Amid the maelstrom of reportage surrounding the Vatican’s meiotic response to recent revelations of further sexual abuses in various arms of the Church, Anthea Butler offers a sharp reproof of Pope Benedict’s evasion of the gravity of the issue and its implications for the future of the See:

Making matters worse, the Pope tried to deflect from the mounting worldwide criticism with a stab at his detractors during his Palm Sunday homily, stating “Jesus leads us toward the courage not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion.”

I beg to differ, but this sexual abuse scandal is not petty gossip. It is hardcore fact. In another case, almost at the Vatican City doorstep, students from another school of the deaf in Verona, Italy are speaking out about their abuse. Alessandro Vantini described the sodomy he experienced as so brutal and relentless that he felt “as if I were dead.” A description like that cannot be filed under gossip. It is also not petty gossip when not one but two governmental commissions in Ireland, The Murphy and Ryan Reports, lay out in stark, horrendous detail the abuse of children at the hands of Irish Priests and nuns. Nor is it gossip when a United States Federal Appeals court allows sexual abuse lawsuits against the Vatican in Oregon and Kentucky to proceed. So whatever sentiment Pope Benedict was attempting to convey in his Palm Sunday homily, he succeeded in showing a profound insensitivity at a time of public moral outrage. By saying that the revelation of fact is gossip, he is accusing the press and media outlets of insufficient morality to judge the church. Unfortunately for the church, there are laws for each country the church operates in, laws that apply to Catholic clergy. Those laws may very well prohibit the Pope from traveling outside of the Vatican walls for fear of reprisals and perhaps arrest.

The reality is, it is going to be secular authorities that will drag this church kicking and screaming into the 21st century—and perhaps to justice. The language that the Church is using to defend the hierarchy (saying the Pope is the “leader in purification, reform and renewal that the church so very much needs” or, “the Pope’s letter to Irish Catholics was courageous”) is the language of a dying institution. These are people who trade in words, who argue incessantly in ecumenical dialogues about a word’s meaning. The problem is, the Vatican and its minions haven’t figured out that we are past the days of the monastic scribe, slowly chiseling out each word. The internet age has assured that their choice, ill-crafted words can be made available to everyone (assuming the church hasn’t shredded or put them under seal). No one is going to be put on the rack anymore for criticizing the Catholic Church, even if Benedict wishes it were so.

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