Thursday, December 22, 2011

And Then There Were Two: Dutch Deputy Prime Minister Calls on Catholic Church to Reform Itself

Maxime Verhagen

Unfortunately for those seeking glimpses of reality-based reporting in the mainstream media, this is not a news item you're likely to be reading about in the American media as Christmas nears.  They're too busy falling over themselves right now to report on a study that supposedly shows the shroud of Turin to be a true snapshot of the crucified savior's face--a story being shopped about by well-heeled right-wing Catholic sources determined to prettify the media image of the Catholic church as the year ends.  And the mainstream media are all too ready to cooperate with those big Catholic $$$$.

But for my money, here's the Catholic story that really demands attention right now, which is being totally ignored by the American media: yet another practicing Catholic who has a position of high responsibility in his country has called for the Catholic church to reform itself.  This past weekend, the deputy prime minister of the Netherlands, Maxime Verhagen, a member of the Christian Democratic Appeal party, spoke on national television about the crisis in the Catholic church due to sexual abuse of minors and the cover-up of that abuse.  Verhagen urged the Catholic church to reform itself, and, in particular, asked the pastoral leaders of the Catholic church to begin examining why just 200,000 of the 4 million Catholics in the Netherlands attend Mass regularly.

As Peter Cluskey notes in the Irish Times, Verhagen was speaking with reference to the recently published Deetman Commission report, which shows that more than 800 Catholic priests and monks abused as many as 20,000 children in the Netherlands--many of them sexually, in the period between 1945 and 1985.  And, of course, Verhagen's challenge to the church to reform itself will inevitably bring to mind the similar challenge issued by the Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny this past summer following the release of the Cloyne report, which pulled aside the veil to reveal the extent of abuse in yet another Irish diocese.

Kenny attributes the corruption within the Catholic church that keeps issuing in abuse and its coverup to the "dysfunction, disconnection, elitism--the narcissism" that dominates the culture of the Vatican and of clerical life in the Catholic church.  He notes that the response of the Vatican and the clerical club to reports of abuse of minors has been a "calculated, withering" response of parsing and analyzing data with the gimlet eye of a lawyer rather than the gospel response recommended by St. Benedict: listening with the ears of the heart.

And so, then there were two: first the prime minister of Ireland, a practicing Catholic, issues a clear, strong appeal to his church to reform itself after a humiliating and shocking report about how abuse cases have been handled in Ireland becomes public.  Now the deputy prime minister of the Netherlands, also a practicing Catholic, issues a similar appeal to his church after a similarly humiliating and shocking report is issued in his country.

Is the Vatican listening?  Will the bishops of the Catholic church--its pastoral leaders--listen to these appeals by faithful Catholics concerned about the future of a church they love?

I seriously doubt that they will.  The lure of those big $$$$, many of them coming from powerful right-wing American Catholics (but also from right-wing Catholic movements in Europe that have become integral to the operation of the Vatican under Popes John Paul II and Benedict), is too strong for the ears of the heart to be open to values like compassion and solidarity with the lowly (or pastoral concern about the 3,800,000 Dutch Catholics who no longer go to church) at this point in the history of the church.

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