Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Weeping Jesus and Benedict in His Popemobile: Reflections on the Abuse Crisis on Eve of Papal Visit

It’s refreshing—well, in a grim way, I suppose—that a leading Catholic prelate has finally admitted that the cruel, inhumane treatment church officials have visited on those who suffered childhood abuse by clerics is all about money.  It’s all about protecting the church’s assets in the end.

Not about opening one’s arms to a brother or sister in need of healing, welcome, affirmation, a listening ear.  Not about what the calling to be a good shepherd walking in the footsteps of Jesus implies.

Yesterday, Bishop Guy Harpigny of Tournai, the senior cleric responsible for dealing with clerics abusing minors in the Belgian Catholic church, informed the public that church officials could not apologize for abuse of minors for financial reasons:

“We did not dare. If you officially apologise, then you are acknowledging moral and legal responsibility. Then there are people who ask for money and we don't know what lawyers and the courts will do about that," he said.

We did not dare.  We did not dare do what we insist you do before we grant you absolution for your sins.  We did not dare acknowledge moral responsibility for our actions.

We put money ahead of hurting human beings.  Ahead of the well-being of children.

And as we have done this, we continue to insist on our right—our unilateral and unqualified right—to preach to you.  To proclaim the gospel to you.  To tell you what the gospel demands of you, and what Jesus means when he challenges his followers to give their possessions to the poor and come follow him.

As Peter Isley at Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) notes, Bishop Harpigny’s flat admission of what has motivated church officials’ response to hurting Catholics scarred by clerical sexual abuse comes as no news to many of us.  We’ve known all along that it was all about money in the final analysis.

All about putting the assets and reputation of the church above the pastoral needs of Catholics harmed by clerical sexual abuse when they were children.  And, increasingly, above the pastoral needs of Catholics in general, who bear a huge weight of guilt and anger as each new revelation comes out re: the abdication of pastoral responsibility among our shepherds.

Meanwhile, money still buys lots of snazzy new things.  If you’re in the British Isles this weekend and inclined to take a gander at the visiting pope, you may catch a glimpse of Benedict being squired about in a brand-new Popemobile.  It’s a custom-built Mercedes M-class vehicle with two-inch thick armor plating, blast-proof undersides, and bullet-proof glass that permits pilgrims to view His Holiness in full as he is driven through crowds.

And it costs only £75,000—a figure the church might have been better advised not to let out in advance of the papal visit, in case some of those ogling Benedict through the plated glass happen to be survivors of clerical sexual abuse who have not received a warm welcome from church officials, when they have asked for a listening ear and justice.  

And if you’re really lucky, you may also get a glimpse of His Holiness’s “dashing private secretary,” Gorgeous Georg Gänswein, for whom an entire range of Versace fashions has been designed.  

Or you may be, instead, among those British Catholics seriously considering Johann Hari’s question about where Jesus will be found as Benedict scoots along in his £75,0000 popemobile and his gorgeous private secretary tends to his sartorial needs.  And as bishops admit that their cold callousness towards human beings raped by priests when they were children is all about money.

Me, I picture Jesus with his back turned as His Holiness parades by.  With tears rolling down his face.

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