This archived article was written by: Joshua Behn
I am furious. Furious at the hierchy of the Church of Rome. This isn’t the first time. The last 10 years have been difficult with scandal after scandal coming forward. But I am at the point where I have had enough; enough of the vehement denials and counter attacks by a Vatican which seems to still not get it … this is not an administrative problem.
Since the scandals first broke in the Boston archdiocese, Rome has appeared to treat the “filth and darkness” as a problem affecting a small minority, constantly resorting to understatement. Charges of the policy now known as “priest shuttling” was at first denied, than reassured as a problem that had been sufficiently dealt with. When a rabid press finally forced the hand of diocesan leadership (due to emerging lawsuits), it was finally admitted that things had been inappropriately handled. For all their talk of the gravity of the situation, their actions were as if the issue had been the misappropriation of funds to the wrong general ledger account.
To give them some credit, the Vatican did start getting involved. Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) was in charge of handling the cases and rooting out the corruption. Yet, it was seen as a mere “American problem.” That American problem was short lived and a widespread pattern of abuse started to emerge. In Ireland early this year, a government commission released its findings on the Christian Brothers, dealing a heavy blow. And now we hear of more trouble brewing in Germany and Central Europe …
The press has hung onto every new case, from Milwaukee to Munich, and with their predictable muckraking manner has tried to implicate the Pope himself. Those closest to the Holy Father have kept on the defensive this past Holy Week, reflected in several Easter messages. Attempting to rekindle hope and reaffirm the mission and inspiration of his holiness, Cardinal Angelo Sodano declared such talk as petty gossip, Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa likened attacks on the church to anti-semitism towards the Jewish people and the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano accused the media as engaging in an anti-Catholic crusade.
The insinuation against the Pope is indeed a serious matter, yet one which the church has brought on itself by steadfastly continuing to distance itself from external investigations and providing minimal disclosure.
Defenders of the faith declare that the Pope is innocent and should not be implicated for the crimes committed by monsters like Paul Shanley. They have a point, and I agree that the man occupying the throne of St. Peter should not be held directly responsible … that falls on the shoulders of the defrocked; their spiritual guides kept in silence by vigilance to archaic rules binding the Sacrament of Confession; and on the archdiocesan officials who engaged in the shuttling of those wolves, allowing them continued opportunities to prey on innocent sheep. This being said, I feel that indirect responsibility can properly be laid to rest at his Holiness’ white-slippered feet.
Pope Benedict was not anointed a priest yesterday. His comrades, confidants and colleagues were some of the accused and officials who mishandled their punishment. He worked on a daily basis, laboring next to them. During that time there were rumors. There were also cases brought before the various Archbishops. And it would have also been observed how those who came forward for justice were silenced, discredited or placated by assurance that their tormentor would be removed from his duties.
Among the celibate, there are precious few secrets. Alcoholism, womanizing, and drug use were all known of … why would it have been any different with pederasty? The focus was always on preserving the dignity of the church. As the mass begs, “Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your church.” Sin was overlooked for the greater good, and so it continued until the faithful began to question the wisdom in such silence.
My grandmother used to say that everyone knew these things were going on for years. Yet, no one seemed to speak out. Such is the way with those who are in spiritual power. To question is to question the faith. Silence was demanded and was obeyed. For a young Cardinal Ratzinger to have claimed complete ignorance, he would have to have been a mute or a member of a cloistered monastic order, kept aloof from his colleagues and con-celebrants.
I do not blame the Pope for what has happened, but I do demand that as the head of a church that allowed so many faithful to be hurt and institutionally protected their destroyers, that he show the world just how seriously he regards what has happened. The removal of such priests are not enough and hollow words will not restore broken trust.
For those who have been hurt, their lives and piece of mind destroyed by ravenous shepherds, nothing can ever be done to adequately restore what was taken. No justice will be enough. What was done to them is probably the most evil thing that anyone can do to another. Yet, two things can certainly be done that will bring as much relief as is possible. First: the church must show that as an institution it has changed and is willing to engage civil authorities for prosecution of crimes towards juveniles and children. And second: probably the most important, the church must stop protecting its reputation; that it acknowledges the deep evil that was committed by some of its parts; and finally, that it is truly repentant for its sins of omission and commission.
The Archbishop of Canterbury (Church of England), Rowan Williams’ declaration that the church had lost “all credibility” was a strong statement, but one which needed to be said. While directed expressly to the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, those words accurately apply to the church as a whole. What the church requires to be healed is not just an increase in faith, but an outpouring of bitter apology.
As such, to start to restore that trust, Benedict must accept the shortcomings of his predecessors. When the great father addresses the world dressed in robes of sackcloth and ashes, crawling on his belly on the steps of the Sistine Chapel, with tears of shame and sorrow reflecting the gravity of what was done, then and only then will the Vatican start to rebuild the trust that they have so arrogantly demanded. Christ took upon himself the sins of the world and accepted all manner of humiliation. Similarly, to take upon himself the sins of his church would hardly be improper for such a holy personage, in fact would be perfect faith. His Holiness: Art thou greater than He?
And he said to his disciples: it is impossible that scandals should not come. But woe to him through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones.