April 16, 2008
by David Fortwengler
The weather was gorgeous in our Nation’s Capital, a perfect day for the White House to host a formal arrival ceremony for Pope Benedict XVI. The invitation-only crowd of over 13,000 was a real who-knows-who of American Catholicism. The Pontiff, who was celebrating his birthday, is clearly beloved by his flock, and the media.
In his public remarks, the Pope reflected on the rich history of American Catholicism and the importance of religion in forming public policy. He then had a private 45 minute meeting in the Oval Office with President Bush where they discussed independence for Lebanon, peace in the Middle East, protection for Catholics in Iraq, protecting human rights when fighting terrorism, and human rights for illegal aliens in our country.
This would not be one of the occasions where Pope Benedict would “mention” the Church abuse scandal. Whether it is a police station, courthouse, or State House, Church officials know government property is not a good place to discuss sex crimes by clergy.
A hypothetical Oval Office meeting. Use your imagination!
Cast - Will Ferrell as George W. Bush, and Pope Benedict as himself.
Scene - Pope Benedict is in the Oval Office, seated opposite the Executive desk. Bush is standing behind him, giving him a back rub Angela Merkel style.
Bush - “I’m known for giving nicknames, so you’ll be Papa Ratzi, get it. (slaps the pope’s back, then continues back rub) Anyway, Papa Ratzi, it’s not one of the ten commandments, I know because I’m a churchgoer, but we have a saying here in America “the cover up is worse than the crime”, and when the crime is all those pervert priests who were doing little kids. Jeez. My only advice is to avoid the media, trust me, they’ll mangle your words. (Bush ends back rub, goes to sit behind his desk.) I do have to congratulate you on that whole statehood for the Vatican strategy. Great move. Really, really smart. Hell, that’s the same strategy I’m counting on to not be indicted for war crimes. (chuckles and grins) If you weren't Head of State, some guy named Jeff Anderson wouldn’t have let you in the U.S. unless it was to give a deposition. Whew. I know. Anyway, I’m still willing to work with you on that abortion thing. End scene.
Meeting with the Bishops
The main event for the evening was a meeting held with the Bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Thanks again to the Catholic media empire, I was able to watch live on ESPN, oops I mean EWTN. During the introduction by Cardinal George, he requested the Pope comment on challenges facing the Church.
“In our own day the consequences of the dreadful sin of sexual abuse of minors by some priests and of its being sometimes very badly handled by bishops make both the personal faith of some Catholics and the public life of the church herself more problematic.”
In other words, just because some priests are criminals and it was covered up by their supervisors, why do the faithful and American society not trust us?
Pope Benedict’s statement
The Pope began his address by again noting the rich history and contributions of American Catholicism. He praised our respect for freedom of religion, and discussed the dangers of secularism and materialism. Finally, in paragraph 15 he gave his most extensive comments to date about the “scandal.”
In summary, he described the sexual abuse of minors as; a countersign to the gospel, evil, gravely immoral behavior, betraying priestly obligations and duties, a breach of trust, a serious wrong, a situation, a problem, and causing harm. He then described how difficult it has been for the Bishops to respond to the “situation,” but believes their efforts are “bearing great fruits” and an example for all society. He is especially proud of the care and compassion shown to victims by Bishops, because it is their God-given responsibility.
Well, he did mention “it.” The Pope then went on to answer questions about why the Catholic Church is losing members, why there is a decrease in applications for employment (vocations), and why it is hard to evangelize. His answers were secularism and relativism. I took some Pepto and went to bed.
To be continued....
Text of Pope’s remarks;
“Among the countersigns to the Gospel of life found in America and elsewhere is one that causes deep shame: the sexual abuse of minors. Many of you have spoken to me of the enormous pain that your communities have suffered when clerics have betrayed their priestly obligations and duties by such gravely immoral behavior. As you strive to eliminate this evil wherever it occurs, you may be assured of the prayerful support of God’s people throughout the world. Rightly, you attach priority to showing compassion and care to the victims. It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged.
Responding to this situation has not been easy and, as the President of your Episcopal Conference has indicated, it was “sometimes very badly handled”. Now that the scale and gravity of the problem is more clearly understood, you have been able to adopt more focused remedial and disciplinary measures and to promote a safe environment that gives greater protection to young people. While it must be remembered that the overwhelming majority of clergy and religious in America do outstanding work in bringing the liberating message of the Gospel to the people entrusted to their care, it is vitally important that the vulnerable always be shielded from those who would cause harm. In this regard, your efforts to heal and protect are bearing great fruit not only for those directly under your pastoral care, but for all of society.”