I like God. I like how God takes care of us. As various accusations have been made in the press concerning Pope Benedict, they were made during the most important mysteries of the Christian calendar: Holy Week and Easter Week. While I gave you bulletin articles and announcements, my homilies have been focused on the most important events of our faith. Today, coinciding with these dates in the Pope’s life, our readings speak of the papacy as well. I like God.
Today’s gospel from John speaks of the origins of the papacy. Aside from Matthew 16, when Simon Peter is entrusted with the keys of the kingdom, John 21 is where Simon Peter is instructed with the mission of guiding and protecting the flock of Jesus Christ. “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep,” says the Lord. When a man is ordained as a deacon, priest, or bishop, this is no guarantee of his salvation. Pope Benedict is no more guaranteed of eternal life than you or I, but what is guaranteed is that God will judge him for how he guides the Church.
With that mind, the first thing to say about current news is that all abuse is wrong. It is both sinful and criminal. The cooperation in such abuse, especially the tacit cooperation of covering it over, is sinful as well. Anyone who has suffered in such a way deserves justice and healing. In this regard I am grateful for those within and without the Church who have made us aware of violations in this regard. I am grateful for media members who have exposed the clergy’s failures to protect and guard the flock of Christ. The truth sometimes hurts but the truth is always good.
When the truth is found and embraced, the pain that sometimes accompanies it brings great fruit as we convert. Think of Simon Peter in today’s gospel. As Jesus asks of his love three times, imagine Simon Peter’s pain on remembering his threefold denial. Do not forget that the other disciples were sitting right there. We encounter the same pain ourselves in our spiritual and personal lives. Studying for calculus, training for race, or even going to confession might hurt in their own way, but the growth is good.
At the same time, pain encountered within a lie is not fruitful. Back in October I first said to you that the spirit of the world is happy to let us say whatever we want about God but will not stand for the Catholic vision of humanity. It is because Pope Benedict promotes and proposes the Catholic vision of humanity that he is the subject of unfair attacks. Why are these recent attacks unfair? In each case so far, the mainstream media has painted with broad strokes and failed to understand technical language of Church documents and culture. The Church does not run on the American corporate structure- we’ve been around a little longer than GE, Ford, and Dow.
It is worth the time to speak briefly on each of three cases that have made the rounds these past weeks. First, consider the case of a Milwaukee priest. The actual abuse took place in the 1950s to 1970s at which point it was manifested and neither Church nor civil authorities acted decisively. 1996 found new concern over these cases and questions made to the office in Rome manned by then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict. The New York Times, who broke the story, was so confident they posted their sources on the web for all to see. The problem was that their “smoking gun” was written in Italian and they had not received an accurate translation. See Jimmy Akin’s fine article. The Times has not addressed the claims made by the judge in this case who has spoken out as well. Looking less like a cover up.
The recent case of a California priest’s case from 1985 again involves confusion on the media’s part and little effort to correct themselves. Already disciplined and removed form ministry, it was the priest himself who was writing and petitioning Rome to be released from his priestly ordination promises. Even though he had been suspended he was still held accountable to his sacred vows of celibacy and constant prayer- from which Cardinal Ratzinger refused to release him.
Finally, the case in Munich, Germany from 1980. There the press says that he allowed a abusing priest to remain in ministry. In reality, he was a priest from another diocese sent to Munich for psychotherapy (back when psychologists thought pedophilia could be cured). This priest was allowed to live in a rectory during his therapy and then went back home with the psychologists thought he was done.
On a positive note, the Catholic Church in the United States is the most transparent of any institution, public or private, when it comes to the abuse of children. We have the largest comprehensive study of any U.S. group by the John Jay College of Law. We publish annual reports and every volunteer who works with young or vulnerable individuals must go through training to be aware of the signs of abuse as well as the law. Despite the sins of some in the past, never allow someone to claim the Church remains complacent in the face of this horrible crime.
At the conclusion of the Gospel, Simon Peter receives the promise of the first and every faithful pope that follows. He isn’t promised glory, power, wealth, or even salvation but rather a death that would glorify God. For Peter and many who followed it was a martyr’s death, shedding blood in witness to Jesus Christ. For Benedict and many others it is a hundred little deaths each day. Knowing all of this, Peter, Benedict, and you are left with the same words of Jesus Christ. “And when he had said this, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’”