Pope, an Imperfect Church
institution worse at PR than Israel is the Catholic Church. Never in my life
have I seen such a formidable world power handle a crisis more catastrophically
than how the Vatican is handling the current scandal of pedophile priests. And
the sad thing is that the weakening of the Church in general, and this pope in
particular, is bad all round. The Church does incalculable good throughout the
world with innumerable orphanages, schools, and hospitals. And for
Jewish-Catholic relations Benedict has been a godsend (pardon the pun).
For most of
its two thousand years the Catholic Church has been anti-Semitic, responsible
for horrific atrocities against Jews and others who branded heretics. But in
the latter half of the twentieth century the Church repented of its past due to
the courage and spiritual integrity of three special men: John XXIII, the
greatest of all modern Popes, John Paul II, a leader of extraordinary humanity
and humility, and Joseph Ratzinger, the cerebral Cardinal largely responsible
for the theological underpinnings that served as John Paul’s foundation in
reaching out to the Jews. In the five short years of his pontificate Ratzinger,
now Benedict XVI, has visited Synagogues in Germany, New York, and Rome, not to
mention his much-heralded visit to Israel last year.
the question why the Church would itself undermine this impressive record first
with Cardinal Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, comparing the attacks
on Benedict to that of Pius XII. Pius was the highly impious, amoral pontiff,
who signed a Concordat with Hitler in 1933 and never once directly condemned
Nazi anti-Semitism or the holocaust. In October, 1943, he watched literally as
the Jews of Rome were rounded up to be sent to Auschwitz and did not publicly
than unnecessarily alienating the Jews by comparing the attacks on the
Church over pedophilia to anti-Semitism, as the Pope’s personal preacher
Raniero Cantalamessa did in the Pope’s presence, it would be wise for the
Church to learn the following from their Jewish friends: don’t be afraid to be
fallible and human.
principle difference between the Catholicism and Judaism is the former’s
emphasis on the perfection of Jesus and the infallibility of the Pope versus
the latter’s insistence that no human is divine and no Biblical figure is
perfect. While people are not prepared to forgive the infractions of the
perfect, they are extremely understanding of the failings of humans when they
apologize sincerely for their failures and take full responsibility for their actions.
month I am scheduled to meet the Pope through Gary Krupp, with whom I have
sparred over Pius’s legacy but who has since become a friend. I wish I could
impress upon the well-intentioned leader of the Catholic Church the need to
come clean with the public. Face the people and tell them how you never wished
for any children to be harmed and it breaks your heart to see how your inaction
and obstruction may have led to more kids being violated. But you made the
colossal error of moving slowly and cautiously because you feared what public
exposure and the defrocking of criminal Priests would do to the reputation of
the Church. You erred hugely in putting the needs of an institution ahead of
the safety of the individuals that institution is meant to protect.
Explain how you further erred by accepting the prevailing psychiatric opinion
of the time that pedophiles could be reformed through counseling and you
thought that after extreme therapy these Priests were cured. Admit you screwed
up and ask forgiveness for your failures. Human beings forgive the flaws of
other human beings. But they don’t forgive gods. Pledge the remainder of your
days to helping heal the victims, making reasonable restitution, and declare
unequivocally that henceforth the Church will hand over all priests guilty of
molestation to the authorities for prosecution.
author of Kosher Sex, a pivot in the intersection between faith and
sexuality, I would counsel the Church to announce a conclave examining the
effects, if any, of clerical vows of celibacy on pedophilia in the clergy. Some
would argue there is no connection. But few would deny that an announcement of
this magnitude by the Pope would demonstrate the seriousness with which he is
addressing the issue and his preparedness to take unprecedented action to heal
But the Pope
is not the only one who needs to apologize. Many in the media have gone beyond
all reason in their attacks. Maureen Dowd, who is Catholic, offered the
unbelievable comparison of the Church’s refusal to ordain women or place them
in positions of leadership with Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses of women.
Are you kidding? The Saudis, in 2002, allowed 15 High School girls to burn to
death rather than run out of their smoldering school without a head covering.
Amnesty International accuses the Saudis of subjecting women to “arbitrary
arrest… torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
and the use of the death penalty” for religious infractions, like meeting with
men in public. Yakin Erturk, the United Nations special representative on
violence against women, visited Saudi Arabia and reported ‘the domestic abuse
[women] systematically encounter with little prospect of redress.’ She added
that the Muttawa, the Saudi religious police, are “responsible for serious
human rights abuses in harassing, threatening and arresting women who ‘deviate
from accepted norms.” And then there are the continued reports of female
genital mutilation that is practiced in northern Saudi Arabia.
thought it’s only we Jews who can be so self-hating.
world suffers from an epidemic of materialism, divorce, broken families, and
celebrity obsession, the most effective antidote for which is more spirituality
and a stronger religious presence. The Catholic Church might be terrible at
crisis management and the pope may not be perfect. But what might emerge from
this dark episode is a more transparent, more accessible, and more sensitive
Church which, in its humanity, might just begin to connect with the eighty
percent of lapsed Catholics who pay only lip-service to the Church throughout
the Western world.
Shmuley Boteach, founder of This World: The Values Network, has just
published ‘The Blessing of Enough.’ Folllow him on Twitter @Rabbishmuley.
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