July 14, 2010 | The Long Island Catholic Vol. 49, No. 16 |
In his refreshing and insightful book, The Difference God Makes, Cardinal Francis George explores the many ways God has become problematic in a modern, secularized society such as ours. At the root of this is that if God exists, then we cannot ignore Him. But the secular model has trouble admitting God because He seems a threat to human freedom. Either He can make demands on us or He cannot. Nietzsche saw this and demanded that God be annihilated. The secular world is not always that extreme but what the secular world does is to attempt to “tame God.” And in so doing the secular world must also tame or defeat any who speak in the name of God and who thus might pose an alternative to the culture they are seeking to make normative for us all.
Last week The New York Times (NYT) did it again. In an editorial called, “The Pope’s Duty,” they informed the Holy Father and all of us who read their paper what the Pope must do if he is to pass muster in the eyes of the Times editorial staff. In the process, in magisterial tones, they re-interpreted the reaction of the U.S. bishops at our 2002 meeting in Dallas wherein we produced a new Charter for handling cases of sexual abuse of children and minors within the Church. They inform us that we bishops had prioritized “bureaucratic church policies” as we were living in “a fog of ecclesiastical evasion.”
While this mammoth misinterpretation of U.S. bishops has become commonplace for those who don’t look at the facts, evidently we did something right because what we bishops did in 2002 is now the reference point for the editorialists of the NYT to express their “shock” at the Holy Father and the Vatican. The NYT editorial board can be relieved of their “shock” only if the Holy Father and the Holy See immediately do what the Times wants done in the way the Times wants it.
To that end, they cannot resist re-casting and seriously disfi guring the work of the Holy Father when, as Cardinal, he headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office charged by Pope John Paul II to handle these tragic and horrific crimes and sins against children and minors. His service to the Church in that period, according to the NYT, was a “study in confusion and frustration.” They cite as evidence columns published in their newspaper written by their journalists in response to requests from their editors. And so their conclusion: “Benedict has the obligation to shepherd not just guidelines but credible mandates that all priest-abusers and bishops who abetted their crimes face disclosure and punishment.”
The reality is of course quite different. When, in 2002, the media correctly exposed stories of priests who abused and who had not been removed from pastoral ministry by bishops, a stain on the Church and especially all of us clergy, the U.S. bishops first committed themselves to a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. To make this work, they asked for and were given Essential Norms, which became particular law for the Church in the United States. These Norms gave us the canonical means to address and remove priests who abused. Those Norms came from the Offi ce headed by Cardinal Ratzinger. The cases which were sent to Rome by us bishops these past eight years went to the office of Cardinal Ratzinger and then the office of his successor as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada. Every Friday, Cardinal Ratzinger reviewed these cases with his staff and resolved them according to the new Essential Norms either by applying the Norms himself or bringing the case to Pope John Paul II when that was the proper thing to do. The U.S. bishops provided that offi ce with two extra canon lawyers to help facilitate these cases and allow us to address them as quickly as correct legal process would allow. Cardinal Levada continues to do that by bringing the current cases to the Pope, now Benedict XVI, and responding as quickly as possible to bishops.
Those who worked with Cardinal Ratzinger, long before he was elected to the papacy, know for a fact that no one was better informed, more conversant with the issues and more committed to seeing justice done than Cardinal Ratzinger. We bishops found him to be the same. Why is it that the NYT editors have such a different picture from what is the actual fact? Why do they persist in denigrating this pope with lines like “it is becoming clear that, as a Vatican administrator for two decades, the future pope handled the pedophilia scandal with no great distinction?”
Clear to whom? What do they mean by ‘distinction’? Correctly, the Holy Father has named the darkness which is the sin that was allowed to exist in the Church and corrupt persons and institutions by damaging and even destroying the lives of so many young people. That is horrifi c. That is wrong. And the Church must admit it and has admitted it. And not only has the Church admitted it. She remains the only institution which has actually done what she committed herself to doing. And the Church will continue to do this because it is what she should do. It is what we bishops should do and it is what we all should do because it is the only right thing to do. We must do this because to do the opposite is to make a mockery of God whose Son told us that for anyone who harms one of these little ones it is better that he have a millstone around his neck and be dropped into the sea.
But the Pope does not and will not do what is right because of The New York Times. And here we come back to the essential difference in this situation: the motivation that guides the Church and whatever it might be that guides the NYT editorial board. The Church must act and act properly because she must be faithful to her identity as the Body of Christ, faithful to her teaching, faithful to the God who will judge us on the last day.
A secular culture, and particularly a guardian of that culture like the NYT, cannot accept that God matters and that faith should have within itself its own rules to guide it and make it just, true and fair. From their own writings, it is abundantly clear that, for some months, the editorial board of the NYT has done its best to make the pope look vulnerable, indecisive and weak to the world, and perhaps be the cultural instrument to force the pope to resign. Regardless, there can be little doubt that the NYT editors have taken special care to emphasize — perhaps overemphasize — the sins of the Church and of people of faith with little or no reference to the wider cultural realities. And in that process Pope Benedict has become their special focus of attention.
The NYT judges by the standards of this world. The Church must live in this world and is always influenced by the culture around us and within us. Perhaps the conclusions the Church reaches and the actions she will take will win applause from the culture and may even be exactly what the culture is looking for. However, the motivation is different because the measure is not the measure of this world or this culture or this or that newspaper, whatever its motives. The measure of the Church is God and the revelation of His Son and the fidelity we as Church must always give Him, asking forgiveness from Him for our sins, making amends for our failures, seeking reconciliation with one another and continuing to be a people who by our words and deeds live and witness God’s love. Pope Benedict knows what his “duty” is because, as Cardinal George puts it, the Holy Father knows The Difference God Makes.