To all who contributed to our beautiful Holy Week and Easter Week celebrations I thank you for the whole parish. What a wonderful Triduum we celebrated culminating in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. Thanks to the RCIA team who helped prepare the catechumens and candidates for reception into the Catholic Church.
Scandal and the Fallibility of the Pope
I preface these remarks by saying that I am without accurate knowledge of what Pope Benedict XVI did or did not do in relation to several abuse cases brought forward by the media. I leave that for any ecclesial or civil court that is competent for such things. The Pope is a human being like all of us and capable of failure. But I am also a Catholic who believes what Scripture says about accusations against elders, “Never admit any charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (1 Tim 5:19) I would not take the New York Times as an objective witness in regards to the Catholic Church.
Pat Buchanan wrote this in response to the New York Times’ accusation:
That diabolical priest, Lawrence C. Murphy, was assigned to St. John’s School for the Deaf in 1950, before Joseph Ratzinger was even ordained. Reports of his abuse of the deaf children surfaced in the 1950s. But, under three archbishops, nothing was done. Police and prosecutors were alerted by parents of the boys. Nothing was done. Weakland, who became archbishop in 1977, did not write to Rome until 1996. And as John Allen of National Catholic Reporter noted last week, Cardinal Ratzinger “did not have any direct responsibility for managing the overall Vatican response to the crisis until 2001. … Prior to 2001, Ratzinger had nothing personally to do with the vast majority of sex abuse cases, even the small percentage which wound up in Rome.” By the time Cardinal Ratzinger was commissioned by John Paul II to clean out the stable, Murphy had been dead for three years.
This is not to forestall an objective, fair voice of accountability. I don’t know if the New York Times is the best judge of virtue.
Nevertheless, my main concern in writing this article is for those of us who may be scandalized by the mere possibility that Benedict could do something wrong. This can come from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of infallibility. The pope, in most matters, at most times, is a fallible man. John Paul II would go to confession once a week to confess personal sins and failings. There is no guarantee outside the grace and mercy of God that prevents the Pope from making mistakes in matters that do not affect the principle definitions of morals and the content of our faith. The infallibility of the Pope comes only when he wants to make a definitive proclamation ex cathedra (from the chair) in the Church’s expression of faith and morals. This has occurred only twice in the history of the Church. (1854 Immaculate Conception and 1950 Assumption)
Most decisions of the Pope deserve our respect and deference, but they are not all protected by the Holy Spirit from error. For example, our current Pope once caught criticism and outrage from the Muslim world when he quoted an historical document that claimed that Islamic beliefs could lead to violence. Taken out of context, this medieval quote was used as a reason for outraged Muslims to commit acts of violence, including the killing of a Catholic nun in Africa. (Evidence in favor of the quote) We could look back on Pope Benedict’s use of this quote as a mistake and not violate the doctrine of infallibility.
There are other cases in history where the Pope was about to make grave changes in the Church’s practice and they were prevented by the grace of God and external circumstances. All this is to say that if the Pope were to make a mistake, it should not shake our faith. While the effectiveness of our Church depends on the sanctity of her members, and in a special way the pope, ailing members should not be a cause of our own drawing back from the font of our own personal sanctity. To use the abuse crisis as a reason for not going to Mass and receiving Our Lord accomplishes the destruction of our own spiritual life.
Remember that Peter says, “…it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, how will it end for those who fail to obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17) Judgment will come on the world soon enough. In a recent review of abuse cases in Illinois, of the 2000 cases 1 involved a priest. What were the others? Teachers, counselors, newspaper reporters? But we are God’s people and he desires to purify us. May each of us respond with generosity and humility, praying for one another, for victims of the abuse crisis, and for our Pope Benedict. May the Lord bless and protect youth from future abuse and may all of us embrace our Church’s call to chastity in our relations with one another.
Please note that we have a new website, www.ststephenslife.com.
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