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March 30, 2010

How Long?

Roy Meachum

You might think the Vatican’s role in sexual scandals is the result of an eager-beaver press, intent on bringing down the Roman Catholic Church. That is neither true nor necessary.


Pope Benedict XVI and all his men are doing a splendid job in destroying the church – and themselves. The curia’s method is to keep everything totally secret. Tightly covered, the facts simmer, and then boil and then explode. In recent weeks we have seen how the false strategy works.


No sooner than the papal statement on Ireland’s moral corruption was published, than we had stories about the American priest tried in the public mind, and convicted, of assaulting some 200 deaf children, mostly boys. The latest delayed example hit the target center: His Holiness, when Cardinal Josef Ratzinger was the archbishop of Munich and Freising. The Holy Father may have reassigned to pastoral work that includes children, a rather notorious priest known to assault very young parishioners.


In no nation has the Vatican flushed out the scandal, aired it and lay on punishment to fit the crime. In every instance, the secular and ecclesiastical community was left with the stench of secrecy and cover-up.


Pope Benedict also came under immediate withering fire because his recent letter to the Irish bishops was filled with high prose but made no provision for punishment. In country after country, the United States to Australia, from Germany to Mexico, we have read clergy chided but left off on their promise to sin no more. From the same mouths the world has heard those words, again and again. (Incidentally, sex scandals have racked the church in nations other than America, Australia, Germany and Mexico; e.g., Ireland, Austria, England, Italy – and still counting.)


The papal biographer, Joseph L. Allen, Jr., and a host of clerics, have defended the Bavarian pontiff; none of whom can be trusted. The priests and more senior church officials obviously are reluctant to criticize their boss. The curia has the power to make them literally disappear by handing out assignments to hidden corners of the world. When he still headed what was once called the Holy Office of Inquisition, Msgr. Ratzinger set about exiling and demoting theologians, especially, whose views he denigrated as “liberal.”


As for Mr. Allen, he not only has the sales of his Benedict XVI book to worry about; he lives in Rome and covers papal affairs for the National Catholic Reporter. If he gets the Vatican bureaucracy riled up, there goes his job, which essentially covers the pope’s up and down moods, his temperament and actions. Getting dropped from the press release list would muck up his life.


Speculation also appeared in the past week that the former Cardinal Ratzinger might turn in his St. Peter’s ring, his white vestments and the tremendous influence that comes with his job. Don’t believe them. If every Catholic resigned from the church, the pope and his men would putter right along. I’ve heard from bishops, priests and ordinary lay people that part of the ecclesiastical problem springs from too many and too diverse members. They say they want a more like-thinking and smaller congregation; each carved out of each other’s ribs, so to speak.


The pope and all his men (no women by design) may get exactly what they wish for from people who decide the church no longer mirrors their faith and hopes. Their inevitable exit can be hurried by the lack of sacerdotal ambitions: schools and institutions once manned by priests and brothers and once “womanned” by nuns are closing each week. Without these teachers and role models, Catholicism as we know it may be reduced to buildings and magnificent art; but no men, women and children.


In the middle of World War II, when the battle raged, Stalin sarcastically asked how many divisions the pope commanded. As far as I know, no one recorded the answer. But a future Stalin would not be prompted to put the question.


St. Peter’s presence on the Tiber River may still physically be there but emptied entirely of the spirit, divine or human.


My poor church!


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