Monday, February 11, 2013

Pontificating On The Pontiff

File Under:  What Condition Our condition Is In

There has been much talk about names, reputations, and legacies in the news.  The President asks Congress and the nation how will we be remembered for our actions in the wake of a national tragedy that has been repeated far too many times.  Serial murderer Christopher Dorner, labeled as a terrorist, has resorted to acts of violence in a one-man war against those who defamed his named.  In the wake of the announcement by leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI, that he will be leaving office due to health concerns, media outlets like The Huffington Post are asking: "What will be the lasting memory of Benedict XVI?"

Benedict XVI was a major confidant of the former Pope and the former Cardinal tasked with bringing priests in-line with Biblical doctrine and bringing sexual crimes to a halt.  Over the past four decades plus, the Catholic Church has not taken nearly enough decisive and demonstrative action to isolate and expose the culture of sexual misconduct among its parish leaders.  In fact, rather than seek justice for victims or protect future victims evidence would suggest that it has instead taken vastly more significant action to shield the Church from the repercussions of this scandal.  Logic dictates, Benedict XVI is at best very terrible at investigating things and at worst either directly or after the fact complicit in the systematic rape and abuse of thousands of children.

This accusation is perfectly fine to make.  However, looking to the Pope for a solution for institutionalized child abuse in the Church is like patching the roof of your home to fix water leaking into your basement from a faulty foundation.  This ignores many things.  Foremost among them is that child abuse is not just a sin, it is a social problem and a crime everywhere human rights are observed.  The fact that every priest in the United States who has ever touched a child has not served some time either in prison or on probation, and is now a registered sex offender means that the cover up was not isolated to the bishops and higher.  Without even getting into the culture of shame, guilt, denial and repression surrounding sexual misconduct and organized religion, the Penn State scandal showed us that intelligent, college-educated adults won't even go directly to the police when they see a crime committed with their own eyes, but will instead pass the information (read: responsibility and moral imperative) on to someone else -- then continue to say and do nothing days, weeks, months, and years after the criminal remains in their midst.  When a child is being abused this is not a matter of prayer this is a matter of law (Romans 13:1, 1 Peter 2:13-17).  If you want to see a child-molester removed from office: listen to the child, report the offender, and prosecute him or her to the fullest extent of the law.  At that point, what is their for a Pope to cover up?  Will he wave his Papal hands and say this is not the child-molesting priest you are looking for?

To the extent a leader does not take the lead on any issue, that leader has failed as a leader.  Benedict XVI does not get a pass for not taking the lead on this.  He should have been crusading around the world in the Popemobile beating bishops and priests with his bejeweled scepter, or paying a much younger and healthier person to do so on his behalf.  His solution to the problem was to make child abuse canonically illegal, encourage priests to be holy, and do penance (think about their sins).  That's a second major problem.  Child abuse or any other sort of sexual immorality was already canonically illegal, being holy did not stop the priests in the first place, and thinking about sinning is exactly what got them in the problem in the first place.  The Church from the parish to the Pope did not want to admit it needed secular help, to abdicate not one iota of its power or sovereignty, in solving a problem faith alone could not conquer.

Guilt, shame, anger, and sadness over the violation, the human wreckage, and the impotence you feel for having not done something or the idea you will not be able to do something in the future makes you want to bring the problem anywhere but home.  You want a solution, you want someone to answer for this thing or that, and you want the problem to go away.  However, relying on the Pope or any singular person to rectify a systemic problem is a fail-fail scenario because top-down solutions rarely if ever work, because they do not have the endorsement and involvement of the people.  When a solid bottom-up solution is backed by clear, strong leadership, then you have the potential for a legacy of sweeping change -- not just for the man but for the people he represents.

One man did not harm all those children, one man did not cover up their suffering - an entire church did, and entire society did.  In the grand scheme, it does not matter what The Pope stands for, allows, believes, teaches, says, or does.  It matters what the people of the Catholic Church stand for, allow, believe, teach, say, and do.  The same for any faith, belief, or ideological principle. It is the individual believers, the individual citizens of nations that matter - not the figurehead they dress up for ceremonial pageantry.  Jesus Christ of Nazareth claimed to be the divine Son of God here to end corruption in the Church of his day and save humankind.  Jesus died in 33 C.E. with a fistful of followers, and it was his followers who would go on to change the world.  In the end Benedict XVI legacy will be inconsequential, he will be remembered about as well as people remember who was Pope during The Crusades, The Inquisition, or The Holocaust.  Because one man cannot sway, let alone stand down tyranny or end child abuse, even if he claims to be the direct link to God on Earth.  But 1.2 billion Roman Catholics certainly can.

"Worn" by 10th Avenue North on The Struggle released 2012 on Reunion

End the culture of shame, guilt, denial and repression surrounding child abuse.  Let that be the legacy of our generation.  Please comment and share.  Visit me on Facebook, The Office of R. Conrad Bane and follow me on Twitter: @RConradBane.

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