The story of Christianity begins with a great blinding light from which men stumble only gradually, their eyes dazzled, toward more coherent attempts to understand what happened to them. The story of the Church, is a story of corrupted idealism-a pursuit of “a platonic conception of itself”: an exalted dream. And since so much of what corrupts the Church seems to be connected with the temptations of wealth and power that surround it, this is a very human story.
It touches the deepest layers of our common personal or tribal experience. The Hebrews taught the human race that truth is not an abstract noun but another name for a person, a divine presence capable of infinite insight and creative decision.
We use words to label and help us comprehend the world around us. At the same time, many of the words we use are like distorting lenses: They make us misperceive and hence misjudge the object we look at. As Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, the great 19th-century English jurist, aptly put it, "Men have an all but incurable propensity to prejudge all the great questions which interest them by stamping their prejudices upon their language."
A destiny is a spiritual drama. Realizing a destiny is not a matter of acquiescing in some form of relentless causality. If it were, there would be no sin. A destiny can be failed or refused. That is why it is not a fate. True, the very word “destiny” is indicative of necessity, but it is a necessity of spirit. As is recognised in words like “salvation” and “damnation” the call of destiny has a peculiar finality.
The fusion of human freedom and divine necessity may be characterised by saying that our temptations rather than being “circumspect and undecided,” must be checked and the impulses secularised. Christianity is radical, but it is also secretive. Under these conditions religion ceases to be understood as a pre-eminently human activity and is left to those who find it profitable, pleasurable, or in some other way useful to themselves.
There are many reasons for the secretiveness of the Church. One is a matter of faith. For centuries, Catholic orthodoxy has trusted the Holy Spirit to guide the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” The source of this trust is the Pentecost, the event, reported in Acts of the Apostles, at which the Holy Spirit, after Christ’s death, descended upon the disheartened followers in the form of separate, empowering “tongues of fire.” Throughout history, this model of the mysterious relationship between the Church and the Holy Spirit fortified ordinary Christians in period of persecution. Among Catholics, such experiences reinforced a sense that, although non-Catholics might despise them, the Church, following ineluctably its ordained path on earth, would protect them. Over time, this divine warranty generated a high-handedness in the hierarchy: many bishops felt no obligation to justify to ordinary people their decisions on matters that would, in the end, be worked out by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In other words, if a Catholic paedophile approached the sacrament of confession with sincere contrition, he will be given not only absolution but also the superabundant grace to overcome what plagues his soul.
But how does the church to get away with paedophilia? Easy. The “root causes” turn out now to go far deeper than the social and the economic. They are psychological. And since there is not a soul who has not suffered some psychological trauma it becomes harder and harder to hold anyone in the church responsible for anything.
Instead of showing genuine contrition, those who condoned and sometimes covered up the abuse cast themselves as a figure more familiar to our age, a media-savvy victim. And along with their fine qualities-their intelligence and spiritualism-they are also something else that is quintessentially of our age. They are almost beyond shame and embarrassment.
They walked into the house of God, seduced, forced themselves upon our children. Then they have also done what more recent knowledge shows paedophiles do: namely be in total denial, with hardly any remembrance or remorse for their dishonest acts.
That the Pope chose to ignore for so long what is undeniable hardly seems in keeping with the Church´s claim to exercise a catholic care for all the world. Furthermore, the Pontiff´s signalled intentions to dismiss the achievements of a majority of the Church´s theologians in their attempt to update Catholic moral thinking must come as a shock to those who dream of a more liberalised Church. In the words of one American theologian scholar the present Pope has “created an intellectual desert and called it peace.”
This ambiguity, gap between word and deed, between pious morality and self-interested realities, reveals the inability of a self-absorbed, wishful Catholicism to respond effectively to the condition of a religion being bled white by soberbia and prepotencÃa and facing the dread menace of a revolution from within that could utterly destroy the old order.
The absolution of the Vatican is that of the secular dictators whose arbitrary laws serve no purpose save as a demonstration of power.
The Church´s structure today is dominated by intransigent Vatican functionaries still wedded to a pre-Copernican concept of the universe, and behind all lies the obsessive dread of hedonism-represented by sex-that still afflicts many Rome-oriented prelates and theologians. Behind the Roman intransigence is apparently a return to the concept of the Pope as an omnicompetent Christian witness that characterised the last two preconciliar pontiffs, Pius XI and Pius XII. This conviction rests on the presumption that religion is primarily a deposit of divine truth to be believed and practiced in a specifically Roman fashion rather than an experience based on faith and the imitation of Christ.
Many in today´s episcopate can no longer distinguish their temporal power from their spiritual mission such is the corruption of spiritual values that now confronts Catholics. To blame the priests for their spiritual transgressions has become sanctimonious to attacking Catholicism itself.
The classic definition of chutzpah is a person who murders his parents and then demands mercy from the court on the grounds that he is an orphan. This is meant to be a joke. But this joke is dangerous. Our obsession with the psychic welfare of the victimizer leaves us philosophically defenceless against crime. I am convinced that as long as the Pope and the Church hierarchy continue to be imprisoned in “structure of deceit,” as long as the victimizer is nothing more than another victim, justice is impossible.
The modern implications of compassionate care imply other, more demanding standard. Equality is one of these; no one is to be casualy sacrificied. Of course destinies make people not equal but, rather, incomparable; equality is a measurement and dignity is immesuarable. Faith discerns no grounds for making distinctions, and the distinctions made by custom and ambition are precarious before God.
Individual consciences-even if not fully in keeping with papal prescriptions-are to be followed, particularly when they have been formed with the aid of prudent and merciful confessors recorded for posterity.
Posterity is an accumulation of life and loss. Unfairly, perhaps, it has forgotten sins and virtues alike. It forgets all-all but the poems themselves. The poems remain, along with some incredibly sad, real life stories, to remind us of when God broke the rules.