No Holds Barred: Repent, for you have sinned

The pope erred hugely in putting the needs of an institution ahead of the safety of the individuals that institution is meant to protect.

By
April 14, 2010 23:30
4 minute read.
Pope Benedict XVI.

pope benedict xvi 311. (photo credit: AP)

The only institution worse at PR than Israel is the Catholic Church. Never have I seen such a formidable power handle a crisis more catastrophically than the way the Vatican is handling the scandal of pedophile priests. And the sad thing is that the weakening of the Church in general, and this pope in particular, is bad all round. The Church does incalculable good, with innumerable orphanages, schools and hospitals. And for Jewish-Catholic relations, Benedict has been a godsend (pardon the pun).

For most of its 2,000 years the Roman Catholic Church has been anti-Semitic, and responsible for horrific atrocities against Jews and others who it branded heretics. But in the latter half of the 20th century the Church repented of its past, thanks to the courage and integrity of three men: John XXIII, the greatest of all modern popes; John Paul II, a leader of extraordinary humanity and humility; and Joseph Ratzinger, the cerebral cardinal largely responsible for John Paul’s theological underpinnings. In the five short years of his pontificate Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, has visited synagogues in Germany, New York and Rome, not to mention his visit to Israel last year.

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Which begs the question why the Church would undermine its own impressive record, first with Cardinal Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, comparing the attacks on Benedict to those on Pius XII. Pius was the highly impious, amoral pontiff who signed a concordat with Hitler in 1933 and never once directly condemned Nazi anti-Semitism. In October 1943, he literally watched as the Jews of Rome were rounded up to be sent to Auschwitz.

But rather than unnecessarily alienate the Jews by comparing the attacks over pedophilia to anti-Semitism, as the pope’s personal preacher Raniero Cantalamessa did in the pope’s presence, it would be wise for the Church to learn the following from its “older brother”: Don’t be afraid to be human.

THE PRINCIPAL difference between Catholicism and Judaism is the former’s emphasis on the perfection of Jesus/infallibility of the pope versus the latter’s insistence that no human is divine and no biblical figure was perfect. While people are not prepared to forgive the infractions of the “perfect,” they are extremely understanding of the failings of humans who apologize sincerely and take full responsibility for their actions.

Later this month, I am scheduled to meet the pope through Gary Krupp, with whom I have sparred over Pius’s legacy but who has since become a friend. I wish I could convince the well-intentioned leader of the Catholic Church of the need to come clean. Face the people and tell them you never wished for any children to be harmed, and it breaks your heart to see how your inaction and obstruction may have allowed more to be violated.

But you made the colossal error of moving cautiously because you feared what public exposure and the defrocking of criminal priests would do to the Church. You erred hugely in putting the needs of the institution before the safety of the individuals that institution is meant to protect. Explain how you further erred by accepting the psychiatric opinion of the time that pedophiles can be reformed. Admit you screwed up and ask forgiveness. Human beings forgive the flaws of other human beings, but they don’t forgive self-styled gods. Pledge the remainder of your days to helping heal the victims, and making reasonable restitution. Declare unequivocally that henceforth the Church will hand all molesting priests to the authorities.

As the author of Kosher Sex, I would counsel the Church to announce a conclave examining the relationship, if any, between clerical vows of celibacy and pedophilia in the clergy. Some would argue there is no connection, but few would deny that an announcement of this magnitude by the pope himself would demonstrate his preparedness to take unprecedented action to heal the Church.

But the pope is not the only one who needs to apologize. Many in the media have gone beyond all reason in their attacks. Maureen Dowd, who is Catholic, offered the unbelievable comparison of the Church’s refusal to ordain women with Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses of women in her New York Times column.

Are you kidding? The Saudis, in 2002, allowed 15 high-school girls to burn to death rather than let them run out of their smoldering school without a head covering. Amnesty International accuses the Saudis of subjecting women to “arbitrary arrest... torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and the use of the death penalty” for religious infractions such as meeting men in public.

Yakin Erturk, the UN special representative on violence against women, visited Saudi Arabia and reported on “the domestic abuse [women] systematically encounter, with little prospect of redress.” She added that the Muttawa, the Saudi religious police, are “responsible for serious human rights abuses in harassing, threatening and arresting women who ‘deviate from accepted norms.’”


And then there are the continued reports of female genital mutilation practiced in northern Saudi Arabia.

And I thought it’s only we Jews who can be so self-hating.

The Western world suffers from materialism, divorce, broken families and celebrity obsession, the most effective antidote for which is more spirituality. The Catholic Church might be terrible at crisis management, and the pope may not be perfect. But what might emerge from this dark episode is a more transparent, accessible, sensitive Church which, in its humanity, might just begin to connect with the 80 percent of Catholics who pay only lip-service to the Church throughout the Western world.

The writer, founder of This World: The Values Network, has just published The Blessing of Enough.


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