Repentance Not Politics: After the L.A. Archdiocese Settlement
By all indications, the Catholic Church under Pope Benedict XVI is going to playing a much more aggressive role in politics in the U.S. and around the world. Benedict's denial of communion to pro-choice politicians, his reinvigoration of pre-Vatican II rites and his inflammatory critique of Islam suggest Americans will be seeing a much higher, more muscular - and more conservative - profile from the Church. But as today's news of the $660 million settlement in the Los Angeles clergy sex abuse scandal suggests, the Church in the United States would do well to look within and focus on repentance, not politics.
Since the 1990's, the plague of sex abuse cases has cost the Catholic Church in America almost $2 billion in settlements. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles will pay 508 victims almost $1.3 million a piece. Previously, the diocese of Boston paid out $84 and Orange County, California another $100 million, with Portland, Oregon distributing an additional $52 million for its 175 reported victims. Five dioceses in Tucson, Portland, Spokane, San Diego and Davenport, Iowa have declared bankruptcy as a result of the financial devastation they incurred.
In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony apologized to victims and their families. "Once again I apologize to anyone who has been offended and to anyone who has been abused in the Catholic Church" Mahony said, "It should not have happened, and it should not ever happen again."
Sadly, Pope Benedict apparently does not seem able to match even Mahony's weak expressions of failure and shame. After all, it was then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Pope John Paul II right-hand man on doctrinal matters, who brought Boston's disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law to the comfort - and cover - of the Vatican. Despite Law being implicated in the protection and relocation of 80 child abusing priests, Ratzinger brought Law to the Holy See, where he remains "a highly respected member of the Catholic Church's hierarchy in Rome." Apparently, Ratzinger believed his 2002 recommendation of a public day of penance by U.S. bishops was sufficient to cleanse the stain of clergy sexual abuse.
Yet despite all the sins of the American Church, Benedict instead seems focused on ensuring his conservative footprint in the U.S. In 2004, then Cardinal Ratzinger proclaimed that pro-choice Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry should not receive communion. (Ironically, Pope John Paul II himself had offered communion to the pro-choice mayor of Rome in 2000.) And just this May, Pope Benedict reiterated his policy of withholding communion from American Catholic politicians such as Rudy Giuliani, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson who fail to oppose abortion rights.
Almost from the inception of his papacy, Benedict has also sent strong signals that he would not continue his predecessor's policy of dialog with and outreach to other faiths. Last September, Benedict created an uproar throughout the Muslim world with his Regensburg University speech approvingly citing a quote from 14th century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus which derided Islam as "evil and inhuman." And in just the past week, the Pope issued edicts reaffirming the primacy of the Catholic Church and the reintroduction of old Latin mass rites previously restricted by the Second Vatican Council. These moves, which deem other Christian churches "wounded" and endorse the Tridentine Mass prayer calling for the conversion of Jews, have been received with concern among liberal Catholics and members of other faiths alike.
Five years ago, then Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum blamed the mushrooming sex scandal decimating the Catholic Church on "Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America." But in Davenport, Iowa, Bishop William E. Franklin instead apologized to the abuse victims in his churches and erected a monument in front of the diocese headquarters building. As the Washington Post noted, the stone quotes Jesus and reads:
"If anyone causes one of these little ones who trust in me to lose faith, it would be better for that person to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around the neck."
In the wake of the Los Angeles settlement and as the 2008 election heats up in the United States, Pope Benedict and leading lights of the American Catholic Church would do well to follow Franklin's lead in seeking forgiveness, not political power.