This dark Lent for the Vatican is a time of satisfaction for those who wish the Catholic Church ill--and, with it, Christianity. The pedophile cases that rocked the United States eight years ago are now erupting in Europe. The latest charges are from Italy.
Lacking in almost all news stories is the historical context for the sexual depredations that have brought disgrace upon Catholicism in this--ironic--"Year of the Priest." Essentially it is this: In the 60s and 70s many in the Church bowed to the culture of therapy that was prevalent at the time and decided that sexual predators in the clergy should be treated as persons with treatable illnesses--rehabilitated, rather than punished. That seemed to be the enlightened path.
The judgment was catastrophically wrong. It was wrong to expect that serious sexual disorders can be cured by therapy. But the more fatal error was in failing to put foremost the well being of the youth made vulnerable to aberrant priests. Years later, the consequences are all too apparent.
Christians have a hard time being judgmental. It annoys their secular rivals that they have standards. But, in practice, Christians tend to bend their standards in individual cases. That often is theologically sound; Christ was about forgiveness. But where the safety of young souls is involved, the Church should have had no tolerance at all for men who abused boys.
The situation the Vatican faces today is not as simple as its adversaries make out, however. There have been opportunist and cruel attempts to frame priests with phony charges, and those must be rebuffed. Priests bear willingly, often joyfully, a life of self-abnegation and service for the glory of God. They should never be subject to infamous falsehoods.
The kind of people who want the Church to give up its standards on sexuality and marriage tend to be the same people who are prepared to pursue the Church all the more strenuously for these sex cases. Politically, the moral authority of the Church is the real target.
The cure for the Vatican is to continue to clean house in Europe and elsewhere as it has begun to do in the U.S. It also should admit that in the cultural atmosphere of 40 or so years ago many in the Church were overly influenced by the very secular culture--the culture of therapy in this instance--that the Church was set up to confront.
Meanwhile, the attempt of the New York Times and some other media to attach scandal personally to Pope Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Ratzinger, is both wrongheaded and reprehensible. With fact and clarity, Fr. Raymond de Souza dissects the latest story in National Review Online.