- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

With news accounts that the Catholic Church is turning predatory legal tactics loose on the victims of known priest/rapists, it is nakedly obvious that the church hierarchy has lost sense of its reason for existing. These princes of the church should ask themselves what millions of Christians ask every day of their own conduct: In my situation, what would Jesus do?

When Jesus was on the cross he said: "Forgive them Father, they know not what they do." But when Cardinal Bernard Law was in deposition, conveniently forgetting what he saw and did, he effectively said: Forgive me, I know not what I did (while almost certainly breaking his oath to God in so saying).

The cardinal claimed in his legal brief that the negligence of a six-year-old priest/rape victim contributed to his rape (he and his mother should not have let him be alone with a priest, was the factual basis for this abominable claim). But Jesus taught that the vulnerable have a special dignity and that unless you are like a child, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Where Jesus threw the money-changers out of the temple, the church hierarchy is trying to cut financial deals and buy the silence of their victims.

In case the bishops think they are somehow above the injunctions they offer to the laity, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: "This work is intended primarily for those responsible for catechesis: first of all the bishops, as teachers of the faith and pastors of the church. It is offered to them as an instrument in fulfilling their responsibility of teaching the People of God."

The Catechism goes on to say the Jesus' Beatitudes in The Sermon on the Mount are the heart of his preaching, and of the Catechism. As one browses through that sermon, the rape victim/altar boys the church has turned its lawyers against are precisely those who are to be blessed (the pure of heart, seekers of righteousness, the meek, etc.).

But the great calamity that the church hierarchy is bringing down about it, is perhaps best understood by Jesus' admonition in the Sermon on the Mount at 5 Matthew 14-16: "You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."

It is those good works that are in peril, along with the faith and support of the church's laity. Even for non-Catholics, the church has been, arguably, the greatest endeavor for good on this planet. It has been a bountiful provider of education, medical care and research, food and shelter for the poor and so many other blessings.

But just as important probably more important is that over the centuries it has been an indomitable force for moral conduct. Both by its example and by its actions it has pushed a struggling, sinful humanity toward better conduct. So if it doesn't soon lance the boil of its greatest crisis since the Reformation, not only Catholics, but Protestants, Jews, Muslims even atheists will be the worse for a degraded church.

And with even good Catholics in Boston calling for the RICO corrupt practices act to be criminally applied against cardinals and bishops, there is no time to lose.

For someone who, regrettably, has had substantial experience at damage control in the political world, the mistakes of the church are easy to spot. Its first mistake was the natural human instinct to cover up an embarrassment. At a practical (non-ethical) level the cover-up makes sense if it is successful. The problem for the church, as for politicians on the run, is that they have failed to end the cover-up when it stopped working.

The first stage of the post-cover up fiasco is the public denial. This is embarrassing for politicians, but more destructive for the church from which better conduct is expected. At about this time, the second mistake is made. The politician (or the church) confuses honest public criticism for the cheap shots of their historic enemies.

We saw this in the Catholic Church response. They have been the victims of bigotry and prejudice for centuries. Just as the politician discounts the attacks as merely partisan opportunism, so the church saw the public criticism as merely the voice of the bigots and atheists. Out of instinct and anger they insisted on denying the undeniable.

Somewhere between the failed cover-up and the public denials comes the third mistake hiring the lawyers and accountants. They can limit criminal or civil liability but at the price of your reputation. This is a price that exposed politicians or businessmen are rational to pay.

But for the church, that price is higher than the cost of admitting error. The church has many beautiful buildings, but they are worth nothing if they are empty. What good is a staff for a shepherd who has lost his flock? (Perhaps he can beat off attacking wolves, but he has lost his mission, his purpose.) It is time for the church to reject the Pharisees and money-changers and embrace the Sermon on the Mount which is what Jesus did.


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