Devil of a Scandal
The Devil didn’t make me do it.
The facts did.
Father Gabriele Amorth, the chief exorcist for the Holy See, said in Rome that The Times’s coverage of Pope Benedict, which cast doubt on his rigor in dealing with pedophile priests, was “prompted by the Devil.”
“There is no doubt about it,” the 85-year-old priest said, according to the Catholic News Agency. “Because he is a marvelous pope and worthy successor to John Paul II, it is clear that the Devil wants to grab hold of him.”
The exorcist also said that the abuse scandal showed that Satan uses priests to try to destroy the church, “and so we should not be surprised if priests too … fall into temptation. They also live in the world and can fall like men of the world.”
Actually, falling into temptation is eating cupcakes after you’ve given them up for Lent. Rape and molestation of children is far beyond what most of us think of as succumbing to worldly temptation.
This church needs a sexorcist more than an exorcist.
As this unholy week of shameful revelations unfurls, the Vatican is rather overplaying its hand. At the moment, the only thing between Catholics and God is a defensive church hierarchy that cannot fully acknowledge and heal the damage it has done around the globe.
How can the faithful enjoy Easter redemption when a Good Friday service at the Vatican was more concerned with shielding the pope than repenting the church’s misdeeds? The Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, told those at St. Peter’s Basilica, including the pope, that he was thinking about the Jews in this season of Passover and Easter because “they know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms.”
Amazingly enough, it turns out that the Franciscan priest was not referring to the collective violence and recurring symptoms of the global plague of Catholic priests who harmed children, enabled by the malignant neglect of the Vatican.
He was talking about the collective violence and recurring symptoms of those critics — including victims, Catholics worldwide and commentators — who want the church to face up to its sins.
Father Cantalamessa went on to quote from the letter of an unnamed Jewish friend: “I am following with indignation the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope and all the faithful by the whole world. The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.”
As they say in Latin, “Ne eas ibi.” Don’t go there.
Mindful of the church’s long history of anti-Semitism, Leon Wieseltier, the New Republic literary editor and Jewish scholar, noted: “Why would the Catholic Church wish to defend itself by referring to other enormities in which it was also implicated? Anyway, the Jews endured more than a bad press.” This solidarity with Jews is also notable given that Italy’s La Repubblica reported that “certain Catholic circles” suspected that “a New York Jewish lobby” was responsible for the outcry against the pope.
It’s insulting to liken the tragic death of six million Jews with the appropriate outrage of Catholics at the decades-long cover-up of crimes against children by the very men who were supposed to be their moral guides. Even the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, tried to walk the cat back: “I don’t think it’s an appropriate comparison.”
Father Cantalamessa was expressing the sense of self-victimization permeating the Vatican at a time when more real victims are pouring forth. News reports said that the abuse hot line set up by the Catholic Church in Germany imploded the first day out when more than 4,000 callers charging abuse flooded the lines.
There is the pope’s inability to say anything long, adequate and sincere about the scandal and what role he has played, including acceding to the petition of the Wisconsin priest who abused 200 deaf kids that he should not be defrocked in his infirmity, to spare his priestly “dignity.” And there is his veiled dismissal of criticism as “petty gossip.” All this keeps him the subject of the conversation.
It is in crises that leaders are tested, that we get to see if they succumb to their worst instincts or summon their better angels. All Benedict has to do is the right thing.
The hero of the week, for simply telling the truth, is Ireland’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. His diocese is Dublin, where four archbishops spent three decades shrugging off abuse cases.
“There is no shortcut to addressing the past,” he said during a Holy Week Mass. “This has been a difficult year. We see how damaging failure of integrity and authenticity are to the body of Christ. Shameful abuse took place within the church of Christ. The response was hopelessly inadequate.”