Jul 3, 2010

Pope Benedict: Asleep at the Switch?

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

A lengthy feature in the New York Times reminds us that while Pope Benedict (aka Cardinal Ratzinger) has been a radical on the sex abuse issue as compared with Vatican culture, by any objective standard, his efforts have been anemic at best. Some would say ineffectual. Much of the foot-dragging and inattention has been covered on this blog but the Times has turned up some stunners. Like the fact that some abusive priests who should have been laicized weren't simply because the Vatican was concerned about the growing priest deficit.

Another hint of his priorities came at a synod in 1990, when a bishop from Calgary gingerly mentioned the growing sexual abuse problem in Canada. When Cardinal Ratzinger rose to speak, however, it was of a different crisis: the diminishing image of the priesthood since the Second Vatican Council, and the “huge drop” in the numbers of priests as many resigned.

That concern — that the irrevocable commitment to the priesthood was being undermined by the exodus of priests leaving to marry or because they were simply disenchanted — had already led Cardinal Ratzinger to block the dismissal of at least one priest convicted of molestation, documents show.

“Look at it from the perspective of priestly commitment,” said the Rev. Joseph Fessio, a former student of Cardinal Ratzinger’s and founder of the conservative publishing house Ignatius Press. “You want to get married? You’re still a priest. You’re a sex offender? Well, you’re still a priest. Rome is looking at it from the objective reality of the priesthood.”

And if we needed anymore evidence of Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos's incredible idiocy, we get it.

Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, then the head of the Congregation for the Clergy, set the tone, playing down sexual abuse as an unavoidable fact of life, and complaining that lawyers and the media were unfairly focused on it, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. What is more, he asked, is it not contradictory for people to be so outraged by sexual abuse when society also promotes sexual liberation?

That's right. There's no big diff between consensual sex between adults and the rape of children. And it's all society's fault anyway.

It would seem his Holiness is also more preoccupied with the laxity of social norms than with members of the clergy whose behavior is morally repugnant to the most of the secular world. With all the problems in his own church, his major priority is the secularization of the Western world.

When Ratzinger was elected to the papacy five years ago, many cardinals at the time said they had turned to him because they regarded him as the figure best equipped to respond to the crisis of secularization in the West, especially in Europe. His choice of name, “Benedict,” was in part a reference to St. Benedict, the founder of European monasticism.

In the intervening five years, a series of controversies and scandals during Benedict’s pontificate – most recently, the global sexual abuse crisis swirling around the Catholic church – has often obscured that aim, and arguably made it far more difficult to realize, at least in the short term. Nevertheless, the creation of a new council suggests that Benedict has not thrown in the towel.

During his homily this evening for a vespers service to open the annual feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Benedict said he decided to create the new department to promote renewed evangelization of traditionally Christian nations “living through a progressive secularization of society and a sort of ‘eclipse of the sense of God.’”

The Pontiff remains somewhat inscrutable; appearing to really "get" the seriousness of these sex offenses one minute and completely detached, missing pertinent meetings on the issue, the next. But again, what makes him remarkable is that he's been so alone amidst other Vatican officials in understanding that sexual abuse is a terrible, damaging crime. But whether he's still playing the game of internal politics or his priorities are genuinely screwed up, he's still coming out on the wrong side of this issue. He recently forcefully rebuked Cardinal Shoenborn for comments critical of the Vatican's continuing insensitivity to abuse survivors, such as Cardinal Sodano's "petty gossip" slur. As Terence McKieranan of BishopAccountability.org said of this misguided papal rebuke, "The pope is sending an unmistakable message to his bishops that in his administration, avoiding scandal still trumps truth."

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