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Two thoughts on the Pope’s Pastoral Letter

Timothy Kincaid

March 22nd, 2010

pope eyesPope Benedict XVI has sent a Pastoral Letter to Irish Catholics in response to the Church’s crisis over child-molesting priests. It has been fairly universally condemned as inadequate and uncaring. Personally, I find it to be one of the most arrogant and self-serving of all possible responses the Pope could have given. But perhaps I’m biased.

I did, however, note two things I want to note.

First, the Pope writes as though this were a letter to the Southern Baptists, rather than to part of the Catholic family. All condemnations are directed at “you” and “the Church in your country”. It seems to me that this Pope wishes to make clear that he holds neither himself, the Vatican, the hierarchy, nor the political, legal, or pastoral policies of the Church as a whole to have any share in the failings.

It seems that he wishes to portray this tragedy as a singular incident, a failing of the Irish, rather than as a part of what is rapidly becoming a global epidemic.

Second, the Pope seems to want parents to take their share in the blame. He writes:

8. To parents

You have been deeply shocked to learn of the terrible things that took place in what ought to be the safest and most secure environment of all. In today’s world it is not easy to build a home and to bring up children. They deserve to grow up in security, loved and cherished, with a strong sense of their identity and worth. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person, to be inspired by the truth of our Catholic faith and to learn ways of behaving and acting that lead to healthy self-esteem and lasting happiness. This noble but demanding task is entrusted in the first place to you, their parents. I urge you to play your part in ensuring the best possible care of children, both at home and in society as a whole, while the Church, for her part, continues to implement the measures adopted in recent years to protect young people in parish and school environments. As you carry out your vital responsibilities, be assured that I remain close to you and I offer you the support of my prayers.

pope vader
While this, on the surface, appears as sage counsel to live up to our duty to our children, I wonder if His Holiness has considered the meaning of this advice.

The Pope has said that it is the duty of parents to ensure the best possible care for children. Taking this in the context of priest abuse it means, in effect, that parents failed by trusting the Church and her officers.

When the Church said, “bring your children to us for altar duty”, parents failed by listening. When the Church said, “send your children to Catholic boarding school”, parents failed by agreeing. When the Church said, “teach your children to trust God and trust the Church as His representative”, the parents failed by doing precisely that. When the Church said, “you can trust us”, the parents failed by believing.

This Pope seems to be arguing the con-man’s defense: “I may have deceived you, but it’s your fault for believing me”.

Perhaps he’s right.

Comments

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Frijondi
March 22nd, 2010 | LINK

There’s something troubling about the Pope’s choice of words, especially here:

“They deserve to grow up in security, loved and cherished, with a strong sense of their identity and worth. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person, to be inspired by the truth of our Catholic faith and to learn ways of behaving and acting that lead to healthy self-esteem and lasting happiness.”

On the surface, this sounds harmless — standard church-talk with some late 20thc touchy-feely stuff for good measure; however, that bit about “a strong sense of their identity” raises a red flag, coming as it does from someone who has been very vocal about his concern that people just aren’t forming the right identities these days, especially where sexuality and gender are concerned. Exactly what “ways of behaving and acting that lead to healthy self-esteem and lasting happiness” does he want kids to learn? In this context, and coming from this source, I’m inclined to think he means 1) sexual abstinence before marriage and 2) heterosexual behavior and gender conformity.

And what is any of that stuff doing in what’s supposed to be a letter of apology? It doesn’t belong there. It almost sounds as if he’s implying the parents were at fault for letting their kids act too faggy (if boys) or prematurely sexual (if girls), thus attracting the attention of pedophile priests.

Timothy Kincaid
March 22nd, 2010 | LINK

Frijondi,

good point.

Also, there is trouble with the whole “they have a right” language. This is the same language that Catholic Maggie Gallagher uses to argue against same-sex couples having any recognition.

It’s all that “children have a right to a mother and father” stuff which validates discrimination.

Now the Pope is saying that children have a right to “be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person, to be inspired by the truth of our Catholic faith”.

It is not a far stretch to see this as a declaration that all children are entitled to be Catholics and that civil law should enforce this right.

Frijondi
March 22nd, 2010 | LINK

Interestingly, Anthony Kennedy used similar language in Stenberg v. Carhart (upholding the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act) — “the mother has a right to a relationship with her child.”

I have tried several times to put myself in the shoes of someone who is strongly opposed to abortion, especially that particular procedure, and I still find his logic bizarre. He believes it is necessary to ban this kind of abortion to protect a woman’s right to a relationship with a child she doesn’t want to have in the first place?

