Middle-Eastern tribal traditions get something of a pass in the Old Testament for patriarchs from Abraham to Solomon. Multiple wives, concubines, and the royal treatment do not exactly match up the Christian ideal of one man, one woman. Such were the expectations of the day, that aristocrats and the considerations of wealth and power overshadowed any sort of monogamous ideal. As I’ve read through Genesis in my daily lectio these past several months, I give thumbs down on Abraham’s attempt at an heir through Hagar. Or Jacob fathering children through concubines–for him, four was definitely not enough.
I suspect that society’s handling of child sexual abuse will continue to evolve, and we will see a future in which the 20th century will seem as quaint/weird/immoral as these aspects of Genesis strike us today. Part of that “qwi” will apply to the Church’s handling of predator clergy and the bishops who covered up their crimes. I suspect that in future generations, people will condemn bishops deep in the cover-up as Israelites might look at Ishmael and his pagan wives. As for leaders like Pope Benedict who were slow to react to the magnitude of scandal, it might be more like how we view a practice like polygamy today.
We don’t condemn Abraham, Jacob, and others for their multiple wives. But we don’t imitate them either.
As both CDF head and pope, Joseph Ratzinger won’t be condemned for not acting vigorously enough on sin within the ranks of priests and bishops. Is this right? I think so. According to the Church’s teaching on natural law, the behavior of Solomon, David, Jacob, and Abraham in taking multiple wives was sinful. Abraham was rightly worried that the promised nation of descendants would never happen. Now, we know God is powerful enough that he could raise a nation from the very grains of sand on the seashore. But our Father in faith saw the need to be proactive. Did first wives Sarah or Leah carry resentments and bitterness? If so, the male authors of the Bible do not reveal. Was their behavior wrong? We have to say it: most definitely.
Indeed, the bishops themselves are largely blind to the sinful aspects of cover-up, and how that has contributed to an erosion of the Gospel and a weakening of the voice of Christ among believers and others. And how it has damaged victims, survivors, and their allies. Like it or not, Pope Benedict has been no Tom Doyle, no SNAP, no VOTF on this.
In another hundred years, we will likely be honoring the legacy of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict in the positive accomplishments of his service to the Church. The slow pace of realizing the deep, deep sin of the bishops will have been realized. But I suspect that other heroes will be cited–not the pope embarrassed by Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Australia, the US, etc..
Is this right? I don’t know. Catholics would feel better about the papacy and the Church if it had been the pope leading the way, and not voices in the wilderness. But fallible human beings make flawed choices. Not everyone has the foresight for full clarity in this matter.