Friday, July 2, 2010

Benedict, a Citizen of Sodom in Good Standing for 40 Years: More News Coverage about What Benedict Could Have Done When

I noted a few days ago that the mainstreaming of truth-telling news coverage about the scandal caused by the cover-up of clerical sexual abuse cases has the potential to create major public image problems for the Catholic church right now.  As I noted this, I discussed Dan Rather’s upcoming report on how U.S. Catholic dioceses are filing bankruptcy to shield their wealth as victims of childhood abuse come forward, and I talked about a recent New York Review of Books article discussing the horrific story of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel.

And the coverage continues: in today’s online edition of the New York Times, Laurie Goodstein and David M. Halbfinger report information that strongly calls into question the thesis of many of Pope Benedict’s defenders that he has been the clean-up man in the abuse scandal, and not a part of the problem.  That thesis rests on the claim that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was given responsibility to handle abuse cases worldwide in 2001, and that Ratzinger’s hands were tied before this time, as head of the CDF, when it came to addressing the abuse situation.

Goodstein and Halbfinger note that various ecclesial documents and information supplied by canon lawyers indicate that, in fact, the CDF was given authority over all abuse cases in 1922.  All during the time in which he was head of the CDF, Ratzinger already had a mandate to address the abuse situation.

Goodstein and Halbfinger conclude:

Cardinal Ratzinger, of course, had not yet become pope, a divinely ordained office not accustomed to direction from below. John Paul, his longtime superior, often dismissed allegations of pedophilia by priests as an attack on the church by its enemies. Supporters say that Cardinal Ratzinger would have preferred to take steps earlier to stanch the damage in certain cases. 
But the future pope, it is now clear, was also part of a culture of nonresponsibility, denial, legalistic foot-dragging and outright obstruction. More than any top Vatican official other than John Paul, it was Cardinal Ratzinger who might have taken decisive action in the 1990s to prevent the scandal from metastasizing in country after country, growing to such proportions that it now threatens to consume his own papacy.

As I read this, I think of the claim of my Catholic brothers and sisters of the center and right that the nasty secular media and barbed bloggers are out to do the church in.  I think of the claim of these sectors of the church, and of many of my safe colleagues in the American Catholic theological academy who collaborate with them, that those who love the church don’t air its dirty laundry in public.

I increasingly doubt the claim that those who want to hide the truth, evade responsibility, and control or thwart much-needed inclusive public dialogue about the challenges facing the church love the church in some exemplary way.  The deep, well-nigh intractable structural problems facing the Catholic church at this point in history—which need the contributions of all of us to resolve them, including those many theologians silenced by the current pope in his years as head of the CDF—are threatening the future of the church.

It just won’t do any longer to do the old dysfunctional tribal song and dance about the nasty secular media and the anti-Catholic prejudice of Main Street America—not with a majority of Catholic justices sitting on the Supreme Court.  And it certainly won’t do any longer to bash the gays and to blame the problem on gay priests.

It’s time to face reality.  The Catholic church is in deep trouble.  And the whole world knows it and won’t stop talking about, no matter how adroitly we attack the gays and blame the media.  And those who profess most loudly that they love the church, as they engage in these attacks and the blame-game, are not doing a service to the church they claim to love, in thwarting open, inclusive, and respectful dialogue about the future of a church that is circling the drain.

It’s time for some painful, necessary, therapeutic truth-telling.