Papa Ratzi* decided to go to Australia for World Youth Day. His reception there was not entirely rapturous; there were a number of protesters.
See, Australia is one of the many countries in which Catholic clergy abused children and young people and the Church hierarchy, rather than dealing with the problem, simply shuffled the priests around, sending them off to other parishes until the complaints started coming in. Then the priest would be whisked off somewhere else.**
And there were a number of people who stood in the crowd greeting Papa Ratzi who wanted something from him. Answers. Accountability. An apology. Acknowledgment.
They didn't get what they wanted.
Aussie bloggers Kim at Larvatus Prodeo and tigtog at Hoyden About Town have some excellent analysis of the nonpology (text here), the significance of its circumstances, and the message they send.
As noted here, the nonpology was delivered at Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, not before the public but before Australian bishops, seminarians and novices. Preaching to the choir, in effect. Moreover, it was a last-minute addition to his prepared remarks:
"I would like to pause to acknowledge the shame which we have all felt as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some clergy and religious in this country.You know, it's almost as if this were some kind of regrettable thing happening lower in the ranks at some other Church that the guy at the top or his high-level agents had nothing to do with. Why, those parish priests, always getting out of line! What can you do? It's not like the Vatican has any power in a situation like this! Wait! We can ban the gays!
"Indeed I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in their suffering.
"These misdeeds, which constitute so grave a betrayal of trust, deserve unequivocal condemnation. They have caused great pain, they have damaged the church's witness.
"I ask all of you to support and assist your bishops, and to work together with them in combating this evil. Victims should receive compassion and care, and those responsible for these evils must be brought to justice....
"As the church in Australia continues, in the spirit of the gospel, to address effectively this serious pastoral challenge, I join you in praying that this time of purification will bring about healing, reconciliation and ever-greater fidelity to the moral demands of the gospel."
Kim disagrees, and has concerns that, even if he does feel real regret and shame over this, Papa Ratzi's approach shifts the blame from the Church hierarchy for the coverup to the "culture."
The symbolism of the setting for the apology - a mass for seminarians and members of religious orders and the consecration of a new altar for the Cathedral - was no doubt intended by the Vatican to signal that the Pope was speaking sternly to those at the centre of the institution. But it’s also deeply problematic - as it suggests that the problem is only one for the church, excluding the victims who were left outside while the pomp and panoply of the liturgy took place for the exclusive benefit of the hierarchy.Once the Grand Inquisitor, always the Grand Inquisitor, I suppose. It's worth noting that Joseph Ratzinger, in his early career, was a reformer in the Vatican II, John XXIII mold, until the student protests of Spring 1968 scared him into conservatism, and he wound up as John Paul II's enforcer, reversing the post-Vatican II liberalization of the Church that had taken place in the '60s and '70s. So it's really no surprise that he would try to blame the sexual-abuse scandal on the liberalization of theology in the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s.
Having said that, all the indications are that Benedict himself is deeply shamed by the tragedy of clerical sexual abuse. However - and again this is a worrying sign of an inward focus - he ascribes its causes to shifts in the teaching of moral theology in seminaries, as noted by Catholic journalist John L. Allen, jnr. This aspect of Benedict’s response in his press conference on the plane to Australia wasn’t picked up in the local media’s coverage of World Youth Day, though it probably should have been. It’s certainly inconsistent with what expert observers think the cause is. It suggests that the focus is on the church’s own conflicts between conservatives and progressives, rather than on getting to grips with what’s actually been causing these abuses.
That's not really it, though: I submit that the reason that the scandal happened is that the culture liberalized, and thus the Church's authority was up for questioning. And if the Church's authority was up for questioning, then it meant that the priests weren't always right, and the kids weren't always wrong. Kids started speaking up, and the parents and community started listening. And since the Church no longer had the kind of influence and authority it once did, the parents, and the victims, started fighting.
Fighting the Church is still a no-no, however. While Papa Ratzi eventually met with and said Mass with four "representative" victims of clerical abuse, these victims were selected from those who have remained anonymous and who have not protested, spoken out or sued the Church over the abuse.
Chris MacIsaac, the president of Broken Rites, a support group for victims of sexual abuse said the victims were still not satisfied.____________
“I rejoice with these victims to got to go to Mass with the pope, but I feel heartfelt sorrow for all those others who still feel they are outside the church,” she said in a telephone interview.
She said she was suspicious that the group that attended Mass with the pope had been selected because they had not spoken out publicly and added that she believed the church was unwilling to engage with those who went public with their complaints.
“The main reason they have been ostracized is that they have chosen to speak out,” she said.
* Though I've been a nonbeliever for quite a while, Ratzinger's elevation to Pope was the impetus I needed to write to the parish that baptized me and ask to be removed from their records. Because you're counted as a Catholic if you've been baptized one unless you remove yourself via official act or get excommunicated. Or die. My aunt, who's been a nun since the early '60s, avoids calling him by his papal name. He was elevated shortly before my nephew's First Communion, and all weekend, my aunt called him "Cardinal Ratzinger." I believe that among people for whom that would be a slap in the face, she refers to the office rather than the occupant.
** Two priests from my local parishes were revealed to have been serial sexual abusers of children, and each was moved around by the Church without the Church copping to the reason why. With the first one, the Bishop just came by one Sunday and announced that all the priests and deacons had been reassigned. There was some murmuring, but nobody really thought much of it (plus, my family was moving out of state anyhow in a few weeks). Then a dozen years later, after the statute of limitations ran out, one of his victims came forward. These were guys my age, though mostly the altar boys and the guys from the Catholic school who were abused on trips chaperoned by the priest. The priest was sent to a couple of different parishes, then off to a Church rehab facility and then retired. Then there was this guy. We'd sort of given up on church after we moved, but this guy married my sister. He cracked jokes during the service, and I remember thinking with a great deal of irritation (I was the maid of honor, and thus I had to kneel during the entire Mass, so his jokes just prolonged my pain) that he needed to just SHUT UP ALREADY about my brother-in-law's brother being a NYC firefighter. He went on and on and ON about it. If you read the linked article, you can see why.