Friday, October 08, 2010

Why Bishops Never Should Have Lawyered Up

Here's John Paul II, speaking not specifically about the sexual abuse scandal but Christian charity and justice in general.  He's commenting on the parable from Luke that depicts Lazarus, the beggar who lives outside the gates of the rich man (the parable that served as the Sunday gospel two weeks ago).
“…How can we exclude anyone from our care? Rather we must recognize Christ in the poorest and the most marginalized, those whom the Eucharist – which is communion in the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us – commits us to serve. As the parable of the rich man, who will remain forever without a name, and the poor man called Lazarus clearly shows, ‘in the stark contrast between the insensitive rich man and the poor in need of everything, God is on the latter’s side’. We too must be on this same side.”
 This is the spirit, the drive, that I love so very much within Catholicism.  Social justice.  The call to reject materialistic values and instead work for justice and peace.

Wherein lies some of my ambivalence as The Mighty Ambivalent Catholic.  The Church has for many decades (centuries, let's be honest) too often failed to live up to this teaching.  The sex abuse scandal (including the cover-ups; the shuffling of bad priests through a series of unwitting parishes; the lawyering up at the diocesan and archdiocesan levels, culminating in Cardinal Law's decision to flee Boston in late 2002, while under a legal cloud, for the safety of Rome) is the most flagrant recent example of the Church not living up to this call.  Too much of that occurred under John Paul II's watch.  (Sorry, this fact cannot be ignored.)  Cut the man some slack, if you like, because he was in poor health for the last decade of his papacy.  Perhaps his ability to tend to administrative details--reports of ghastly crimes, even--was diminished.  But there is no way to let him or his lieutenants off the hook entirely, not without suggesting that this call to favor the poor, the victimized, the marginalized only applies to individual Christians and not to the Church as an institution.  I don't see how we can do that or why we would ever want to do that.

Say a prayer, if you are a person of faith, that every cell of the Christian church--and the Roman Catholic church in particular--will recommit itself daily to giving preference to the needs of the oppressed and the poor; commit itself fully to putting victims' needs before its own earthly desires for prestige, unquestioned authority, material wealth.

Yes, you have to be a person of faith to chase after that prayer, to hope that such a thing is possible.  I have no idea how long it will take us, as a church, to get there.

(Hat tip to Whispers in the Loggia for JPII's lines.)

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