Apr 3, 2010

A Tale of Two Churches

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

I have to wonder if the Times isn't editorializing with the placement of images in this article. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch has made headlines for apologizing profusely for the failings of the church in the handling of abuse cases. He seems to genuinely believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Juxtapose that with signals from the Vatican, including the most recent embarrassing display of self-pity from the Pope's preacher, and you get what is graphically depicted above; the emotional contrition of an archbishop and a pope with his back to the world.

Archbishop Zollitsch said that the Church had committed serious mistakes and done too little to help the victims of priestly abuse. “The caring responsibility towards the victims was insufficient in the past because of our own disappointment at the painful failure of the perpetrators, and out of a falsely understood concern for the standing of the church," he said.

It was as close as the Church in Germany has come to admitting that it covered up crimes committed by priests

That, he said, was the "painful reality that we have to face up to". The Archbishop's words were notably blunter than those used by the Pope the previous day. 

This is a real step in the right direction as are signals from numerous dioceses.

More than 20 out of 27 dioceses had agreed to integrate the prayers into the service. The formula — openly acknowledging the victimhood of the children molested by priests — had been worked out by Stephan Ackermann, Bishop of Trier, the Church's expert on abuse. Last week he introduced a hotline for victims and found that 20 of the callers claimed to have been abused in his own diocese.

Far less encouraging are statements from Pope Benedict's personal preacher. The Vatican is struggling to distance itself from the homily in the wake of a firestorm of outrage.

At a solemn Good Friday service, Pope Benedict XVI's personal preacher likened the tide of allegations that the pontiff has covered up sex abuse cases to the "more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism." But within hours, facing a storm of criticism at the comparison, the Vatican felt it necessary to distance the pope from the preacher's remarks.

Both Jewish and victims' groups responded that it was inappropriate to compare the discomfort being experienced by the church leadership in the sex abuse scandal to the violence that culminated in the Holocaust. The Vatican has been on the defensive in recent days, saying the church has been singled out and collectively stereotyped for the problem of pedophilia, which it says is a society-wide issue.

Invoking any comparison with anti-Semitism was particularly sensitive on Good Friday, itself a delicate day in a decades-long effort by Jews and Catholics to overcome a legacy of mistrust. There was a long-held Catholic belief that Jews were collectively responsible for executing Christ, and a landmark achievement of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s was a declaration stating the Jews should not be blamed for the crucifixion.

Thoroughly offending two groups of actual victims on Good Friday... I think that may be a new personal best for the Vatican.

I am somewhat encouraged to read that Pope Benedict has given the nod to the German church's approach.

The Pope listened "with keen interest, great sadness, and deep emotion" as the German prelate related the steps that are being taken to respond to the revelations of abuse. "The Holy Father was very satisfied with our decisions," Archbishop Zollitsch told reporters after the meeting.

The German hierarchy has announced that it will report all claims of abuse to law-enforcement officials, unless the victims ask for privacy. The German bishops have commissioned an independent investigation of the more than 100 claims that have already been made, and vowed to cooperate with any government inquiries. "We want to uncover the truth," Archbishop Zollitsch said.

The bishops have applauded the German government's decision to convene a national roundtable on the abuse issue, which will bring together religious leaders, teachers, and abuse victims. Pope Benedict has also indicated his support for the roundtable initiative.

If Holy Week services so far, though, are any indication, the Vatican and much of the Catholic Church still don't get it. There is nothing more offensive than whining about how victimized you are because you're being criticized, when there are people whose lives have been damaged, and destroyed in some cases, by mistakes you made. It displays a narcissistic indifference to the suffering of others. Not the message I'd think the church would want to send as it celebrates Christ's martyrdom.

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