It was the first overseas trip for Pope Benedict XVI since the latest outburst of stories dealing with allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. He had a tearful meeting with eight men who had been sexually abused as children by priests. The Pope expressed his “shame and sorrow” and promised to implement “effective measures” to ensure there would be no further incidents of sexual abuse. There is no question Pope Benedict is sincere, but the reality is words will not make sexual abuse disappear. There was no indication he was thinking about a much more extensive investigation that would involve all levels of the Church and identify new approaches in dealing with relations between priests and members of their parish, particularly younger boys and girls.
The issue is not whether the Pope is sincere, the issue is not whether he supports such behavior, of course he does not. But, issues such as celibacy, the absence of women from leadership positions might well be confronted at a church meeting.
One increasingly receives the impression members of the Vatican are securely locked into the world of medieval times while the rest of planet Earth is on 2010 time. Several days ago, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarclisio Bertone told a Chile audience celibacy had nothing to do with child abuse in his church and it was all due to some homosexuals who somehow got loose and were giving the church a bad name. Father Marcus Stock, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales felt the need to remind the good Italian cardinal that he may speak for himself, but he does not speak for all Catholics. He made clear, “there is no empirical data which concludes that sexual orientation is connected to sexual abuse.” He made clear the evidence leaned in the direction that sexual abuse stems from the sexual fixation, not the sexual orientation of the individual.
There is a desperate need for Catholic leaders to come together and have open discussions concerning the issue of sexual abuse without being defensive, but fixed on how to proceed in a modern direction.
The ongoing saga of sexual abuses by priests being reported is met by the ongoing saga of Vatican officials who do not remember anything. Bishop Joseph Windle in Canada, disclosed he had sent a letter to the Vatican many years ago in which he reported cases told him by altar boys who were sexually molested by Farther Bernard Prince. Windle wrote: “Were he to be honored in any way, it could easily trigger a reaction among the victims of others who are aware of his previous conduct.” One would assume any official receiving such a communication would conduct an investigation in order to either, protect the reputation of the accused priest or protect the lives of young boys. A reporter contacted the papal nuncio who received the letter and was told: “I just don’t remember anything” and he hung up.
Oh, Father Prince was given a position in the Vatican and became a good friend of then Pope John Paul II. End of story
There are times in life when a visit is ill timed and best could be delayed to a more appropriate time, but Pope Benedict XVI is not delaying his trip to England to meet with bishops of the Church of England. Even as he prepared to leave Italy, Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of the Anglican Church let loose some bluntly critical remarks concerning behavior of the Irish Catholic Church regarding cases of sexual abuse of children. He said leaders of the Irish Catholic Church had lost “all credibility” and the events represented a “colossal trauma” for all involved in church leadership. His comments were greeted with scorn by Irish Catholic leaders. “Those working for renewal in the Catholic Church do not need this comment on the Easter weekend and do not deserve it.” If not now, when?
Rowan Williams does not expect many Anglicans do be attracted by offers from the Pope and returning to the bosom of the Catholic faith. This is not the right time for Catholics to reach out to other Christians and seek their return to the Church. Another time, another leadership, might result in a different reaction.
The Toronto Star in Canada sent out an inquiry to all 225 Catholic priests in the city in order to find out which ones would actually discuss with parishioners the sexual abuse issue confronting the Church. About 20% responded but only ten provided information about their Easter sermon and of those, three said they would discuss the issue. The vast majority said they were busy and spoke from notes rather than wrote out a sermon. The Rev. Michael McGourty provided an excerpt of what he would say: “there is a real danger in these times in which we are barraged by media reports about human weaknesses that we might miss the real message of Christianity. Christians have never claimed that human beings are perfect.”
I trust the Father McGourty remembers his words the next time he denounces females who have abortions.