Saturday, April 3, 2010

Time for the Pope to Walk on Water

The Rev. James Martin, S.J., a faithful Catholic and Jesuit priest, has recently written an excellent essay titled “The Church's Easter: What Needs to Die in the Catholic Church so That it May Live”, outlining the way forward for the Church from priesthood sexual abuse. In short, for the Church to live the following must die:

  • A prideful clerical culture of power, privilege and secrecy.
  • Elevating concern for a priest's reputation above that of a child's welfare.
  • Having more zeal in investigating dissident theologians and American Catholic sisters than in investigating abusive priests.
  • Paralyzing fear of the consequences of confession.

Of these excellent points that Father Martin makes, the last is I believe the most important, for without confession, repentance is insincere and atonement is impossible. Too many good men in the Church hierarchy are paralyzed with fear of making things worse, of painting with too broad a brush which might slander and demoralize good priests.

But cancer requires both acute surgery and radiation at the site of pathology and systemic chemotherapy to prevent future outbreaks. Just so, the pathology of priestly paraphilia must be excised swiftly where it is found, but the abuse will recur unless structural changes — and here I mean specifically an end to clerical celibacy — are instituted.

The past deserves from the Catholic bishops a sincere act of contrition. The future requires that the Pope himself find that same courage to make a leap of faith towards Christ that Peter made (Matthew 14:28-31) in walking on water even at the risk of drowning:

Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.

But when he saw how (strong) the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

In the original Greek, the last verb doubt (διστάζω), which also means hesitate, implies that Peter's failure was not a lack of belief but rather a lack of faith: the courage to trust in and act on belief. Let us hope that the current Pontiff can find the same courage to reach out unselfconsciously towards righteousness in these troubled times. Salvation is ultimately in God's hands, but failure is fully within the power of man.

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