Monday, March 29, 2010

When priests make headlines

An angry article in The Huffington Post, attributed to Richard Greener, asks two questions that ought to be answered.

What would be different, he asks, if men accused of sex crimes against children were not priests, but laymen, “such as janitors, security guards, maintenance workers” and others? Would the church and law enforcement agencies treat them differently?

The writers offers no evidence that they would be treated differently. Who knows how many janitors are accused of these crimes? It is not a matter of great interest to the news media. There are not many news articles updating the public on accusations against maintenance workers and security guards. Priests offer instant headlines, by virtue of their vocation, and stories about them provide any who are so inclined a blend of religious prejudice and purity.

The second question asked by the writer is this: “What does it take to make someone walk away from the Catholic Church?”

That’s like asking a citizen what it takes to make someone walk away from the USA, because of scandals and corruption involving officials of government at almost any level—police, Congress, governors, mayors. Is walking away from American citizenship the way to show contempt for American corruption?

There are jokes about people who try to be more Catholic than the Pope. But the Pope is no more Catholic than any member of the church. Every Catholic is part of the church, even as every American citizen is part of the United States. Catholics don’t “walk away” from their Catholic heritage just because they are shocked by the behavior of other Catholics. Responsible people do not “walk away” from the concerns of their family, their country or their religion. They sometimes try harder.

The Catholic Church needs the energy of its members who are committed to Christ Jesus, and to the ongoing reform of his living church. When the Vatican is perceived to neglect its pastoral mission, and leaders fail to lead, all of its members are called to pray and work for what the catechism calls “the church established by Christ on the foundation of the apostles.” It is an “assembly of the people God has called together from ‘the ends of the earth.’”

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