Wednesday, 14 April 2010
The role of the laity and the outrageous attacks on the Pope - Part I
The last few weeks have seen an extreme escalation of outrageous attacks on Pope Benedict XVI, culminating in a new low where ridiculous claims of 'crimes against humanity' made by overtly religion-hating atheists are given serious air time in our media. It has also been marked, in the main, by silence on the part of our bishops. The reasons for that are pretty obvious given that they are the previous (and next) target; indeed in many cases the correct target. But it can't continue. Ignoring the issue will not make it go away.
In the face of this attack - which is but a thinly veiled attempt to discredit the Church's stance on a range of moral and social issues, not least homosexuality and abortion - all members of the Church, bishops, priests and laity must stand up and be counted in defense of our Church.
But there is an underlying reality too that needs to be acknowledged. On the one hand it is sheer hypocrisy on the part of many of the accusers to target the Church on the abuse issue. All the evidence suggests that child abuse, and cover-up of it on the part of priests is no more prevalent than in other religions and Christian ecclesial communities, and in society generally and probably less so. And it is particularly ironic that much of the attack is coming from those that advocate a loose sexual morality in general.
Yet even though we realise that we are all sinners and history repeatedly attests to this in the state of the Church itself, nonetheless the institutional Church should be held to a higher standard than prevails in society at large. We do rightly expect our priests to be better than we ourselves because they do represent the Church to the broader community. Preaching and leadership should come from example as much as words.
In other circumstances the scourge of child abuse that afflicts our society, which can rightly be seen as the logical product of the secular worship of self and pleasure, is something the Church would and should be denouncing from the pulpits. The increased prevalence of child abuse within the institutions of the Church itself is a serious scandal that the Church needs to acknowledge, deal with more effectively, and learn from in order to reform itself. For real reform is needed.
Priests who abused children should be swiftly removed from the priesthood.
There is a certain truth to the argument that we can't hold bishops in particular to the standards of today when the advice they were being given at the time was so different to what we now know. Back in the 1960s and 70s, for example, it was thought that psychotherapy could 'cure' pedophiles and other types of sociopathic behaviour; today there is no such optimism.
All the same it is quite clear that many bishops (such as, to take a not at all random example, Archbishop Weakland, apparently one of the sources of the New York Times' attacks on the Pope) made appalling decisions for all the wrong reasons.
Nor is it entirely clear that everyone has absorbed the lessons from the experience. Many priests for example accused falsely or otherwise of abuse, seem to be held in limbo for years rather than swiftly investigated and either charged, removed from ministry for prudential reasons, or cleared. This is as unjust as the shuffling of guilty priests from position to position, and cannot be sustained if we want to recruit and retain good priests!
And other types of abuses of the rights of the laity continue unabated, and will surely lead to the next wave of scandal if not corrected.
So what can we do?
1. Defend the Pope publicly
Pope Benedict XVI is clearly part of the solution in this case, not part of the problem.
That's not to say that the Vatican has handled this issue well, now or in the past - it hasn't, and some heads need to roll. But we all need to take every opportunity to point out that Pope Benedict XVI consistently did what he could under Pope John Paul II to see that the problem was addressed systematically, resulting in the decision to refer all abuse cases to Rome to ensure action, and faster action at that, in 2001. Since he has become Pope he has taken decisive action, for example against the Legionaries and their founder, in meeting representatives of the victims on his trips, and most recently in his letter to Ireland.
If you have any doubts about his determination to address what he described as the filth afflicting the Church in a powerful sermon to the bishops immediately before the Conclave that elected him, read his Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland. In fact, read it anyway if you haven't already, it is clear, concise and very helpful.
If you want to blame a Pope for the abuse scandal, far better targets are Pope Paul VI, who relaxed so many of the disciplines of the Church that helped guard against such problems. Or better still, Pope John Paul II under whose long reign most of the abuses occurred, and who refused to listen to those who tried to tell him...
So write letters to the editor, comment on newspaper articles, vote in online polls, get out the message around the watercooler.
It is probably a waste of time to try and lobby Cath News to actually report the various defenses of the Pope that have been published, as opposed to highlighting and giving space to the continuing stream of overt and more insidious insider attacks on him and the institutional Church, but if you do frequent the Cath News boards for whatever reason, you could try (again).
If you're on facebook, there are several groups supporting the Pope you can join.
2. Pray for the Pope
The FSSP offered a novena for the Pope a few weeks back. You can currently sign up to join the spiritual bouquet being offered through the Institute of Christ the King. Or you could just say some prayers yourself... I've put the novena prayer up in a sidebar.