EVEN POPES ARE FALLIBLE
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
March 26, 2010
BRADENTON, Fla. -- It seems to me I'm always defensive when the Catholic Church is implicated in another sex scandal. Our menu of links to newspaper and online headlines around the world often seem to focus quickly on wrongdoing by the Israeli government but rarely on the reprehensible conduct of my fellow Catholics in their roles as priests and religious. Why is that?
Easy answer: I'm a Catholic. I am devoted to the Church, at least in the sense that I go to Mass every Sunday (unless sick or on the road), feel deeply moved by communion with fellow parishioners and deeply relieved by the experience of prayer during Mass. I went to Catholic schools, where I was mildly mistreated - Sister Victoria threw her keys at me once, and made me kneel on the floor through an entire class, but that was about it. Once I encountered a priest in the confessional that was so drunk he could hardly speak. And a couple of times a priest who used to take the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy home from Portsmouth Priory at Christmas came on to me in a very aggressive way.
But it always seemed to me, too, as a newspaper editor and utter slave to the patterns and pulse of the news, that every time Israel got into trouble for something - the president charged with rape, or with embezzlement, or carpet-bombing Palestinians in refugee camps or Gaza, the story that took them off the front pages was always one about sexual misconduct by Catholic priests.
As a Catholic, I took that coincidence as no coincidence at all, and I don't believe it is. Even now, as the Israeli left-wing newspaper Haaretzspeaks of an "isolated and "disgraced" Benjamin Netanyahu returning from Washington without so much as a photo op, the news is once again full of Catholic sex scandals - this one reaching all the way to the top, something that has never happened before. But why should great scandals like these be ignored at any time?
These questions have helped me to put into perspective my own flawed approach to coverage of these scandals. Anyone who could countenance the return to work of a priest who molested hundreds of disabled children - deaf boys, in this case - cannot be said to have a divine mandate, although his problems could well be part of a divine plan.
Saint Malachy, in or around the year 800 AD, wrote a long and complex poem that many Church scholars have said really did predict the historic succession to the throne of Saint Peter. As with every poem, it eventually comes to an end. Then the world is changed, Christ returns and the majesty of the Church is assumed by the Second Coming. These scholars have begun to chafe a bit, however; by plainer readings of the poem, Pope Benedict XVI is the last.
When the Pope resigns in the coming weeks, it may have an important cleansing effect on the Catholic Church, bringing about other changes that have long been surging against their theological chains - permitting the marriage of priests, for instance, which is already happening in small but certain ways. Another change might be the anointing of women to the priesthood; some, albeit very few, are already permitted to take a larger role at Mass than ever before, and under dire and desperate conditions - say a missionary outpost in Rwanda during an ongoing genocide - they may actually act as priests.
These changes bother me not at all. Yet I do stand with the dogma of the Church on the issue of abortion, and that is probably the most difficult moral challenge presented to me as an editor. My own child - boy or girl, I don't know - was aborted when I was just 19 or 20, after I got my college girlfriend pregnant and she had already taken some major risks - deliberately falling out of a tree, for instance, and loading up on dangerous pills that were supposedly able to stimulate a spontaneous miscarriage - and I traveled with her on borrowed money to an abortionist in Chicago recommended to us by the wife of a movie star, who in turn got his name from the great puppeteer, Bill Baird.
My father had offered to send us enough money from his pitiful Air Force civil service salary to have the child, yet I could not persuade her to keep the child. Despite my efforts, I have dreamed of that child growing older for the past 40-odd years. I see her in a flash at quiet moments, clear as a bell, usually playing and happy, in images arising from somewhere deep in my unconscious that will haunt me a few years more.
I don't believe in abortion, and I am deeply shocked that the number of aborted children has now reached more than 40 million in America. I just feel certain we have lost a lot of great human beings, and certainly several geniuses, perhaps a President, in that unacknowledged Holocaust. It's always felt like most of the Jewish leaders were indifferent to the loss, perhaps from their famously practical experience of the Nazi Holocaust and their deep skepticism about the "ifs" and "would have beens" of the world.
As Americans, though, I think we have been misled not only by the lack of caring about all of these lost children but by the strong determination of many to keep them from happening, a desire now bearing fruit under the unlikely color of the health-care reform law. I am not a bit upset by Rep. Bart Stupak. His courage in facing down the disapprobation of so many of his Democratic colleagues until he got the moral imperative his conscience demanded deserves respect.
Nonetheless, after saying all this, I do not feel that anyone has the right to determine exactly what a woman may do when she learns she is pregnant. I don't believe there ought to be any laws at all with respect to abortion because it is so much a private and probably very painful decision, one often with a lifetime of as yet unexperienced doubt and regret for the mother.
Where our nation truly fails is in facilitating birth without complications - medical, financial, social or otherwise. Any pregnant woman ought to have a very durable and accessible public support network to help her decide for life in every instance possible. Even if a child is the product of a heinous, awful rape, we would never blame the child if it did emerge into the life of our world.
But we permit it to be murdered before that happens, and to me, that seems just as wrong. As a man, though, while I have experienced the loss of a child bearing the genes I do, I have not experienced rape and I have no basis or right to tell any woman what she must do; neither does my government. It is only as a father-to-be that I have standing, and even that is morally and legally tenuous.
So Catholicism, which has some demonstrated major flaws, is not always the victim of prejudice and revenge, the latter resulting from countless bloody deaths in the history of the Church, from the Crusades to the Inquisition to modern life. Much of the hatred of the old Church for Jews, supposedly springing from their choice of Barabbas over Jesus and his subsequent crucifixion and death, is rooted too in the fact that even though he came as their messiah, many refused to recognize him as such. I feel Jews missed the boat, and can imagine a world in which world Jewry did embrace Christ as the messiah. What a very different world it would be. What a dreadful price they have paid for their disbelief.
That price is why I must be especially alert in the future to decisions about Israel's actions and mistakes, and those of the Church. They are certainly as human as Catholics are. And both deserve the compassion that must spring from their long history, their often valiant struggle for meaning and truth, and their courage in facing their own mistakes. God, I implore, bless us all.