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Pope fights Irish Catholic Church nightmare with faith

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My friends:

Many of my loyal readers emailed that they had expected an instant blog as soon as Pope Benedict XVI had issued his pastoral letter to the Faithful of Ireland, which will be read at all Masses today (Sunday), but is already very much public.

Given some of my past, angry posts about the decades-long debacle of child abuse by the Irish Catholic clergy and its criminal cover-up, I'm sure they expected me to be part of the Papal press lynch mob that has had such a fun and stimulating day lobbing verbal rockets at the Vatican.

Sorry, I'm not on that bandwagon. Maybe it's because I read the Holy Father's letter -- rather than just reading about it in the press. Maybe it's because -- before entering the Jesuit missionary service -- I have counseled priests and the victims of pedophilia as a psychiatrist. These chilling encounters and therapeutic work, especially with victims, will be with me forever.

Yet, if it all wasn't so tragic, it would be almost amusing to read the forests of reporting, commentary and "analysis" of Benedict's pastoral letter.

The best -- that is, the worst, and sadly, the majority -- strikes a dazzling, self-contradictory theme: After miles of lines decrying what Benedict didn't say about the scandal, many in the press ascend to the throne of self-righteousness and declare "there is nothing he could have said" about it, given its enormity.

Talk about having it both ways.

One commentator took it to the limit: "The greatest contribution the Pope could have made was to stop the abuse, and he's not even done that."

Come on, now. Is there anybody who thought a letter would achieve this deserved, prayed-for, and sought-after goal? Is there anybody who thinks the Pope would not "stop the abuse" in an instant if he could simply order it to stop as Jesus commanded a storm-tossed sea to be still?

Outside the walls of Vatican City, the Pope has few who are cheering his pastoral letter -- and many who might prefer to see him moved a few miles to the ancient Coliseum, where many Christians met a vicious and bloody end.

Believe me, my dear friends, when I say that I understand the pastoral letter -- both as a priest whose ultimate superior is Benedict, and also as a deeply angry and frustrated Catholic appalled by the sheer evil of this slaughter of the innocents and its disgusting, criminal cover-up.

As a priest, I thought the Pope spoke with great humility, sincerity and remorse -- and fully acknowledged the enormity of what has happened, and what has been allowed to happen. As a priest with strong Irish roots, I was deeply moved by his acknowledgement of the specialness of the Irish people and the Irish Church, and their mutual overcoming of overwhelming crises. At times, his words achieved a level of majesty and holiness that frankly, I did not think was in him. It apparently was, and is.

Vitally, he reminded us that faith in God and Jesus is "the rock from which we are hewn," and that now more than ever, faith is needed if the Church is to survive and flourish again. The Power of Faith is the Power of God's Own Love -- an unstoppable force against which any evil becomes but a frightened mouse. On a spiritual level, it is indeed all that is needed, for it is the Power of our Almighty God.

But, as just plain Tim the Catholic, the papal letter's almost total reliance on faith lets it travel only a few miles of a very long road, and feeds the cynicism of those who see his words as Church doubeltalk that sidesteps "the real issues."

I think that Terrence McKiernan, founder of the fine organization BishopAccountability.org, a group which monitors Church abuse cases, hits the nail on the head.

"There's a strong tendency to approach this as a problem of faith, when it is a problem of the Church's management and a lack of accountability," he said.

Actually, it's a problem of both -- Godly faith, and earthly management of the world's oldest institution. But Terrence is nonetheless right in reminding us that the Church is not some "thing" that floats on a cloud above the world. It is very much a part of the world, and that means it is a public citizen subject to the just laws of man and society.

At the individual and institutional levels, it has unquestionably committed crimes for which it must be held fully responsible. In this respect, it is terribly regrettable that the Pope's letter only makes a passing reference to cooperating with civil authorities, and makes no reference to reparations for its innocent victims.

Benedict also reminds those of us in his charge, both clergy and the faithful, to avail ourselves more often of the Power in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As the old adage rightly says, "confession is good for the soul." Yet it is also suprising, that in a letter which is often so highly personal and introspective, that Benedict does not see himself in the mirror of this scandal and does not say that "I too have sinned."

I am not God, and I cannot say the Pope has sinned. But it is fair to point out as I have before, that as then-Cardinal Ratzinger, his Vatican offices would have made him the best-informed person in Rome as reports of clerical sex abuse poured in from around the world -- including during his own direct stewardship in Germany. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," Jesus said. Are the bishops of Ireland solely to blame, and are the Holy Father and the Curia blameless?

There are many more chapters to come in this unfolding mess, and I believe Benedict has given us a pastoral letter that goes farther and is more insightful than I had expected. But only the Word of God is the Word of God, in which we can truly place our complete trust, belief and love. He speaks to us through the Bible and, at every moment we open ourselves to Him, to our hearts, minds and souls. God's Word needs no judgment from us.

But Benedict's words are Benedict's words, and will be judged by his actions. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit guides his every step along the difficult journey to build and rebuild faith -- not just in Jesus Christ, but in His Church.

God bless you all!

-- Father Tim

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