So the pope flies to Portugal to visit Fatima and acknowledges that the current problems the church is having come from sins within the church and not from without.
What, we’re supposed to feel grateful? Forgive, forget and move on?
Not so fast.
When an apology comes from someone backed into a corner, it carries very little weight. Look how long this admission has been coming. The latest round of scandal goes back to charges made at the Jesuit High School in Berlin. But that’s practically yesterday’s news.
Where was the apology when Father Gilbert Gauthe pleaded guilty to eleven cases of sexual abuse of altar boys and boy scouts in 1985?
Where was the apology when U.S. bishops admitted in 1992 that some of them tried to hide abuses?
Where was the apology when, the following year, in 1993, James Porter, a priest in Fall River, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty to abusing children in five states?
Where was the apology when five years after that, in 1998, John Geoghan, a priest from Boston, admitted he had been fondling boys for thirty years in half a dozen parishes?
Where was the apology when, in 2004, a study sponsored by bishops of the church found 10,667 complaints against 4,392 priests between 1950 and 2002?
Where was the apology when in 2004, instead of looking back on this history of abuse within the church, the Catholic League announced that Protestant clergy were “slightly more likely” to commit child abuse than Catholic priests – and don’t forget about parents, family members and teachers?
Where was the apology when Paul Shanley, a priest from Boston, was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison for child rape in 2005?
There’s hundreds, possibly thousands or other turns in the road when an apology might have been forthcoming. Where was it?
Earlier this year, virtually a full decade after the scandal exposed by the Boston Globe*, another scandal breaks out, this time in Germany. And another, in Ireland. And another, in Brazil. Ten years ago it became evident that the real problem in the church was not a handful of men suffering from sociopathic sexual urges, but a handful of men like Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who were enabling these men to prey on youth again and again. The whole world figured out by now where problem lay, and still, the first loyalty of these bishops and cardinals was not to children in their charge but to the institution that refers to them as “excellency” and “eminence.” These guys are even referred to as “princes.”
In Brazil, a video of a priest sexually abusing a child appears on television, and the number of abuses in Ireland, it turns out, has topped 15,000 children.
Still no apology.
Instead, we get the pope’s personal pastor, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, speaking at a Good Friday service of an attack on the church by outsiders. It reminds him, he says, of the "more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism."
Two days days later, on Easter Sunday, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals addresses the pope during Easter Sunday Mass, and says "The people of God are with you and will not let themselves be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment, by the trials that sometimes assail the community of believers." Sodano, by the way, was a protector of Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a man known to have fathered as many as six children, at least two of whom he abused sexually.
A week before, on Palm Sunday, Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, urged “solidarity with ‘our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob, and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus.’"
Finally the pope steps up – not after calling a press conference, not speaking to a crowd assembled at St. Peter’s, but almost casually, in the aisle of his airplane, with a question planted with a reporter – to say, effectively, all these loyal prince of the church friends, bless their hearts no doubt in the right place, are wrong – the problem lies within and we should all do penance.
That’s it. We should all admit we were wrong and get down on our knees.
You know an apology when you see one. This ain’t one. This is bullshit. An apology comes with contrition, with a sign of recognition. It comes unforced, and it comes with some indication of how the wrongdoer is going to put things right. This is a man saying what he has to say, and not a syllable more.
After getting off the plane in Portugal, Ratzinger goes to Fatima and expresses delight that all these lovely Catholic people are still coming to church.
Well yes. They’re sick. They’re hurting. They’re looking for comfort any way they can get it.
What is Ratzinger doing at a place like this? His mouth makes plain that one should not see in the three secrets at Fatima an ability to tell the future. But where does he make this statement? In Fatima. Lending support to the notion there is something ongoing about miracles – the ability to persuade God – or persuade Mary or one of the saints to persuade Jesus to persuade God – to change the laws of nature and make them (but not the guy next to them) whole again. He doesn’t deny that Mary is appearing at Fatima, you’ll note.
And while we’re at it, remember, my children, liberalization of legal abortion in Portugal in 2007 and the imminent approval of a gay marriage law are "insidious and dangerous threats to the common good."
Really? You get to use the word “insidious” with a straight face? You want women to avoid the pill, and to have sex with their husbands on demand without a condom? And bear children that come not only after closing one's eyes and thinking of England, but even in cases of rape and incest? You want people unable to marry to do without sex? Why, because you and your fellow princes tell them to? And you think you’re NOT a “dangerous threat to the common good?”
And, while we’re asking questions, can you tell me why, when lesbians send a kid to one of your schools, you refuse the kid an education because you don’t like their moms?
OK, that’s not your fault. That’s that Cardinal in Denver’s responsibility, Charles Chaput – yes, the very same one investigating the Maciel case. And who’s Chaput defending? That priest, Breslin, who didn’t want to kick the kid out, but said he had to. And why? Because of “his priestly vows of obedience to his bishop.”
Do you kick Protestant kids out? Kids of divorce? No? Only kids whose parents are gay or lesbian?
Dangerous threats? You kick kids out of school not for what they’ve done but for what their parents are but you don’t kick priests out of the priesthood for raping other kids?
Ratzinger, sometimes you and your princes can be such dickheads.
* Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church, by the Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, New York and London, 2002