Friday, 25 March 2011

A Reader Asks... For Even More Notes on a Scandal

Alright, it's time to catch up on some reader questions, as well as post my last comment on the Sex Abuse Scandals in the Church.

Back when all the hullaballoo hit the media regarding the sex abuse problem in Ireland (January 2011, specifically), the media had reported that the Irish bishops had received orders from the Vatican that actually instructed them to hide the problem. Kane, a dear friend and frequent reader (and occasional thorn in my side), emailed me a link to one such article and asked, "How does this sort of information affect your confidence in Catholic authority?"

I replied to him with three points, which I have reproduced below. The first is an expression of distrust in the mainstream media's ability to report objectively on Catholic subjects; the second was to actually offer a brief apologetic on the specific case; and finally, I gave a direct answer to his question. His question was not about bad Irish priests or Vatican cover-ups, so much as it was about how these things affect me, personally. So I below take the opportunity to express my faith in the Church--not because I think its leaders are all peachy models of virtue, but because the authority of the Catholic Church simply isn't about them. Read on--and be sure to click the links as they come up, to provide the context for my statements.

The first thing to note about this situation is, frankly, that I have a genuine and sincere difficulty with taking anything that the mainstream media writes regarding religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular at face value. It has demonstrated time and again that it either can not or will not accurately report the facts of the case. This has been amply demonstrated by the hubbub surrounding the Pope's booklength interview with Peter Seewald, and the media's horribly unprofessional twisting of Benedict's comments regarding condoms, as well as by a recent article I read about a lawyer's report that about half of the allegations of priestly sexual abuse are completely fraudulent. This is further commensurated by the fact that the article you linked me to shows only a low-resolution, illegible image of the letter purportedly from the Vatican and allegedly instructing Irish bishops to cover up the priestly scandal, about which we are left to depend on the journalist's firm grasp of Catholic policy. If that's the only article you read on it, you must admit that you didn't get the whole story.

Second, in light of the fact that, if Steier's assertions are correct (second link, above), that so many allegations are indeed baseless and fraudulent, then irreparable damage is being done to good, faithful, virtuous clergy, particularly if mandatory reporting of allegations were to be instituted. I'm not saying these things shouldn't be reported--but then, the document in question isn't either. If you actually read the letter, rather than the media's interpretation of it, it only says that the norms of Canon Law must be followed meticulously in each case, specifically so that no priest can have recourse against the Church through some legal loophole, and the Apostolic Nuncio expressed particular concern with the idea of mandatory reporting of allegations. The stress seems to be laid on "mandatory" rather than "reporting", and says that further concrete directives would be forthcoming (which seemed to have happened in 2001). As such, I do definitely think that Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi is completely sincere and accurate in stating that this document has been grossly misunderstood by the media.

Finally, and most importantly, even if we acknowledge that in many cases the Church hierarchy seriously dropped the ball on many aspects of the sex abuse crisis, I am not sure why it would "affect my confidence in Catholic authority." My confidence in the Church has nothing whatsoever to do with how they conduct themselves in a crisis, or their personal moral failings, or any such thing. I am as confident in their leadership as I am confident in the leadership of any other particular person who has some authority over me. What I have utmost confidence in, when it comes to Catholicism, is something that particular members of the hierarchy, even the pope himself, has no effect on whatsoever in terms of dealing with such situations. My confident faith simply is that when the Pope or the College of Bishops intends to define a matter of doctrine pertaining to faith or morals as being binding on all Catholics, that such a doctrinal definition will be free from error. This is not confidence in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church per se, but confidence in Christ Jesus, that he will keep His promise that the Church will never be destroyed, but that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth--the sins, bungling, and outright and utter failures of those in charge notwithstanding.

The Church, after all, has always been a mix of good and bad--even its leaders. Any student of history knows that many popes themselves have been terrible scoundrels (to say the least). But despite the world's best attempts to destroy the Church, and our own best attempts to sabotage it from within, the Barque of Peter continues to sail on, not because we're oh-so-great, but because Jesus Christ is.

We should keep this sure and blessed hope in mind as we journey through Lent. Easter is the time of Christ's resurrection, but it is also the time of the most virulent attempts by the media to undermine the Church He founded. When we know Him in Whom we have believed, and stay close to Him, He will make sure we are not shaken.

God bless,
Feast of the Annunciation

1 comment:

Kane Augustus said...

Hello Gregory!

I'm proud to be all "Pauline" to you. Witticism: in the body of Christ, somebody has to be the asshole.

Anyway, I enjoyed your article and will be taking the time to read the links you've provided, and preparing a response.

I hope you're doing well.