Monday, April 5, 2010

Bully For The Press, But Boo For Benedict: Why Peggy Noonan and Benedict's Defenders Are Wrong

Timothy Shriver's Washington Post article, Can the pope restore the purity of Catholicism? is a wonderful and insightful piece - except for the title. It assumes that Catholicism has had "purity" for a long time. It hasn't. Catholicism has always been too complex for "purity" of any sort. Ever since the official acceptance of Christianity by Rome (313 CE), The Church has been a curious mixture of conflicting doctrines, artistic beauty, money, immense power, sincere faith and corruption. And perhaps in no other person are those qualities more evident than in pope Benedict XVI. To this man, change in the Church is anathema: Pious XII was his inspiration and John XXIII his enemy. 

That is why his supporters in the latest news about the on-going scandal of sexual abuse have a tough time convincing people that he is not culpable. Take Peggy Noonan of the  Wall Street Journal:
Let me repeat that: The press has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on the scandals because it exposed the story and made the church face it. The press forced the church to admit, confront and attempt to redress what had happened. The press forced them to confess. The press forced the church to change the old regime and begin to come to terms with the abusers...Without this pressure...the church would most likely have continued to do what it has done for half a century, which is look away, hush up, pay off and transfer.
I agree wholeheartedly. Then why would Noonan come up with this statement:
The most reliable commentary on Pope Benedict's role in the scandals came from John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, who argues that once Benedict came to fully understand the scope of the crisis, in 2003, he made the church's first real progress toward coming to grips with it.

"Fully understand the scope of the crisis." The PRESS made Ratzinger understand. No one else did. Sheer conjecture but still valid: IF the press had not capitalized on the scandal, would Ratzinger have continued the old game of "pass the pedaphile priest"??

Come on, Peggy, Ratzinger knew about the abuse long before 2003; he had resources at his command to find out minute details about every priest in the Catholic Church. A hint of heresy never got past him and neither did a hint of sexual abuse. It's sheer idiocy to think that he knew nothing. And with that knowledge he doth sinned in doing nothing.

And there are Catholic leaders - like Bill Donohue of The Catholic League - think that the press is evil, comparing the "persecution" of Catholicism to anti-Semitism!  His own lame response to the scandal:


On March 30, 2010, Donohue appeared on CNN's Larry King Live as part of a panel discussing sexual abuse of children by priests. Donohue blamed the decades-old problem on gay priests, claiming they could not be considered pedophiles because most of the offenses involved "post-pubescent" boys (defined in the interview as boys 12-years-old or older) and were thus "homosexual" acts.
Holy twisted reasoning!!

The Catholic Church (indeed, American Christianity as a whole) is infamous for not admitting culpability in past misdeeds. If Pious XII had admitted that he could have spoken out during the Holocaust would he still be (fast-tracked) on the road to canonization? If the Vatican would have voiced regret for its role in the Crusades and the expulsion of Moors from Spain and Portugal, would the radical Muslim world have as much animosity for Christianity as it does today?

As recently as the 1980s and 1990s, the media has forced the Catholic Church to admit to heinous acts against children: the Duplessis Orphan scandal in Canada and the Magdalene Laundry scandal in Ireland. In both cases, nuns were the perpetrators of torture, slavery, sexual abuse and even homicide over a period of decades. And the Church did more than simply cover up the bodies and place them in unmarked graves.

So the widespread cover-up of sexual abuse in the priesthood is not really surprising. And the abuse was around far longer than Joseph Ratzinger's time on earth. To think that he had nothing to do with it because he (re)acted after the media blew the whistle is polite wishful thinking. As head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger was, in effect, the Church's spin doctor: he was charged to protect the image of the Church as well as its doctrine from heresy. 

And there were times when he acted rather viciously.

Hans Kung was a trusted friend of Joseph Ratzinger in the late 60s. He even helped Ratzinger obtain a professorship at a university in Tubingen, Germany, where Kung was professor of theology. Later, Kung was stripped of his authority to teach theology by (then) Cardinal Ratzinger who was head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The official reason: Kung denied the infalability of the pope. Another reason (according to conspiracy theorists): Kung was too close to John Paul I during his controversial tenure (30 days) and even more controversial death. Kung has since reiterated his criticism of the papacy and in particular of Benedict:

"Joseph Ratzinger has stood still because as a Bavarian Catholic in the Hellenistic tradition, interpreted in Roman terms, he wanted to stand still."
Timothy Shriver of The Washington Post put the scandal and its nuances quite well:

What's needed is a conversion of the bishops and the pope himself. That's right: It's time for the pope and the bishops to convert their culture to one that is centered on loving God from the depths of their souls and to leading a church that is as much mother as father, as much pastoral as theological, as much spiritual as doctrinal. It is time for them to listen to the deep and authentic witness of the people of faith, to trust the spirit that blows where it will, to abandon their defensiveness of their positions and trust only the gospel, and not their edifice of control. Conversion is a total experience -- letting go of the old and putting on the new.

That is something Benedict will never do. And there is no defense of a man who will not progress for the spiritual good of his flock. Benedict is not a shepherd. He is merely an old sentinel who stands guarding an old abusive system.

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