Why is it that victims of clerical abuse are deemed more worthy of an official, nationwide investigation than those abused by other groups?
The church, therefore, should resist any further inquiry that targets it and it alone. It should resist such a narrowly targeted inquiry in the same way the church in Germany is resisting calls for a similar inquiry there.
The reason the church in Germany is resisting an official investigation that singles it out is because other institutions have also been guilty of widespread child abuse.
Currently the focus of attention in Germany is on a number of Catholic boarding schools where some hundreds of former pupils say they were abused in the 1960s and 1970s.
You will have read about this in the papers. But what you almost certainly have not read about is the fact that sex abuse did not take place only in Catholic schools. For example, it now transpires that there was similar abuse over a 30-year period in Germany's most prestigious progressive school.
For over a century this school -- the Odenwald School near Frankfurt -- has led the way in fashionable teaching methods that buck and overturn traditional methods.
But investigators now believe that eight teachers abused at least 100 students. The current principal admits that the school ignored complaints. In other words, this impeccably liberal school covered things up.
In addition, the Lutheran Church in Germany has recently apologised for the widespread abuse that took place after World War II in children's institutions that it ran (actually, the industrial school system originated in Germany).
The common retort to this, of course, is that it is an attempt to deflect attention from abuse and molestation that has or may have occurred. But such a response either misses the point or is itself a deflection from the point, which is that Catholics have every right to wonder why there is such inordinate fervor, even obsessive passion, to pin guilt on priests, bishops, and the Pope, like some perverse game of Ecclesial Battleship. Many critics will never admit it—they might even mock it—but it is quite reasonable and possible for good Catholics to be angry about abuses and cover-ups and also angry about selective hatchet jobs and thinly veiled anti-Catholic bigotry. And that, I'm convinced, is where most Catholics stand. It's not as though two wrongs make a right, no matter how heinous the first wrong is.
Quinn points out in the opening of his piece that the story about Archbishop Sean Brady and his dealings with the Fr Brendan Smyth case was first reported in 1997, yet is now being treated as a smoking gun. As Quinn notes, "This, of course, calls into question whether it is the facts of a given
story that leads to headlines, or the mood of the moment. It suggests
to us that it is the mood of the moment that counts, what interests
journalists and the public at a given time. Other, equally important
stories get ignored." If your motivation is to attack the Church no matter the size or shape of the stick, selective reporting fits the bill. If your motivation is to protect children and expose abuse, your reporting will likewise reflect such motivation.
In a previous post, I wrote, "And it is quite clear there are some bigots who, quite shrewdly, recognize that even if they aren't able to pin anything on Benedict, it will be a major coup to simply associate sexual abuse with Benedict XVI, just as fifty years ago there were those who successfully worked to associate antisemitism with Pope Pius XII." The more I've thought about the parallel, the more I think it holds water. There are obvious similarities: both men are popes; both are guiding the Church during deeply troubled times (WWII/Holocaust; sexual scandals); both men are/were, by all accounts, somewhat shy and retiring in nature; both spent many years working in the Vatican before being elevated to the Chair of Peter. Pius XII is accused of being silent in the face of antisemitism and mass murder; Benedict is now being accused by many of silence and failure to act in the face of horrible abuses, moral corruption, and cover-ups by powerful bishops.
Yesterday, Anna Arco translated and posted a letter by Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, Chairman of the German Episcopal Conference, defending the Pope in Die Welt. He wrote:
Everyone formulates his own demands of the Pope just as he needs them. Simple, practical,good. The wonderment on the on-line edition of one German newspaper about why the Pope had not yet made a comment to the terrible events in the school in the Odenwald [a non-Catholic UNESCO school where abuse cases came to light in recent months]proves just how much the ability to judge has lost its orientation.
The fable of the silent Pope often ignores the fact that there is not a Pope for German and not a Pope for Spain. There is only one Pope for the whole world-wide Church.
We are hearing more and more about the "fable of the silent Pope", if only because some in the media think that when they say, "Jump!," the Pope should meekly ask, "How high?" But I think it is fair to argue that in the five years of his pontificate, Benedict XVI has already done more than John Paul II did in nearly thirty years to address the priestly sex scandal. (Why that is so is worthy of study and reflection.) Is there more to be done? Without a doubt. Will errors in judgment be made along the way? It would be hard to imagine such work being done perfectly. It won't be as quick as most of us wish. But one would hope that the same journalists and pundits who decry the death penalty because an innocent man might be executed will likewise be restrained in trying, judging, damning, slamming, and otherwise pronouncing guilt before all of the necessary facts are established in each and every situation. There are certain accusations that one who is falsely accused can escape eventually, but child molestation or related evils are not among them.
This morning I was e-mailing with a brilliant philosopher who reminded me, as we discussed some of these matters, of these words, written by the first Pope:
If you are reproached for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or a wrongdoer, or a mischief-maker; yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God. For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Pet. 4:14-17)
That's quite a heavy thought: Judgment begins with the household of God. But to those who have been entrusted with much—priesthood, sacraments, moral doctrine—much will be expected. And very rightly so. Those who work justly and uprightly to expose and uproot evil among Catholics (whether ordained, religious, or laity) are, in a real way, participating in God's work of chastisement and judgment. But, conversely, those who knowingly seek to wound and destroy the Church by any means possible are bringing judgment upon themselves.