Smearing the Pope? Vatican’s Defence is not Endearing

image Yesterday the New York Times made the case that Pope Benedict knew more, and did more to cover-up the actions of paedophile priests, than has previously been supposed. This has prompted another offensive from the Vatican, accusing the media of smear campaign against the Pope.

As reported in today’s Irish Times,

The Vatican angrily attacked the media over its reporting of sexual abuse of children by priests, saying there was an "ignoble attempt" to smear Pope Benedict "at any cost."

Benedict’s actions have been marked by "transparency, firmness and severity in shedding light on the various cases of sexual abuse committed by priests and clergymen," the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said in a front-page article.

It lashed out at what it said was a "prevailing trend in the media" to ignore facts and spread an image of the Catholic Church "as if it were the only one responsible for sexual abuses – an image that does not correspond to reality."

Also jumping to the Pope’s defence is the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols. Writing in The Times, he says,

What of the role of Pope Benedict? When he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he led important changes made in church law: the inclusion in canon law of internet offences against children, the extension of child abuse offences to include the sexual abuse of all under 18, the case by case waiving of the statue of limitation and the establishment of a fast-track dismissal from the clerical state for offenders. He is not an idle observer. His actions speak as well as his words.

There may be some small bit of substance to the Vatican’s complaints about the media, although to be honest, I struggle to find any substance.

But even so, such a defensive posture – bordering on a persecution complex – is not going to play well with victims, survivors, and all of those who are currently so disillusioned with the Catholic Church.

Defensiveness is not endearing. To many, it will look like the Catholic Church is, once again, simply trying to avoid taking responsibility for its actions.

As Nichols says, actions speak as well as words. But despite the examples Nichols gives, I think that most of the Catholic Church’s actions in relation to clerical sex abuse have not been helpful.

Yes, it is true that the Catholic Church is not the ‘only one responsible for sexual abuses.’

But I think the faithful expected a higher standard from the church. The Catholic Church has set itself up in many countries as the ultimate arbiter of truth and morality. If it can’t be trusted to deal with its own sins in a manner that is more transparent and more just than the civil authorities, what does that say?

How can it be wrong for the media to expose the actions of the Catholic Church? In the absence of any attempt at comprehensive confession and genuine repentance (by that I mean a repentance of meaningful action, not empty words) on the part of the Church hierarchy, we are left with the media to lift the veil on what was happening for so long behind so many closed doors.

9 thoughts on “Smearing the Pope? Vatican’s Defence is not Endearing”

  1. The tone of the Vatican’s most recent pronouncements makes the Pope’s pastoral letter look rather contrite in comparison. The comments cited above are not only defensive, but are highly selective and attempt to relativise the Church’s responsibility in the handling of clerical abuses cases. They are not very believable, either.

    The culture of the Vatican appears not to have been changed by recent events. This raises the question of whether structural changes to the Church in Ireland would bring about a change in attitude among the Catholic hierarchy. Earlier this week, William Crawley wrote on his blog of a “strategic opportunity” to reform Ireland’s diocesan structures, which currently include several vacancies in the episcopate. I am now unsure how productive structural change will be in encouraging cultural change in the Catholic Church.

    A letter in today’s Guardian (26 March) from Peter Clifton, who presents himself as a “practising liberal Roman Catholic”, echoes a call already made by some abuse survivors:

    “Nothing but the resignation of the pope can put this behind us and anyone, whether religious or not, is entitled to ask for Benedict’s resignation. The way of the internal is flight from justice. Christians proclaim justice and repentance – let’s see that with a gesture that is adequate for all the suffering that has been caused.”

    Colm O’Gorman, the campaigner and founder of survivors’ network One in Four, wrote the following on Twitter this morning (26 March), which sums up the situation rather well.

    “So much for apologies and Vatican ‘commitment’ to truth and justice! On the attack in the defense of the indefensible.”

  2. Indeed. I don’t think it’ll happen again in 2010, though you never know!

    It’s not taken much reflection for me to become sympathetic to calls for Benedict XVI to resign.

  3. Actually the last voluntary resignation (with a preceding papal declaration that it was valid for popes to resign) was by Pope Celestine V in 1294. During the latter papal schism/s there were multiple forced resignations…

  4. Indeed. It’s highly unlikely to happen in 2010, but you never know!

    On reflection, I’ve become sympathetic to calls for Benedict XVI to resign. As in my comment above, however, the argument could still be made as to whether clericalist culture would change as a result. I agree with your earlier post on Cardinal Brady that the Church will not change through the resignation of one (or two) men alone.

  5. No, I doubt clerical culture would change much even if the pope did resign. Still, take us back to 1294! 🙂

    What worries me is that so many in leadership in the church don’t seem to see that this clerical culture is itself a problem, and that there needs to be an internal renewing of church structures.

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