April 28, 2008
Pope lances sexual abuse: Healing begins
By dealing squarely and openly with the tragedy of clergy sexual abuse in the United States Pope Benedict has helped the Church move to a new phase in dealing with this tragedy - from exposure to healing. This pretty much ensures that the issue will cease to be much of a media event even though new allegations will be made and lawsuits launched. Exposure of evil is big news; healing is not.
As much as exposure of this evil has been painful for Catholics, we should be thankful that Western societies have a free press that will gnaw the bone of scandal until there is nothing left to chew on. Exposure may be painful; cover-up is complicity with the evil.
It was cover-up that allowed the cancer of the exploitation of children to grow until it metastasized into the gravest scandal the Church in North America has ever seen. Thank God there was exposure.
When an evil like this is allowed to fester until it becomes a phenomenon, the exposure is likely to be messy. Probably some priests have been accused of wrongdoing when they were innocent. No doubt that all priests, most of whom live exemplary lives, have had their reputations tarred by the sins of four per cent of the clergy.
But with certainty thousands of young people have had their capacity to love diminished because men who should have been leading them to God, instead sexually defiled them.
Healing is, in contrast, a difficult news story. No lights flash that say someone has been healed. No advocacy groups spring up to say, "Thank you for healing me." Healing is deeply personal and internal. One may proclaim that one has been healed, but it is not easily verified. Healing is rarely complete. We all need some form of healing.
But Pope Benedict has moved things toward healing by repeatedly denouncing clergy sexual abuse during his five-day U.S. visit, by admitting that the crisis was "sometimes very badly handled" and by meeting with some of the victims of abuse.
Although no one predicted the pope would be so outspoken about sexual abuse during his visit to the U.S., we should have expected it. This pope has long shown that he has no fear of controversy and that he will make the politically incorrect statement to spark debate and reflection. He is a man of uncommon courage.
Just a few weeks before he was chosen as the pope three years ago, Joseph Ratzinger used the Good Friday Way of the Cross to speak of "filth" in the priesthood.
Pope Benedict may be one of the world's greatest intellectuals, but he identifies deeply with the simple faith of ordinary people. He will not let that faith be violated.
"It's more important to have good priests than to have many," he told reporters frankly on his flight to the U.S.
In the U.S., he spoke at some length during the sacred moments of his homilies about sexual abuse and the need "to foster healing and reconciliation" and "to put aside all anger and contention."
Pope Benedict served as a good shepherd to his flock in the United States. He knows that the victims of this scandal include not only those who were sexually violated, but all the faithful whose trust in the Church and its leaders has been undermined. The most important step towards restoring unity in faith is to admit the problem.
In his April 19 homily in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, the pope urged his congregation of bishops, priests, religious and seminarians to move towards a new day. In this society, "our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God's love," he said. The joy could not be seen as long as it was "obscured by the sins and weaknesses of her members."
Exposure and admission of sin is wiping the dirt off the windows of the Church. The light is again beginning to shine through.
- Glen Argan