This Lenten and Easter season has been a tough time to be a Catholic. While American dioceses seem to have mostly put the scandal of sexual abuse of children by priests behind them, the recent explosion of reports of abuse, particularly in Ireland and Germany — where the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI was formerly a Bishop — has brought to matter back to the headlines of the American media.
In particular, an article in the New York Times claimed that the Holy Father knew of abuse in a Wisconsin school for deaf children and allowed the offending priest to continue his work. The article was an implication that the Pope, then Cardinal Ratzinger and in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — “CDF’, which is the Vatican office responsible for not only orthodoxy but ecclesiastic discipline — contributed to abuse by not acting and is morally culpable.
The media coverage has been relentless, and the commentary has often been vicious. Even the occasion of the Holy Father’s Easter homily and Urbi et Orbi (“To the City and to the World”) address have been used as an occasion to blast Benedict XVI for not addressing the scandal in his remarks.
I could dedicate a lengthy post to where the media, the New York Times and others have gotten even the simplest facts wrong in their coverage. Many have done so already, far better than I can ever do. Unfortunately, any criticism of the reporting has been interpreted as a defense of the priests that perpetrated these abuses and of the Church leaders who often showed poor judgment in not acting quickly nor forcefully enough to remove the offenders from their positions and bring in civil authorities to enforce the law. Well-meaning Catholics do not seem able to attempt to point out the truth without being labeled as supporters of child rape.
So how do we respond? I have struggled with this, myself. Too often, in the last few weeks, I have resembled Peter wildly swinging a sword, hoping to take an ear of MSNBC or CNN along the way.
I need to sheath my sword. Catholics need to sheath our swords. Hostility will only worsen the problem. The world does not want to hear us even try to defend ourselves, or our Church, as defense implies justification. We don’t need a public relations firm, we need only rely on the greatest communicator and truth teller the world has ever known. We need to do what He tells us to do: tell our Church to come clean (it has been), not make excuses, and leave the hostility to those who have no stake in the matter.
The Church has encountered uproar and tumult in the past and always emerged better and stronger. To Catholics who question the Church today, I remind you of a great question from the Catholic apologist Tim Staples: “Why would you leave Peter because of Judas?” Why even would you leave Peter because of…Peter? The man who denied Jesus three times and was justly castigated by Paul for ignoring a basic teaching of the Lord is the same man entrusted with our Church.
The Church is, indeed, comprised of sinners. Every one of us. Instead of fighting against those who attack us for our sins, we need to refocus on the sins themselves. Non-Catholics generally disagree with how we read Matthew 16:18, but, to Catholics, do not forget what Jesus promised. Whatever we may think of the media coverage of today, it pales in comparison to the gates of Hell.