As many of you know, the extraordinary "summit" in Rome between Pope Benedict XVI and the Bishops of Ireland has concluded. The official statements have been released -- as expected, deploring the terrible crime of child sex abuse in the Irish Catholic Church and acknowledging that nothing was done about it for decades in spite of it being widely known.
Language is very important to the Vatican, and this meeting in particular shows that the summit was nine parts strategy and one part theology. In a way, that is to be expected: After all, there is no theological disagreement about pedophile priests and the abuse, in any way, of innocent children.
But back to language: The Vatican statement is critical of the Church for its "failure to act."
That's honest and true -- as far as it goes. Nothing, however, is said about the acts the Church did take: deliberately covering up its crimes, coercing the abused into silence, transferring pedophile priests from parish to parish and even from Ireland to other countries, and refusing to cooperate with civilian authorities whose job it is to prosecute child abusers and those who conspire to cover up what is unquestionable criminal activity.
It was all just a terrible mistake, says the Pope: "There is no doubt that errors of judgment and omissions stand at the heart of the crisis."
Errors of judgment? What about crimes?
The Vatican seems to think the summit was "a good first step" -- an astonishing tone given the longevity and severity of the problem -- as well as Rome's knowledge of it.
Those who thought that the Holy Father would call for the resignations of more Bishops implicated in the various government reports on Ireland's shame went away very disappointed.
"It was not addressed," said Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi.
And incredibly, Lombardi also defended the Pope's representative in Ireland for refusing to testify to lawmakers there about the decades of systematic cover-ups by the Church hierarchy.
With this utterance, we see the Vatican strategy coming into play, and sadly, it is still a strategy of avoiding the whole truth, and controlling the damage -- the extent of which it greatly fears and so far, can only imagine.
In its own language, the Church did not "make a good Confession."
It is always important for the Church -- or at least for the Vatican -- to speak of ITself rather than for the Pope or Bishops to speak of THEMselves. This is of course the correct stance when the Church speaks on matters of faith.
But it would be disastrous to delve into the personal level of individual responsibility when it comes to the child abuse scandal.
And who would know that better than the man at the head of the table, Pope Benedict himself?
In his pre-Papal days as Cardinal Ratzinger, he was probably the best-informed man in the Vatican, being both Prefect of the powerful Congregation of the Faith and Dean of the College of Cardinals. These offices mean that he was privy to the ever-swelling tide of reports on clerical sex abuse which poured into the Vatican during his tenure in office from every diocese in the world.
It's a little late in the game for him to be "shocked" by anything relating to pedophile priests, or be ignorant of any part of the huge problem in Ireland.
And of course, the Bishops who sat around the table with him all know that. If they ignored the problem, so did he. If they covered it up, so did he.
Nothing from the so-called summit will change a leaf of grass in Ireland. But there is still hope that the Ponstiff's pastoral letter to the Faithful of Ireland, coming on Ash Wednesday, will strike the right tone and at the very least, outline concrete steps on how the Church will deal with this terrible issue going forward.
Going forward, however, is not a typical direction for the Vatican to take. But it had better open the shutters and see the sun: If the Church doesn't handle the problem, prosecutors, police and judges will -- as they may anyway.
God bless you all!
-- Father Tim
Related story / Kelly's Corner: Pope Benedict fails victims of Irish child abuse