A blessing in disguise
No one denies that that the Catholic Church has hit rock-bottom. The issues that are contributing towards this state of affairs are more than one but lately two very serious ones have come into the open, molester priests and the Church’s cover-up.
This crime is often blamed on paedophilia but we should not rush. Paedophilia is a little understood phenomenon even by psychology. Besides, we need to distinguish between being pedophilic and being a child molester. The two are not the same. The former is a condition, the latter is a crime. Not all pedophiles abuse children sexually and not all those who molest children are pedophiles. Some do it for other reasons.
In the light of this distinction the cover-up by the Church is even more serious because what was being hidden was a crime. The fact that these same acts were hidden by other institutions and also in families is no excuse, especially when the cover-up exposed other innocent youngsters to molesters.
Somehow, the Church was hounded by the obsession that its mission would fail if the sinfulness of its clergy became known
This cover-up also betrays theological ignorance about the Church. Many expect the Church, which is often wrongly identified with the hierarchy, to be “pure and blameless”. The teaching of the Church distinguishes the Church from Christ. Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II constitution on the Church, states this very clearly: “While Christ, holy, innocent and undefiled, knew nothing of sin, but came to expiate only the sins of the people, the Church, embracing in its bosom sinners, at the same time and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal.” (#8)
However, while official teaching has no problem acknowledging a sinful Church, official practice has had. Even in concordats of old, the Church sought to protect sinful priests. Somehow, the Church was hounded by the obsession that its mission would fail if the sinfulness of its clergy became known. This would not happen if preachers keep in mind that the ones who need their message in the first place are themselves!
Many are being scandalised by this mess. They expected the members of the hierarchy, especially bishops and cardinals, to be holier and they are finding it difficult to digest the fact that they are not. They are also angry about the cover-up which facilitated the spreading of the abuse.
However, for the Church this can also be a moment of grace. Denying one’s sin one would continue to be immersed in it. Acknowledging it opens the road to repentance, conversion and purification. David had to hear Nathan telling him: “You are the man” (2 Sam,12,7) before he could come in touch with the gravity of the adultery and murder he had committed.
A few positive results are already showing: an effort at ending cover-ups; guilty clerics are being dealt with; the habit of exposing innocent youngsters to molesters is being curtailed. Pope Francis, from the very beginning of his pontificate, denounced clericalism, a mentality of clerical superiority and privilege in the Church, and to some extent responsible for perpetuating the lie that the Church is only and always holy.
Like Sandro Spiteri (The Sunday Times of Malta, March 10), I do not see “this tsunami as the Church finally choking in its own filth. I see it as the stinking pus that is bubbling out after the boil has finally been lanced.” Pope Francis seems to be of the same opinion. He told the priests of Rome: “Let us not be discouraged, God is purifying the Church, his bride surprised in flagrant adultery, and saves us from hypocrisy.”