Thursday, April 17, 2008

Well Said ?!?



His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman province, Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God is visiting the United States. Yesterday he spoke at a prayer service with U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC, where among other subjects he addressed the issue of the sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy.




Part of his remarks included the following (complete transcript of remarks here).

"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.

If they are to achieve their full purpose,
however, the policies and programs you have adopted need to be placed in a wider context. Children deserve to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. They should be spared the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person. This brings us back to our consideration of the centrality of the family and the need to promote the Gospel of life. What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today? We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, so that a sound moral formation can be offered to young people and adults alike. All have a part to play in this task — not only parents, religious leaders, teachers and catechists, but the media and entertainment industries as well. Indeed, every member of society can contribute to this moral renewal and benefit from it. Truly caring about young people and the future of our civilization means recognizing our responsibility to promote and live by the authentic moral values which alone enable the human person to flourish. It falls to you, as pastors modelled upon Christ, the Good Shepherd, to proclaim this message loud and clear, and thus to address the sin of abuse within the wider context of sexual mores. Moreover, by acknowledging and confronting the problem when it occurs in an ecclesial setting, you can give a lead to others, since this scourge is found not only within your Dioceses, but in every sector of society. It calls for a determined, collective response.

Priests, too, need your guidance and closeness during this difficult time. They have experienced shame over what has occurred, and there are those who feel they have lost some of the trust and esteem they once enjoyed. Not a few are experiencing a closeness to Christ in his Passion as they struggle to come to terms with the consequences of the crisis. The Bishop, as father, brother and friend of his priests, can help them to draw spiritual fruit from this union with Christ by making them aware of the Lord's consoling presence in the midst of their suffering, and by encouraging them to walk with the Lord along the path of hope (cf. Spe Salvi, 39). As Pope John Paul II observed six years ago, "we must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community", leading to "a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate and a holier Church" (Address to the Cardinals of the United States, 23 April 2002, 4). There are many signs that, during the intervening period, such purification has indeed been taking place. Christ's abiding presence in the midst of our suffering is gradually transforming our darkness into light: all things are indeed being made new in Christ Jesus our hope.

At this stage a vital part of your task is to strengthen relationships with your clergy, especially in those cases where tension has arisen between priests and their bishops in the wake of the crisis.
It is important that you continue to show them your concern, to support them, and to lead by example. In this way you will surely help them to encounter the living God, and point them towards the life-transforming hope of which the Gospel speaks. If you yourselves live in a manner closely configured to Christ, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep, you will inspire your brother priests to rededicate themselves to the service of their flocks with Christ-like generosity. Indeed a clearer focus upon the imitation of Christ in holiness of life is exactly what is needed in order for us to move forward. We need to rediscover the joy of living a Christ-centred life, cultivating the virtues, and immersing ourselves in prayer. When the faithful know that their pastor is a man who prays and who dedicates his life to serving them, they respond with warmth and affection which nourishes and sustains the life of the whole community."
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI decried the sexual abuse of children by the clergy and exhorted the gathered bishops to heal wounds and proclaim the message of Christ. He later met privately with a number of sexual abuse victims (see CNN’s “Sexual abuse victims describe frank meeting with Pope”), and they had very positive things to say after the meeting. So, it is to be hoped that this matter will be taken care of expeditiously going forward. However, a close reading of his speech to the bishops shows that in many respects he deviated from some of the elements that are considered to make up part of a “good apology” e.g. see HBS’s “The Art of the Apology." His Holiness the Pope may not have meant some of it this way, but a) he is very precise in what he says and uses words very carefully, and, b) it wouldn’t be much of a stretch for a victim of clergy abuse to take pause at some of his language, for example:

  • … in America and elsewhere…” => this is something (regrettable) which happens everywhere (repeated further, see below)
  • … as the President of your Episcopal Conference has indicated, it was "sometimes very badly handled”…” => the Pope did not say that clergy sexual abuse of minors had been handled badly, as reported by most news outlets. He said that he had been told that by the President of the Episcopal Conference…
  • … Now that the scale and gravity of the problem is more clearly understood…” => could be taken as minimizing or excusing the U.S. Catholic Church hierarchy’s slowness to acknowledge the problem and to act more forthrightly to prevent further occurrences…
  • … the overwhelming majority of clergy and religious in America do outstanding work…” => completely true, but again could be construed as the “few bad apples” defense (a la Abu Ghraib) .
  • … need to be placed in a wider context…” having ‘apologized’ in the next breath the Pope appears to tie the abuse to the wider societal context, not so much as a ‘we also have this problem outside the clergy and need to do something there too’ argument, but more in the nature of ‘this wicked society is somewhat to blame.’ This suggested link is strengthened by further words, e.g. … What does it mean to speak of child protection when pornography and violence can be viewed in so many homes through media widely available today? We need to reassess urgently the values underpinning society, & and thus to address the sin of abuse within the wider context of sexual mores….
  • … you can give a lead to others, since this scourge is found not only within your Dioceses, but in every sector of society…” Repeat of the ‘this is something regrettable which happens everywhere’ meme (see first bullet above)

Individually each of these could be put down to nit-picking. However in aggregate we have an ‘apology’ that a) distances the Pope from the issue - by saying "you", "your", etc. rather than "we", "our", etc. His words put the onus for this on the U.S. bishops, though they are all inseparable parts of the body of Christ, and b) seems to seek to minimize this in many regards (this happens everywhere, it’s a few bad apples, society is wicked, you need to do something). It’s great that the Pope has gone this far, but there still a way to go!

No comments:

Post a Comment

 
back to top