why trust the message? It is not too much to say that the crisis in the church is contributing to a crisis of faith in the Gospel itself.
This is a crisis not of management nor of theology. This is a crisis of the spirit. But before the church can address its great moral collapse, it will have to recover its spiritual bearings. The next pope should be a mystic.
A mystic? Absolutely! Contrary to popular perception, a mystic is not a magician or a crystal-ball-gazer. A mystic is rather a person who has had an experience of God’s love so unmistakable that it changes him or her forever, imparting a confidence that cannot be shaken, a humility that cannot be doubted, a freedom that exudes love and gentleness and authenticity. A mystic knows from experience, not books, that we are each beautiful beyond our understanding, loved beyond our capacity to love, united beyond our perceptions of difference and division.” —Timothy Shriver is the chairman of Special Olympics.
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?