This week on MSNBC I said that I thought that the latest crisis in the Catholic Church was the Vatican’s Watergate. At lunch with my friend and “On Faith” contributor Tim Shriver, he suggested that this might be the Church’s “Altargate.”
Shriver talked about the crimes, the coverup and the corruption at the top during Watergate. Finally President Nixon himself was implicated and forced to resign. “Watergate was not only a scandal”, Shriver said; “it was also a threat to the republic itself.”
I believe the current crisis in the Catholic Church is a threat to the institution itself.
I am not a Catholic. I don’t feel the anguish that so many of my Catholic friends do. I can look at this objectively and without emotion.
Tim Shriver said the Pope and others Church leaders should not resign but “convert” — convert to loving God from the depths of their souls and to leading a Church that is “as much mother as father, as much pastoral as theological, as much spiritual as doctrinal.”
This is where we part company. I don’t believe that those involved, including the Pope, are capable of that kind of conversion. Which is why I believe that the only way that this scandal will end is by the resignation of the Pope and every cardinal, bishop and priest who has ever had anything to do with this child sexual abuse and rape.
By now we have all heard the squalid details of this appalling situation. The priest in Wisconsin who molested 200 deaf boys and was not defrocked, even after then-Cardinal Ratzinger was informed. The priest in Germany (who worked for then-Bishop Ratzinger) who molested several boys and was sent to therapy for a few days, then was allowed out into another parish where he continued his abuse. The stories from Boston we began hearing about eight years ago that uncovered massive numbers of cases of child sexual abuse. The more recent stories from Ireland, and now from all over the world that are surfacing.
They will continue to surface. This problem was not isolated. It was rampant. One could conclude that it was almost institutional. That the situation was, if not condoned, at least accepted and then hidden, is horrifying. Children were forced, by the church, to sign documents swearing not to reveal, even to their parents, what had happened. Priests were too. The crime here was not just the abuse, but the obstruction of justice and the truth.
It’s hard to believe that then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, was not aware of any of this. The repugnant evidence of abuse was overwhelming on every level. To me the most shocking example of the Pope’s complicity was how the Vatican handled Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who was responsible covering up much abuse in Boston parishes. Law was moved to the Vatican, where he could avoid prosecution, and then gived him an exalted post close to the Pope. He should have been excommunicated or at least forced to resign. Instead he was rewarded for his perfidy.
The crimes committed against children were heinous, and we will be hearing about more and more of them for years to come. But the cover-ups only compounded the crimes. It allowed those who had more than the public trust — they had the spiritual trust of their followers — to deceive the very people they should have been protecting.
The truth will out. Always. Aside from the crimes, the evil, the stupidity and the incompetence of the cover-up is beyond belief. How could the Vatican be so dumb as not to understand that eventually this would all come out?
So now it’s out and the anger, disgust and disbelief is building around the world. Many Catholics are leaving the Church in grief, and some of those who are not are looking at the Vatican as it would any other corrupt organization. Those outside the church are more and more seeing the Pope as the head of Enron rather than the vicar of Christ. The perception I am hearing from many outside the church is that the Vatican is a fraud, that the Pope is a hypocrite, and that he surrounds himself with sycophants who will keep silent, do his bidding and continue to cover up in order to protect their own positions.
The only way to save the Catholic Church as a credible and revered institution that guides and influences millions of people around the world is to show what the Church is really about — what Shriver said about the church being mother and father, spiritual and pastoral. That is what it is supposed to be. But those in charge have betrayed their followers.
I believe that if the Pope and those around him who have been implicated in this really cared they would resign. They would do it to save the Catholic Church and to allow a new and untainted group of men (and soon, I hope, women, but that’s another story) to lead the church in the direction it should go in continuing the work of Christ.
The Catholic Church and all it stands for is much bigger than any one or even many people. Catholic leaders should go to the Pope, just as Republican leaders did to Richard Nixon, and tell him it’s time, for the good of the institution, for him to step down. It is also time to demand the resignation, excommunication, and punishment of everyone involved in the scandal, whether guilty or complicit. It is time for the Pope to admit what his role was, to really apologize, (not just offer a non-apology apology) and to ask for forgiveness. It is time for secular prosecutors to stop coddling criminals because they are members of the church and throw them in jail. It is time for the books to be opened and the light to be shined on the records and the facts. It is time to get to the truth. This will take a lot of courage. The courage will come from those who love the Church.
Vatican observers know how much power is at play here. The Vatican is well known for cardinals, bishops and priests who spend their days jockeying for it, just like any bureaucratic institution. The appropriate place for those in charge today would be in a monastery where they could spend the rest of their lives contemplating the suffering of the victims of the church and their own roles in the suffering.
This scandal is not going to fade away. More and more priests and their higher-ups will be implicated and the Church will lose more and more people to other faiths because of lost trust. I think conversion is too late for this crowd. They’ve been at it too long and they have shown no personal remorse. Resignation would be the ultimate act of humility, self-abnegation, courage and sacrifice for those who profess to love God and to be God’s representatives on this earth.