What Should The Pope Emeritus Do?

Benedict XVI Blessing-2.jpgIt’s been a few days since an unsurprising negative report published on mishandling abusers in Germany’s München archdiocese. That a diocese would uncover priests behaving badly? This happens. That the usual methodologies would surface: secrecy, reassignment, lather, rinse, repeat? Also happened, and not a shock. It’s been the m.o.. Huge problem for the Church’s credibility: secrecy looks the same as virtue, at least until the crime is outed.

For many Catholics, that a future pope on his way up the promotion ladder intersected with this diocese for five years is not a surprise. For the secular media, I suppose it’s news. For Benedict XVI’s defenders, it is an occasion of beating up an elderly man for having an unclear memory of four decades ago. For his detractors, an opportunity to point a finger and say I-told-you-so.

For a lot of people, it’s still misunderstanding the root problem. A basic fact: people misbehave and sin. Priests are people, so they do it too. I don’t know that they do it any more or less than ordinary lay people. When offense is discovered, and inadequate steps are taken to resolve the issue–then it becomes a much bigger problem. Not only is there a crime, but there is complicity with the offender.

When a priest has embezzled lots of money from a parish, does the bishop just ensure the vacation home is sold and the funds returned, maybe minus the unrecoverable gambling debts? Would such a guy be appointed CFO of the chancery? Likely not.

When a priest is discovered to be a serial sexual abuser, it has been treated as a moral issue. Here, too many bishops and confessors have practiced cheap grace. Go to confession. Go to treatment. Come back with a clean slate, sadly too often to repeat the offenses. This becomes the problem: when offenders are given opportunities to repeat behaviors that would not be given if the matter were about money. Or riding into church on a Palm Sunday donkey. Or ordaining their own deacons.

At this point, what more can Pope Benedict do? One of his countrymen suggests an apology. I seem to remember he was the first pope to do that, though not for instances in which he oversaw predators personally. For the most part, the pope emeritus is already in a situation similar to this bishop who withdrew from public ministry a few years ago because of a like oversight. Neither man will ever find himself in a position to make a needful judgment on a serial offender in the clergy.

Pope Benedict was the first pope in living memory to have been a celebrity before his election to the Chair of Peter. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to suggest he had many supporters and detractors heading in to 2005. Even if the Church weren’t so full of ideological strife, there would be knives pointed at his back matched with red carpets and ring kissing. Any further news on his ability as a governor, on his willingness to render an apology or some other gesture of penance, or a hard line of refusal would gain or lose few supporters.

As for the news of his supposed mishandling of wayward clergy: it’s not really news, is it?

So we’ve gotten word that a pope-to-be may not have been totally up-to-snuff with 21st century realizations on abuse, grooming, and cover up. Knowing what he knows now, maybe it would have been different in 1977-82. Me, I don’t think there’s anything the pope emeritus can do or say to move any needles. But maybe you readers have another idea.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in bishops, Church News, sex abuse. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to What Should The Pope Emeritus Do?

  1. Liam says:

    The specific magical thinking about grace at work here is about the so-called “grace of state” – the grace that is given for each person for his or her discerned state of life (ordained, vowed religious, vowed married; everyone else normally omitted from consideration). For example, a young woman who had taken vows in an order of teaching religious sisters would be put in front of a classroom with no training for pedagogy because of this …. grace of state (explained to me my SSJ friends back in the day about the horrors of their early years of vocation in the 1940s and 1950s). This magical thinking is when prelates/religious superiors and their chancery or chapter deputies assume that someone who has been ordained or taken vows must be kept active in their state of life because they have been given the grace for it and one must find the way for them to live it out. Directly interfering with it was considered an even more fraught business.

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