So, what happened was, my wife tried to comment on the post this week about His Holiness Benedict XVI, and wanted to know what I thought of him in the context of having approved the Instruction, of seeming to personally take such a hard line against gay priests. But she posted the comment to the wrong blog entry, one about helping my mother pack. So I didn’t understand that she was asking about the Instruction in the context of the Holy Father.
So, yes, I do really like Benedict XVI, and, no, he’s not especially progressive on the gay rights front.
His Holiness is actually a lot more progressive generally, or, rather, a lot less conservative, than was expected at first. As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for almost the entirety of His Holiness John Paul II’s reign, then Bishop and later Cardinal Ratzinger was nicknamed “God’s Rottweiler” for his conservative zeal. And then upon his installation to the papacy, he was expected to be much the same way. So he has apparently surprised some quarters with his general amiability and with so far having made few changes to the curiate. And, heck, he appointed, as his successor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, William Cardinal Levada, the Archbishop of San Francisco. Yes, Cardinal Levada is apparently a fairly conservative guy himself. But, c’mon. He’s the Archbishop of San Francisco.
And but anyway, we have to note that we’re operating here still under the sexual abuse scandals of the past decade. Yes, it’s a scandal of pedophile priests, not gay priests, but I still think the Instruction addresses the scandal. And I hope that a lot of things in the Church will continue to be influenced by the scandal. While I think in many ways the Church’s reactions to individual cases of sexual abuse, especially say in the forties and fifities, simply reflects what generally American society’s reaction would be, as something not discussed, as something to be dealt with discreetly for all involved especially the victim, is somewhat understandable. And also the Church is in something of a bind in that ordination is a sacrament, not something to be given lightly sure but then also not something to be taken away easily either. The Church’s actions as to the issue of sexual abuse, however, the Church’s very inability to protect innocents from predatory priests, agents of the Church herself, is nothing short of breathtakingly wrong, an utter tragedy, as well as being legally tortious and surely criminally negligent on quite a few folk’s part.
And I can only admire the courage of those who have come forward to testify to what happened and bravely face their abusers.
So then what to do now, how to go forward from here, is to comfort those victims and make damn sure that it won’t happen again. And of course individual cases will happen again, but we need to make damn sure that we do all we can to prevent it from happening and then also own up to it when if does happen and try to help the victims, and deal with the guilty, when it happens. And, for goodness sake, dealing with it doesn’t just mean transferring the priest to another parish. This is first of all criminal behavior, so the first thing to do is to involve the civil authorities. Call the cops. Yes, it’s a Church matter, but it’s not just a Church matter. It’s not even primarily a Church matter. And that’s probably been the biggest problem all these years, thinking of it as and trying to keep it a Church matter. It’s not and it can’t be and it’s a tragedy that the Church thought so.
And so that’s the context of the Instruction. It can’t help but have come about because of the sexual abuse scandals. It’s not so much a product of Benedict XVI, as it’s a product of trying to protect the innocent and, yes, the Church itself. It’s wrongheaded, and misguided in that it seems to equate homosexuality with pedophilia, and it doesn’t attempt to even think about heterosexual abusive priests or celibacy in general although that’s another story for another day, but it’s the Church doing something at least. And so that’s how I think of it with respect to the Holy Father, as less to do with the Holy Father himself but with the Church as a whole.
And lastly I want to emphasize that the Church is not simply an institution or an entity separate from the people, from us, those who comprise the Church. The Church is the people in the Church. I am the Church and we are the Church. The Church is the people of the Church. And I sometimes say, “Don’t underestimate the ability of people to fuck things up.” By that I mean that we’re human. We’re fallible. So the Church has often gotten things wrong, Galileo and the sexual abuse scandals being merely the greatest examples. But on the whole I can only believe that the Church, that we, get more things right than wrong. And that we are working on it. That we are working on the Kingdom of God.