Monday, July 16, 2007

Humble advice for the Pope (Contribution)

According to recent reports, Pope Benedict XVI is planning to visit the United States and the United Nations next year and is considering a side trip to Boston.

Some things need to be said as he carefully weighs Cardinal O'Malley's invitation to come to the center of the clergy abuse scandal.

I am a Catholic who has been uncomfortably close to the abuse catastrophe for over 10 years and have remained dutifully quiet until now.

Let's be clear. Widespread and longstanding sexual abuse of children and adolescents by its clergy represents more than a mere "crisis" for our church. It remains a grievous, gaping wound that refuses to close.

All major physical wounds require careful cleaning and debridement (the removal of devitalized tissue and foreign bodies) before closure. Otherwise, they do not heal properly. What results instead is infection and ultimate disfigurement, if not death.

Inviting victims of sexual abuse to tell their terrible stories, responding to them with pastoral concern and heartfelt apologies and removing their abusers with dispatch - these represent cleansing and debridement for our psychologically and spiritually wounded brethren.

Only Cardinal O'Malley and a handful of bishops have provided these healing interventions and are to be commended for doing so.

Our church is supposed to represent the Body of Christ. It is apparent to many Catholics and other Christians that this calamitous wound to Christ's Body has not truly healed.

How could it, when there has been so little effort on the part of the church hierarchy to provide all the necessary remedies? As a result, we will be left with a grotesque disfigurement, rather than an endurable scar.

This pope and his predecessor will bear heavy responsibility for such a disastrous outcome. Neither one has ever spoken to a victim, as far as is known. And neither one has ever offered a credible apology.

How could they, when they have only allowed themselves to be tainted by second and third-hand accounts?

Like our own disgraced Cardinal Law, Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI have fearfully avoided the risk of being contaminated by abuse victims. They have been found sorely wanting in the courage needed to face squarely the greatest in-house evil in the history of our church.

What is still urgently needed from Benedict is an authentic pastoral response.

This from a bureaucrat with almost no hands-on pastoral experience. And a hard-line thinker who would rather prune our church than reach out to the lukewarm, the alienated and the lost.

Apparently, the parable of the Good Shepherd doesn't rouse this pope.

Clearly, Benedict needs to be prodded.

Failing that, he might profit from some humble advice: Instead of carefully weighing political pluses and minuses of a risky side trip to Boston and a harrowing encounter with abuse victims, he would do well to ask himself one question.

This is the same question Christinas the world over continue to ask themselves when faced with hard choices: "What would Jesus do?"

Surely, He wouldn't dodge Boston or victims of sexual abuse.


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