The morning news show was playing on the television set but nobody was watching. People were reading the paper, typing on their Blackberries or chatting idly amongst themselves. Until they aired a segment on the Pope's visit to America. And then the room fell silent. Every eye was on the screen.
Given the general demographics of our city, I would guess there might have been only one or two people in that room who were of the Roman Catholic persuasion. Most of them were probably some version of Protestant such as myself. And yet there was complete silence in the room when the image of the Pope filled the screen.
I guess most Protestants have a sort of fascination with a Papal visit that most of my Catholic friends don't seem to share even though the Pope always draws a huge crowd at the outdoor Masses typically offered during these occasions, bigger than the crowds that the televangelists lie about having even. Perhaps the Roman Catholic pontiff is an object of interest because he is a walking, talking antiquity. A living embodiment of an earlier age of princes and kings.
I was interested in Benedict's visit to see how the old boy would fare in an America which has no truck with princes and kings. Benedict has a considerable reputation as being a total intellectual with very few people skills in the tool kit. And yet, a man whose son who spent some time with Benedict when he studied for the priesthood in Rome said that Benedict was the nicest guy in the world contrary to his popular image as being a dour scold. The Pope's Enforcer. So I wanted to see how he handled working without a net here in the colonies where we like our religious figures user-friendly.
I also wanted to see how he would address the completely disastrous way the Church handled the shocking number of cases of sexual abuse of children by certain perverted priests in the American church. The breadth and scope of the scandal has amazed and sickened the country and has been a source of great anger and shame for my Catholic friends. It is a terrible thing when an authority figure violates the trust of an innocent person in his charge. It is even worse when the authority figure claims to stand in altare Christi during the celebration of Mass.
So here's the question: Does the Pope get it? It's hard to say. He has sent some mixed signals. In the outdoor Mass in Washington, Benedict said "No words of mind could could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving and pastoral attention." He met in private with certain victims of priests from the Diocese of Boston to hear their stories of anguish and degradation.
And yet,Bernard Cardinal Law was whisked away from Boston to the Vatican where he cools his heels to this day arguably enjoying diplomatic immunity from American courts. And he also told the U.S. Conference of American Bishops that " It falls to you...to address the sin of abuse within the wider context of sexual mores"
Do what? That's utterly ridiculous. The sexual abuse of children is not the byproduct of a society that has lost its ethical moorings. It cannot be equated with, say, adultery or having sex outside the bounds of matrimony. It is an unspeakable crime against the most innocent in our society and it leaves scars that never heal. I can afford to shrug my shoulders about what my neighbors are up to behind closed doors as long as it involves consenting adults. Not so with child abuse. That is why the sexual exploitation of children is a crime while adultery is not.
I don't know the first thing about the law governing utilities. Accordingly, I don't offer advice about these issues. Similarly speaking, many Protestants ( and probably more than a few Catholics) discount counsel on sexual matters when the same is dispensed by elderly celibates.
But you have to say that the Vatican is now serious about the image problem it has with the American church. Getting walloped in court tends to concentrate the mind.
But does the Vatican get it? Really get it? That is not so clear.
Program Note: I am going to make a change in procedure and this time I am sticking to it. I am not going to send out those "blog alert" e-mails anymore. I know some people like it but I am also certain that others do not. And I have always felt funny about it. So I am only going to do it a couple more times.
Simply bookmark this page or have your kid or nephew do it for you. Check back every Sunday and during the week as you feel so led.
You can do this. I know you can.