I understand the “life begins at conception” argument, even if I don’t agree with it. It’s clear that people who believe that also believe that they are trying to prevent murder. That makes sense. It’s not at all clear what Kennedy believes he’s trying to prevent, and I’m not sure I want to find out.

I don’t want to derail this into a discussion of abortion, but the language and the discovery of weirdly specific rights is just too similar not to mention. Funny, too, how conservatives always argue that the right to privacy was just made up out of whole cloth.

John
March 22nd, 2010 | LINK

Ireland used to be about as Catholic as you got in Europe. I was there last summer (I am Irish). They have lost so much support that they are unlikely to get back. It just gets worse and worse.

It is particularly ironic that this relatively insulting letter to the Irish people and the Catholic Church in Ireland comes right after Ratzinger was implicated in the same sort of thing in Germany.

I guess it would be just an Irish problem, if it only happened in Ireland. Or if it only happened in Ireland and the US. Or if it only happened in English speaking countries. Or… Unfortunately for Ratzinger, that just isn’t the case.

Ed W
March 22nd, 2010 | LINK

“…learn ways of behaving and acting that lead to healthy self-esteem and lasting happiness.”

What a load of malarky.

I was just at a pflag meeting where parents were talking about their gay teen who was raised Catholic and loves the Church, but is completely devastated to be true to himself and come out as gay, thanks to the Church.

Lynn David
March 22nd, 2010 | LINK

Faintly reminiscent of NARTH/Nicolosi’s admonition that parents/fathers are the cause of their son’s being gay.

Lindoro Almaviva
March 22nd, 2010 | LINK

Somewhere in the Vatican catacombs both Petter and John Paul are spinning in their graves.

This man makes John Paul II (and the Medicis) look like Mother Teresa in comparison.

To be blunt, it does not surprise me given how he behaved from the moment he was elected. That balcony scene moments after his election (His body language was that of WORSHIP ME ) set the scene for me and so far i have not been wrong once when i predict anything this “pope” has done.

anteros
March 22nd, 2010 | LINK

The Pope has said that it is the duty of parents to ensure the best possible care for children. Taking this in the context of priest abuse it means, in effect, that parents failed by trusting the Church and her officers.

..or, it could be interpreted as a coded way of saying “please keep under 18s away from church”.

ZRAinSWVA
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

My first step towards mental self-destruction, at age 12, followed a sermon by a Catholic priest wherein he expounded upon the sins of the homosexual: “if I am doomed as a sinner and have no chance at salvatation, why try?” My first step towards becoming comfortable with my being gay was to remove myself from the influence of the Catholic Church.

The Church builds beautiful, inspiring edifices, but they are just hollow shells with no soul.

Paul in Canada
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

On another post I commented about the difference between an ‘apology’ and the act of asking for forgiveness. In my mind, two very different actions. This latest PR stunt demonstrates to me how irrelevant organized religion has become in this century. Time to ‘de-licence’ these sham-organizations and take away their tax-free status. Time for the UN and the rest of the world to denounce Vatican-city as an independent state. Relegate it to a very large museum – the Museum of Sorrows.

Mykelb
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

Paul, I was in Rome last year and visited the Vatican and saw all it’s horror. I would call it the Museum of Atrocities.

Richard Rush
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

So here we have an institution that presumes to be THE authority on morals. And their clerics pontificate endlessly on such concerns as the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage, and every aspect of sexuality including the “intrinsic evil” of homosexuality. But against this backdrop the evidence continues to mount and thus confirm what many of us have long believed: The preeminent concern is preserving the sanctity of church power, with all other concerns being subservient to that.

Ben in Oakland
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

There is a wonderful pasage in Tom Robbins “Another roadside Attraction”, which I consider to be one of THE greatest books ever written. It certainly changed MY life when I was a young man of 20 in 1970.

I wasd able to find it on the web in aobut five seconds, but I can’t seem to figure out how to copy and paste it here. So here’s the link. Enjoy.

http://books.google.com/books?id=KQHCdn_-V1MC&pg=PA105&lpg=PA105&dq=%22tom+robbins%22+catholic+wasp&source=bl&ots=K4N_Cv-1kO&sig=ADYy3cdUB1ZApkKPzbc0ioNXHKA&hl=en&ei=2MqoS4HHKIr8sQPAv8z5AQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CAYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=&f=true

Timothy (TRiG)
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

Point 4 of the letter attributes blame to the secularisation of Irish society. I suppose this is true: the scandal wouldn’t have come out if the country had not been somewhat secularised.

This suggests that the Pope is more worried about the scandal than he is about the rape and horrifying physical abuse of children.

This is no real surprise, as these same priorities seem to be held by everyone else in the Catholic hierarchy.

http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2010/03/andrew-brown-catholic-child-rape.html

TRiG.

