Thursday, March 7, 2013

Margaret Talbot on a Church Surely "In Some Kind of Trouble": Squandered Opportunities for Catholic Reform

Margaret Talbot puts her finger right on the glaring sore spot in a church that is, as she says, surely "in some kind of trouble" when it can expel a priest faster for advocating women’s ordination than for raping children. As she says, sexual abuse of minors exists in other institutions, but when it comes to the Catholic church, the following stands out:

What is distinctive about child abuse in the Catholic Church is not its existence, or even its coverup; in recent months alone, we’ve seen evidence of similar cowardice at Penn State and the BBC. What is distinctive is that Catholic officials can find a higher purpose—protecting the sanctity of the priesthood—in shielding abusers, and a spiritually rewarding humility in enduring criticism of their conduct. Mahony has been blogging about the public disparagement he has received, and he compares it to what Christ withstood, urging the faithful to join him in exploring what it is to “take up our cross daily and to follow Jesus—in rejection, in humiliation, and in personal attack.” But, unlike the criminal prosecution of perpetrators—or real Church reform—that doesn’t do much to help victims or to prevent abuse.

And not only has Cardinal Mahony sought--sickeningly and with extreme narcissism--to depict himself  as the victim in the Los Angeles diocesan abuse mire he played a key role in hiding, but now that he's in Rome for the papal conclave, having thumbed his nose at the many lay Catholics who asked him to have the decency to refrain from going to Rome, he's been tweeting chipper bons mots like, 

Good weather forecast for this week in Rome; no rain. Mid 50s during the day, upper 30s at night. Great Holy Spirit weather!!

As Talbot also says (again putting her finger on a painful sore spot for many Catholics who have demanded serious reform in our church), Benedict could have made a real difference. But, instead, 

Benedict’s term, in fact, has been characterized by an intensifying disapproval of would-be reformers. In a homily last spring, the Pope denounced the efforts of a reforming priest in Austria, where a hundred and fifty thousand Catholics have left the Church in response to revelations of sex abuse in that country, and called upon Catholics to embrace instead “the radicalism of obedience.”

And then he went on to dismiss Father Roy Bourgeois from the priesthood for advocating for women's ordination. And here's the upshot of the way in which Benedict spectacularly squandered his chances to reform the church's governing structures (mainstream media and centrist Catholic reports that he did address the abuse crisis effectively notwithstanding):

Nobody really seems to believe that this conclave will pick a Pope who would consider removing leaders like Mahony or ordaining women or allowing priests to marry. But so many people worldwide—especially those who have been ignored, mistreated, or excluded by a Church they love—would rejoice if it did.

Talbot is absolutely right. 

The photograph of Margaret Talbot is by Nina Subin.

(Thanks to Jim McCrea for emailing a copy of Talbot's article to me.)

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