इंडियन आवाज़     03 Oct 2023 11:49:00      انڈین آواز

Things may not be so bad after all


Each year, the pope gives Christmas greetings to the leaders of the Roman Curia. This year, referring to the expanding scandal of the sexual abuse of children by clergy that was covered up and facilitated by bishops and superiors and until recently pooh-poohed by Rome, Pope Benedict told them, “We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen.”

My first thought on reading his speech was to wonder if the self-appointed defenders of the faith who man the ramparts at any criticism of the Church will now hurl invective at the pope. Certainly, saying that something has gone wrong “in our whole way of living the Christian life” is a damning indictment, especially since the pope said “our whole way,” not “their way” or “some people’s way” or “part of the way.”

On second thought, I realized that things might not be as dire as the pope seems to think. His use of the past tense, though probably not significant in itself, may be a reminder that things can be headed in the right direction.

There are three reasons for my confidence. The first, of course, is the resurrection of Christ, the proof that bad news will never triumph in the end, regardless of the painful way of the Cross we must travel.

The second is related to recent history. Though the Vatican continues to say that priestly formation programs must be examined and strengthened, and episcopal visitations of seminaries have become the favored way of imitating effective action, the fact is that the modern training of priests and the men who have gone through that training are not a major problem and are more likely a solution.

While there have been, of course, priests who were ordained since the 1970s who have abused, in fact studies show that post-Vatican II clergy are less likely to be abusers than their seniors have been. The majority of abusers and the bishops, superiors and curialists who put reputation ahead of children’s welfare were men who were trained before Vatican II. Apparently, something about the screening of candidates back then and the image of priesthood and Church that was taught to them underlie or are at least linked to the problem we face today.

In that case, so long as we continue to choose and train our priests as we have been doing for four decades, the problem of sexual abuse by clergy and its cover-up will eventually become a matter of isolated cases. And with effective procedures in place to handle those cases the abuse, pain and scandal they cause will continue to decrease.

The third reason for confidence is hinted at in the fact that a major part of the pope’s comments rely upon St. Hildegard of Bingen’s account of a vision she had in 1170. The saint describes the agony of the Church due to corruption among the clergy.

In the nearly 2,000-year history of the Church, there has been no shortage of reasons for such anguish. Nor will there ever be a shortage of such reasons. Over the centuries, though, many ordained men have made the same complaint. Yet, the pope used the voice of a woman to issue a call for reflection, repentance and reform.

Whether Pope Benedict intended it or not, relying upon Hildegard intimates a major reason for hope in facing and healing our situation.

One of the encouraging signs of the continuing and continuous work of the Holy Spirit in the Church is the fact that people who have not traditionally been leaders of the Church — lay and Religious women and laymen — are taking on such leadership roles as theologians, administrators, canon lawyers and parish ministers.

Their perspectives and professionalism are helping us find “a new way of being Church,” as the FABC (Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences) describes our vocation today. They are breaking down the clergy-centered way of being Church that has abetted and exacerbated the abuse crisis.

The post-Vatican II clergy have shown an overall level of integrity that is counteracting the actions of some of their forebears. Laity and Religious in that same period have taken roles in shaping the day-to-day life of the Church in the world that are often overlooked and sometimes opposed by those whose intellectual, theological, professional and emotional roots are in that older world.

The pope’s message to the cardinals sitting around him at the Vatican may be a worthwhile call to reflection for those old men. But, if as they trooped out of the Sala Regia, they looked through some of those windows that Pope John XXIII opened to the world they may have seen that there are rays of sunlight out there.

Father William Grimm is a Tokyo-based priest and publisher of UCA News, and former editor-in-chief of “Katorikku Shimbun,” Japan’s Catholic weekly.

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