Paul in Canada
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

“God has no religion.”
Mahatma Gandhi
Wiser words have never been uttered.

Patrick
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

I can’t be the only one who sees the 2nd picture of the Pope in this article and can’t get the Emperor in Star Wars out of my mind.

Timothy (TRiG)
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

Wiser words: God is a mythical tyrant, and we’re well off without him.

Me.

Nevada Blue
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

Ben, I stumbled on Another Roadside Attraction as a child of 13 and thereafter voraciously read everything Tom Robbins wrote. He is certainly key in my development as the feminist, humanist, secularist, sex loving, loud laughing human I am today. I still quote him on love: Love is the ultimate outlaw. It is not to honor and obey; it is to aid and abet.

The world would be a better place if we swithced out Ratzinger for Robbins.

Ben in Oakland
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

Tom robbins for Pope!!!!!

Ben in Oakland
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

By the way, lest anyone think that the pedophilia problem is somehow a new thing, read Karen Liebreich’s “Fallen Order”– 400 years of more of the same.

Or if you really want a kick– read Chaucer. I think the Pardoner’s Tale, but I could be wrong. Something about having to “curry favor with boys” while in rome.

800 years and counting.

fannie
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

“I urge you to play your part in ensuring the best possible care of children, both at home and in society as a whole, while the Church, for her part…”

I also find the trend of gendering “the Church” as female to be inappropriate, especially here, as it obfuscates the fact that (a) this institution is male-dominated and (b) this abuse was carried out by and perpetuated by men.

Priya Lynn
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

Yes Fannie, now that you mention it, its very odd for him to characterize “the church” as female. Wonder what that says about the pope’s beliefs about “the church” and the men who run it.

John Doucette
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

The buck stops with the Pope. He is THE leader of the Catholic Church demanding adherence and obedience to Catholic doctrine. He claims to be the ultimate authority in the Church and as such he has the ultimate responsibility.

William
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

Referring to the Church as “she” is hardly new. It’s been the general practice for centuries. One reason may be that the Latin word for “church” (ecclesia) is feminine; but no doubt it also springs from the metaphorical description of the Church as “Christ’s bride”. The author of the Epistle to the Ephesians compares the relationship of husband and wife with that of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:21-33).

Incidentally, a tortuous process of reasoning, based on this husband/wife > Christ/Church symbolism, is used by some biblical fundamentalists (along with the usual “clobber passages” from the Bible) to “demonstrate” that only a sexual relationship between persons of different sexes is legitimate.

JandyA
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

This Benedict guy looks evil. Especially when the picture occludes everything but his eyes. I swear, if I saw this guy coming at me in the dark, I’d run the other way. At least the minister who molested me when I was a boy had a pleasant smile. (And he was United Methodist, by the way. Just so you know, the Catholics don’t have a monopoly on pedophiles.)

Ben in Oakland
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

BTW, Nevada– that book totally changed my outlook in life. I coulda been a Republican if I hadn’t read it.

I would recommend it highly to anyone. I didn’t like the rest of his books as much, though that is strictly my opinion. I still bought them all– he has a great way with words.

Priya Lynn
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

William, when an organization run by men is called “Christ’s bride” that says something very interesting about those men’s perceptions of themselves.

William
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

“…when an organization run by men is called ‘Christ’s bride’ that says something very interesting about those men’s perceptions of themselves.”

Yes, Priya, I have no doubt that it does, although I can’t pretend to have worked out exactly what that something is. All that I can say is that to me, as a now somewhat marginal Catholic, the whole thing seems pretty screwed up.

Nuns, of course, are also referred to as “brides of Christ”, or used to be. I say “used to be” because I haven’t heard that phrase actually used for some years now. But I’ve never heard monks called “bridegrooms of Christ” or “boyfriends of Christ”, and I’m sure that if I suggested it I’d be shot down in flames immediately.

Richard Rush
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

By the way, Timothy, this is an excellent post – particularly your last few paragraphs.

cd
March 23rd, 2010 | LINK

This is no real surprise, as these same priorities seem to be held by everyone else in the Catholic hierarchy.

Well, remember that their solution for all the failures of the Catholic Church necessarily has to be: More Catholicism! More of the same.

And so the beatings will continue until morale improves. Which is to say, everyone who doesn’t believe that the RCC has all the answers is going to get ignored and shouted down. Until they get a clue and realize the RCC prefers that they leave.

Fernando
March 24th, 2010 | LINK

Thanks to Ratzinger, reality, years later, imitates fiction.

Ben in Oakland
March 24th, 2010 | LINK

I didn’t notice that it was an Onion article. I got half-way through it before I realized that it was too nuts even for Der Papenschnaz.

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