Faced with the most damning sex abuse allegations to date, including documents that apparently prove Joseph “Pope Benedict XVI” Ratzinger’s personal involvement in the attempt to cover-up the scandal and protect child-raping priests from the authorities, the Catholic Church has responded with the sort of humility and contrition we have come to expect from the world’s oldest, richest and most powerful religious sect — which is to say, none at all.
First, the Vatican’s preacher apostolic (the pope’s personal pastor, essentially) Raniero Cantalamessa, speaking at a Good Friday service in St. Peter’s Basilica attended by Pope Benedict, equated criticism of the church to the persecution of the Jewish people throughout history:
They [the Jews] know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence, and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms.
Cantalamessa then read from a letter he claimed was written by a Jewish friend:
I am following the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope and all the faithful by the whole world. The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.
Two things, quickly: First, for hundreds of years the collective violence carried out against Jews was endorsed and often led by the Catholic Church. (But hey, what else could a good Catholic do? — the Jews’ responsibility for the murder of Jesus was a matter of church doctrine until the 1960s.) Second, no one is talking about collective guilt. The Pope and other particular Vatican officials have been accused of specific offenses. People within and outside the church, all over the world, are demanding that the pope take personal responsibility for sheltering men he knew to be child rapists. The pope is refusing.
So then, during Easter mass in St. Peter’s Square, Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, said this during his address to the crowd:
Holy Father, the people of God are with you, and do not let themselves be impressed by the gossip of the moment, by the challenges that sometimes strike at the community of believers.
I know! Christ, you spend a few decades shielding child sex criminals from justice in countries across the globe and suddenly you’re the bad guy!
“Challenges” like habitual pederasts who molest hundreds of children? Are those the kind of challenges you’re referring to, Father Sodano, striking at the community of believers? ‘Cause I’d probably want to, you know, do something about that sort of thing. Something other than continuing to pass the collection plates while I sit around tickling my own prostate, I mean.
Finally, also on Easter Sunday, John Vlazny, the Archbishop of Portland, Oregon, distributed a written statement to parishioners encouraging them to cancel their subscriptions to The Oregonian, Portland’s Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper. What were The Oregonian’s offenses — failing to subject known sexual predators on its staff to discipline of any kind? No; running a syndicated column by E.J. Dionne challenging the Vatican to take responsibility and implement real change in the face of these latest accusations, printing a cartoon by Jack Ohman depicting Pope Benedict as “the deaf boy,” oblivious to shouts for pedophile priests to face justice, and publishing an editorial critical of the church’s handling of the scandal.
Maybe I’d better let Vlazny’s remarkable letter speak for itself (emphases mine):
Let me be specific about my complaints. In the column on March 29 by syndicated columnist, E.J. Dionne Jr., towards the end of his clever attempt to ridicule the Vatican, we find this bold assertion: “The church needs to cast aside the lawyers, the PR specialists and its own worst instincts…” If that’s not bad enough, try this: “The church will have to show not only that it has learned from the scandal, but also that it’s truly willing to transform itself.” Now you tell me, when you are served with a lawsuit for millions of dollars, is it malicious to seek a lawyer’s help? PR specialists? Dream on.
[. . .]
Then on March 30 there was the unconscionable cartoon on the editorial page which unfairly belittled our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. It was a portrayal dripping with hostility, an attack against our high priest, our universal pastor, our faithful teacher, the one person who, in the eyes of the world, symbolizes all that we are and do as Catholics. I was insulted and I hope you were too.
[. . .]
The last straw came on March 31. On the editorial page again, this time in the form of a prominent editorial, the editors arrogantly scolded the church for its past failures in handling this matter of child sexual abuse and, in an insulting and unfair attack, chose this most holy time of the year, during our church’s Year of the Priest, to connect the practice of celibacy among our clergy with the problem of child sexual abuse, when everyone knows that most abusers by far are married persons! Is every single person now under a cloud of suspicion? Or only single Catholic priests? If only the latter, don’t you wonder why?
For more than ten years as Archbishop of Portland, in one way or another, I have pondered these challenges and perhaps taken them more seriously than they merited. . . . The Catholic Church, in exercising her prophetic role and responsibility, is sometimes a very lonely speaker when addressing reasonable solutions to problematic realities like abortion, devaluing marriage and family life, injustices in the economy which lead to unabated poverty demeaning the sacredness of human sexuality and the place of religion in the public forum.
[. . .]
[T]he triduum of hostility, arrogance and ridicule that greeted readers during the early days of Holy Week, at the expense of the Catholic Church, is simply not tolerable and should not be condoned without some form of protest.
That’s right, it’s the Catholic Church that’s the real victim here. It’s that cartoon making fun of the pope that Vlazny calls “unconscionable,” not the actions of the pope which inspired it. And those of us who expect the church to do any more than it already has to respond to the decades-long epidemic of clergy sex abuse are simply giving in to prejudice, or are revealing ourselves as arrogant, and hostile to the cherished role religion plays in upholding the morals of our society.
Thousands of people have been sexually abused by Catholic priests. The church has responded by minimizing the scope and severity of the crimes committed, and guarding the criminals. It’s not about suspecting that every priest is a child molester. It’s not about stereotyping. It’s not about secularists seizing on a chance to tear down the church.
Thousands of people have been sexually abused by Catholic priests, who were protected from justice by their superiors. That’s what this is about.
The response we’re looking for, Mr. Cantalamessa, Mr. Sodano, Mr. Vlazny, Mr. Ratzinger, is “We failed in our responsibilities. We surrender ourselves to justice to be investigated, tried and punished as the law sees fit. We’re very sorry and we will work to ensure this never, ever happens again.”
Practice it. Judges like to see remorse.
(Read Michael Wolff’s excellent column on this subject for Vanity Fair right here.)