Q:Should Pope Benedict XVI be held responsible for the escalating scandals over clerical sexual abuse in Europe? Should he be investigated for cases of abuse that occurred under his watch as archbishop of Munich or as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer? Should the pope resign?
As the latest news out of Germany had just begun to break, I was attending one of the most energetic and uplifting conferences that I’ve been to in a long while. The Los Angeles Religious Education Congress takes place every March in Orange County, Calif. It is the conference for lay people in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles which is the largest diocese in the U.S. It is a gathering of nearly 40,000 living and breathing Catholics who are excited about their faith and showing it in their numbers.
They gather to attend sessions by A-list speakers in all categories from health and wellness to poetry, humor and social justice. (As an aside, one of the great and refreshing things about Catholics vs. their Evangelical and even mainline Protestant sisters and brothers is that they do not see all things through doctrinal/theological/spiritual growth filters. They can actually go to a religious conference and listen to speakers and entertainers who, in many cases, have just the thinnest – maybe none – connection to faith, let alone Catholic faith, in their messages and not have it phase them. They are there to absorb, learn and interact, period.) They come to participate in worship services, meet their Cardinal, listen to musical acts, shop for books and gifts and to enjoy the community of one another and one another’s parishes. It is like no other religious conference I attend and I attend many in my role as publisher of this imprint.
Interestingly and encouragingly, there was little discussion that I could detect about the emerging news and the scandal in their hierarchy that was about to blow up at least among the lay people. They were, of course, reading and watching the news about it like everyone else, but they were not tripping over it. Yes, those of us publishers, other media folks and officials of the Church paid to watch and genuinely interested in the happenings of religion around the world were discussing it moment by moment speculating on where these new revelations would go. The attendees which included teenagers, grandmothers and grandfathers, priests, women religious, and monks were however simply going about the business of being, learning and celebrating together.
So what does this say about the current travesty now unfolding in even greater detail than we thought? For everyday Catholics trying to find and bring more meaning, joy and hope to their own lives and the lives of those around them, this scandal with Ratzinger is a distraction– a horrible one. It is a distraction to the extent that it sheds an unflattering light on the simple matter of just self-identifying as a Catholic. In the U.S., we know from the polls, that though the everyday on-the-street Catholic usually adores and respects their local hierarchy, they do not much listen to Rome when it comes to doctrine and rules.
The purging that is about to happen in Rome is a necessary and long overdue thing. The sad fact is that the longer it drags on, there will be a dark cloud sitting over Catholics. The victims need justice and to have this once and for all, put behind them. But the happy, satisfied, purpose-filled Catholic believers today also need it to be done and done for good. The joys and the great goods that come from their lived faith do not need this distraction.
Benedict should resign. Sadly and tragically for those victims who suffered while he was overseer as Ratzinger, their suffering will continue until he is gone. No one wants a long and drawn out investigation (already begun by the media and sure to get heavier and deeper) and least of all the victims. As Randy Balmer says, if this were a corporation the CEO would be forced to step down. Catholicism is not a corporation, of course. Some might argue rightly that the Church and Christianity generally ought to be a place where forgiveness happens and people are given a second chance. It is perhaps one of the only places where this happens. But forgiveness and second chances do not mean ignoring what is right. The Pope ought to act himself and act fast to end this by acknowledging the mistakes made and stepping away from his post. When he does, the relief for victims , their loved ones and the mostly ignored, and almost completely unaffected everyday Catholics living joyfully today will breathe easily and move on with their lives and their faith as they should.