First resignation in 600 years could be chance to embrace transparency
When Pope Benedict XVI announced his decision to resign from the papacy at the end of February - the first pope to do so in nearly six centuries – it instantly became the biggest news of the day. For some the news was met with dismay, while for others it was greeted with cries of “good riddance!”
Before becoming Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Inquisition). This is the organization that oversees all serious crimes against the church, including the sexual abuse of children by priests. Allegations that first surfaced in 2010, by now well-documented, that numerous cover-ups of sexual abuse took place during his time there, and continued during his time of Pope. Memos have surfaced where Ratzinger reminded all priests that reports of a crime and/or sexual abuse were only to take place within the church. Failure to do so would be cause for excommunication.
Any actions that were undertaken at the time were aimed at protecting the church’s image from any scandal rather than protecting the children who were being molested by pedophile priests. So much for the golden rule.
The Church may still be stuck in the Dark Ages, but unfortunately for them, the world around them hasn’t. In this new age of the internet news (especially contentious, polarizing news) travels fast. Pulling up the gates and circling the wagons doesn't work anymore because the truth always comes out.
And it did.
Many are speculating that this is the real reason that Pope Benedict XVI is abdicating; not old age and failing health. At this point, it hardly matters, although it would have been powerful to see a contrite spiritual leader admit wrong-doing and moral failure. But I’m not holding my breath to see real penance coming from the spiritual leader of an organized religion that uses people's faith as an excuse and a weapon with which to preach, judge, control, condemn, attack, scorn, and guilt.
There's a silver lining here, though, no matter how dark the cloud of scandal.
The Pope’s resignation represents a unique opportunity and the ideal time for the Catholic Church to rebrand itself and evolve. How the church deals with future allegations and conducts itself is ultimately what will decide its future relevance and any moral high ground it may possibly still have in this world.
Because, despite my personal feelings on the subject of religion, I recognize its importance and validity in many people’s lives as a source of comfort and as something they can lean on during difficult times.
How the church deals with future allegations and conducts itself is ultimately what will decide its future relevance and any moral high ground it may possibly still have in this world.
Anything that has the potential to elevate us should be lauded.
The problem, however, is that’s not what’s going on right now. The Church has unfortunately been revealed as nothing more than a protector (at all costs) of ancient doctrines and dogmas, and ultimately of power – be it spiritual, financial, or political.
No one person or institution is infallible, and I don’t believe that the faithful would hold (or would have held) the admission of guilt from the Church for the crimes of a few against the entire Church itself. Transparency, prosecution, and ultimately justice would have sufficed for faith to have been restored. Instead, the Church chose to shuffle priests around instead of prosecuting them to the full extent of the law. That’s a travesty and an abomination.
According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of Canadians attending religious services has declined over the past 20 years. Only 21 per cent aged 15 and over reported they attended a religious service at least once a week in 2005, down from 30 per cent in 1985. I fully expect those numbers to have decreased even more by now, and they’re no doubt even lower in Quebec.
Living in an increasingly secular society, many no longer feel the need to attend church because they feel obliged to, but rather, because they want to. In order to want to, one must feel that it's time well spent, that the message is relevant, that it addresses our needs, and contributes something important to our lives; the guilt trip no longer works. Unless we can become convinced that our lives can become enriched by increased involvement, why bother?
In Deny Arcand's film, 'Les Invasions Barbares,' an aging priest is heard lamenting: 'In 1966 all the churches emptied out in a few weeks. No one can figure out why.' The answer to that is splattered all over the daily papers. Question is: is anyone at the Vatican reading them?