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April 19, 2010

No absolution without confession

By Spear's

An operatic mass and effusive charm are not enough these days, not nearly enough.

I used to love my particular Sunday mass at my parish church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, because it is led by the Archbishop of New York Cardinal Dolan and it’s Catholicism firing on all rockets. With its full choir, enormous organ, formal procession, lots of incense and the Credo sung in a Gregorian chant in Latin, it’s a full operatic experience that would make any practicing Catholic proud.

Cardinal Dolan himself is widely loved in New York, as he deftly mixes a searing intellect, theological conservatism and an effusive charm that expresses itself in a very New York vernacular.

Yet it’s not enough these days, not nearly enough.

As I listened to the sermon this morning, I couldn’t keep myself from wondering how many of the half dozen priests around the altar had sexually abused children.

Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI took time out from his trip to Malta that he had scheduled to commemorate the 1,950th anniversary of St. Paul’s shipwreck on the island to meet with Maltese victims of sexual abuse by priests. At the Apostolic Nunciature in Malta, His Holiness listened to the victims and prayed with them, which the victims all said they found “redemptive” (they are Catholics after all).

In an official statement he promised that the Church “is doing, and will continue to do, all in its power to investigate allegations, to bring to justice those responsible for abuse and to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future,” but gave no specifics on any of these points.

That’s it?

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So far, the Catholic Church has done little to redeem itself in the eyes of Catholics or anyone else. It has protected guilty priests, shuffling them around, has not removed bishops responsible for their reassignment and has instead cast aspersions on anyone who would criticize them. For all my devotion to the Church, I cannot help but find this offensive.

I go to confession regularly and know how strict they are about sins and disobedience of Church doctrine. I’ve seen annulments up close and had my parents forbidden from taking communion because of divorce without a Catholic annulment. In short, in the Catholic Church there is no absolution without confession, and if you disobey the rules you are cast out.

I know the Catholic faith has forgiveness as a central tenet, but as is the case with divorcés, those who break the rules should be sidelined. If the parishioners are held to this high standard, so should the priests, who have taken vows and are meant to lead a community by example. 

Much emphasis is always placed on the self-sacrifice of priests to follow their vocation. But there are many benefits and rewards, too. They get full room and board, full medical care (the Catholic Church is the biggest healthcare provider in the world) and a fully-funded education allowing them to pursue as many doctorates as they can handle.

And yet they break the rules of the Church, commit grievous deadly sins, which are also serious crimes (lest we forget), and get away with it? All while the parishioners cannot get away with so much as a divorce or premarital cohabitation? 

The Church has failed to meet its own rules for redemption: confession, contrition, punishment, a promise it will do all it can not to let it happen again — in that order. In yesterday’s speech Pope Benedict XVI said that “Gospel values are once again becoming countercultural, just as they were at the time of St. Paul.”

He would do well to worry more about the fact that in the case of sexual abuse by priests the “culture” are exhibiting a higher moral standard than the Catholic Church — not exactly the best way to be “countercultural.”

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