Media is targeting Catholic Church, but criticism should be directed elsewhere
April 12, 2010 9:00 p.m.
The renascent scandal concerning sexual improprieties within the Catholic Church is saddening. Every day, seemingly, a new case is held up for our mortification, each supplying a new reason to mistrust an institution that has built its reputation on respect for values, civility and human decency.
Yet the investigation also gives rise to the sinking suspicion that the errors of a few are being used to justify an attack on Catholicism in general, with the result that millions of innocents will be made into victims.
The New York Times, which helped lead the first major inquisition against the church, recently renewed the battle (or as it might claim, the moral mission).
From a story it published March 24: “Top Vatican officials ““ including the future Pope Benedict XVI ““ did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.”
The Times article attempts to elucidate one of the main causes of the church’s recidivism. That is: the lack of issue, or else perspicacity, of those who were in a position to end the abuses.
We have heard over the years countless stories about cardinals and bishops allowing offending priests to slip through the cracks ““ by sending them to therapy and/or treating their wrongdoing as a spiritual matter (not to mention paying the substantial amount of money required to settle the cases).
In most cases, this inaction seems to have been designed to achieve noble ends: the protection of the church from revelations that could damage its reputation and also from impulses to abolish its traditional teachings (e.g. the celibacy vow).
Of course, these good intentions do not in any way lessen the pain experienced by the people who suffered at the hands of priests and other members of the clergy.
For this reason, the failure of people in power to hold their subordinates accountable must be dealt with swift condemnation, of the kind received by CEOs who betray their companies by embezzling money.
However, the crusade to root out evil in the church has also produced casualties of overzealous truth-seeking. This pertains to one of the secondary (but still important) consequences of the scandal, which is the runoff that people who are in the church but innocent of its crimes are inured to. We can identify two classes of victims: parishioners, who make up the vast majority of casualties, and priests.
What can be said for these people? One begins by asseverating, again, their innocence, which becomes obscured every time a perpetrator is taken away in handcuffs or even when one is indicted falsely. These people are heroes.
Despite the ill fame that redounds to them from their association with the church’s malefactors, they manage to keep their faith in spite of it all. They are the true believers, who Jesus called the “salt of the earth” in the Sermon on the Mount.
One is compelled to elaborate on the demands placed on these believers by the scandals. We should note, first of all, that these demands are inseparable from the duty that all Catholics have to the hierarchy of the church, which enjoins them to respect the church’s leaders.
These leaders are said to hold true authority on matters of religious significance, which means that they serve in a dual capacity as teachers and as spiritual guides.
In their status as teachers, many clergy members have tried to convince laypeople that the scandal, while dismaying to all, should remain the sole province of church authorities. Followers have often been willing to accept this dictate as part of their servitude. However, an increasing number understands that adhering to this principle involves a sacrifice: While they maintain their relationship with their priest ““ their bridge to God ““ they abdicate on the other moral questions ““ namely, the abuses of power and the victimization of children.
The media coverage of the scandal has been a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the harsh depiction of the church has been the greatest impetus of purification, without which it might never recover. Ecclesiastics can thank God every time a miscreant is found out and punished.
It is when the media begins selectively choosing its targets that it ceases to be helpful. We might say that it crossed this boundary long ago when it seemed to pursue an intentional policy of turning a blind eye to the erring priests’ homosexuality.
It is even more evident today in another apparent trend, the subversion of the church’s non-egalitarian origins, which is rooted in the liberal desideratum of absolute equality.
For the people who hold this view, the church’s hierarchy is a dangerous form of exclusion, an antediluvian system equivalent to a caste system. The idea is that the centuries-old system should be abrogated in favor of something that treats all its members exactly the same.
The current attempts to implicate the pope in wrongdoing are steps toward this “progressive” agendum (it is worth noting that it started during Holy Week, the most sacred time for Catholics).
But these critics are not to be taken seriously. Contrary to the opinion stated in the Times article, the pope was an early critic of the abuses in question and once spoke acerbically about purifying the church of its “filth.”
As for the case mentioned earlier, we learn that the pope’s deputy approved a trial against the molesting priest but was unable to carry it out before the priest’s death.
Character assassinations such as this have weakened the church. In the years ahead, it must resist the efforts of others to detract from it, directing them to places of more rampant corruption.
However, keeping to the values of the true church will be absolutely necessary for its salvation.