The National Catholic Review

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Drew Christiansen, S.J.



Carolyn Disco | 3/22/2010 - 7:37pm
Benedict gets it wrong - badly wrong
(i) It appears to uncritically endorse the 'holy Ireland' narrative in which nationalist political identity merged with Roman Catholicism:
 This invocation of 'holy Ireland' is - at best - somewhat incongruous in a pastoral which apologises for the widespread culture of the systematic sexual, physical and mental abuse of children ... What is more, however, the myth of 'holy Ireland' undoubtedly contributed to the failure of the secular authorities to protect children from the culture of abuse within Roman Catholic institutions.
(ii) The apology is - at the very least - open to misinterpretation. It appears to suggest now that the Pontiff has apologised, the victims of abuse should forgive the church
(iii) The suggestion that clerical child abuse is somehow linked to the liberalising tendencies unleashed by Vatican II is staggeringly inaccurate. The Report of the Ryan Commission reviewed the period 1936 to the present. It went on to state, however: The complaints come mostly from a period during which large scale institutionalisation was the norm, which was, in effect, the period between the Cussen Report (1936) and the Kennedy report (1970).
(iv) The culture of clericalism certainly contributed to a weak, at best, response to abuse. Disappointingly, the Pastoral seems to perpetuate a highly clericalised view of the church. This is surely implied in the language Benedict uses when addressing Roman Catholic 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…
The clericalism implicit in this statement is quite staggering. Roman Catholic parents have their role, ''while the Church'' has its role. ''The Church'' is, therefore, the hierarchy. Roman Catholic laity ... well, are they something else?
In conclusion, Benedict's letter fails.
JIM MCCREA | 3/22/2010 - 5:25pm
More to the point -
"Authority resides in a person who by actions as well as words invites trust and confidence.  It rests neither on external legitimization nor on power but on trustworthiness, or in Augustine’s words, on truth.  Its purpose is to clarify and illuminate, i.e., to aid understanding, and its instrument is argument, not coercion.  The first question a Christian intellectual should ask is not "what should be believed" or "what should one think," but "whom should we trust?"  
Robert L. Wilken, Professor of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia, The Christian Intellectual Tradition (article), First Things, June/July 1991.
JIM MCCREA | 3/22/2010 - 5:22pm
"Hierarchies are designed for the exercise of power, that is, for authoritarian control. They depend on structures rather than human relationships.
Authority, however, depends completely on human relationships. It derives from the Latin augere – to create, to make able to grow. Parents augere their children. Their authority over them is a function of that special relationship through which parents commit themselves to their children’s growth, to their human fullness, to their emergence from dependence. So, too, the authority of teachers, pastors and popes is essentially relational, ordered to the growth of their students, their parishioners or their worldwide flock.
Bishops who have been trained to relate structurally through their roles and the rules of hierarchy and who have been conditioned to manage rather than expose themselves to the risks of human relationships find it almost impossible to exercise their authority effectively in an institution that insists that they exercise it as impersonal control."
Eugene Kennedy, The Unhealed Wound: The Church and Human Sexuality.
Molly Roach | 3/22/2010 - 8:53am
I think that Benedict and his ilk are so entrenched that they cannot really see the church they believe themselves to be leading.  This entrenchment distorts perspective and creates a huge blind spot.   And it makes imagination all but impossible.   As long as they are incapable of looking to themselves and acknowledging how they have facilitated the sexual assault of children, it will be that long that allegations surface to accuse them of just that.  These men have sadly lost their way and no longer have any credibility as teachers of the gospel.  No amount of other "good works" will balance out their calamitous failure to protect children.  This letter to Ireland is more words.   Decisive and public action is what this situation demands.   
Thomas Piatak | 3/21/2010 - 11:30am
An excellent letter from the Holy Father.
Vince Killoran | 3/21/2010 - 5:54pm
Here's another, much shorter, letter he might have written to Irish Catholics:
"We-the clergy and hierarchy-have failed to keep the Gospel.  Key bishops wil lose their positions. We will do penance. You will have a key role in making certain we don't do this again. Forgive us Lord."
David Cruz-Uribe | 3/21/2010 - 2:40pm
This is a good letter, though I do not think it is as strong as it could and should be.  Part of the problem is the use of the passive voice:  though this is a common feature of papal pronouncements, it unavoidably weakens the rebuke.    But, more substantively,k while it takes on directly the offenders, it does not in my mind adequately address the cover-up that compounded the original problem.  In particular, even if the Pope might not want to publicly call for bishops to resign, I think he could have alluded to this to get the point across.
One feature of the letter that I suspect may be overlooked is buried in paragraph 14:  the announcement of apostolic visitations to certain dioceses in New York.  This is going to be a stinging rebuke to the bishops being so visited, since this can only be read as saying the Pope lacks confidence in their ability to tend their own flocks.   But again, this does not communicate this rebuke in a sufficiently clear and public fashion.

Recently by Drew Christiansen

A Pastor to His People (April 8, 2016)
Liberty’s Rise and Fall (February 18, 2016)
Papal Healing (October 7, 2015)
Praised Be Creation (July 8, 2015)
God’s Poor in God’s Creation (June 18, 2015)