If Pope Benedict’s Palm Sunday homily is any indication, the Vatican is thinks that the best way to respond to the growing sex abuse scandal is to attack the messenger:
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) — Pope Benedict, facing one of the gravest crises of his pontificate as a sexual abuse scandal sweeps the Church, indicated on Sunday that his faith would give him the courage not to be intimidated by critics.
The 82-year-old pontiff led tens of thousands of people in a sunny St. Peter’s Square in a Palm Sunday service at the start of Holy Week events commemorating the last days in the life of Jesus.
While he did not directly mention the scandal involving sexual abuse of children by priests, parts of his sermon could be applicable to the crisis.
The pontiff said faith in God helps lead one “towards the courage of not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion.”
He also spoke of how man can sometimes “fall to the lowest, vulgar levels” and “sink into the swamp of sin and dishonesty.”
One prayer asked God to help “the young and those who work to educate and protect them,” which Vatican Radio said was intended to “sum up the feelings of the Church at this difficult time when it confronts the plague of pedophilia.”
As the scandal has convulsed the Church, the Vatican has gone on the offensive, attacking the media for what it called an “ignoble attempt” to smear Pope Benedict and his top advisers.
Somehow this doesn’t strike me as the smartest response. If anything, the Church needs to do everything it can to accept moral culpability for this scandal and for the children that have been harmed by it. But, that’s part of the problem that the Vatican has had with this story all along, they’re more interested in protecting the institution than bringing out the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
The church’s fundamental and deliberate separation from secular society — in terms of how it sees its mission, protects itself and interprets human misbehavior — explains much of its leaders’ response, or lack thereof, to the child sexual abuse crisis. Time and again they have sought to police their own ranks in their own ways, due largely to fears of persecution that are embedded in the very genesis of the Church, supported by much if its history and evoked by its signal symbol: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
There are enemies of the faith, no question. And so there is a powerful impulse to protect it that can override all else — that can lead to Pope Benedict XVI’s edict in 2001, when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and leading the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that exhorted bishops worldwide to aggressively report abuse cases directly to the Vatican but offered no comparable encouragement for them to report crimes to the police.
There is also a decidedly nonsecular response to wrongdoing that paves the way for second and third chances — and serial abuse. In the secular world, the molestation of a child is labeled a crime, and a heartfelt apology for it doesn’t obviate jail time. In the Catholic Church, it is discussed as a sin, to be confessed and then, by the grace of God, forgiven. Penitence may well supplant punishment.
“There’s the idea that you can reform yourself and be forgiven and that any confession is a true confession if you believe in your heart that you’re not going to do it again,” said David France, author of the 2004 book “Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal.” That is one of the beauties of the faith, and the fury of journalists and prosecutors can come across as an assault on it.
And, quite honestly, the fury of any rational human being. Forgiveness is fine as a religious concept, and that is, no doubt, the Church’s prerogative, but these men committed vicious and cruel crimes against children. Forgiveness wasn’t enough, they needed to pay for what they did. But the Church made sure that wouldn’t happen by covering it up.
And that, my friends, is a grave sin indeed.
Finally, will someone please tell The New York Times that in a Catholic Church it’s called a homily, not a sermon ?