But standing there in Rome, I thought about the reality of children being molested and priests who had committed those crimes being protected and excused by the Vatican, the complaints years earlier about my half inch too short skirt seemed pathetic in comparison.
Next week, Pope Benedict will step down, becoming the first pope to retire in nearly 600 years. The official explanation is that he has become too frail to perform his duties. I think there is more to it than that. I think that he either doesn’t want to or can’t deal with all that has gone rotten around him. Let somebody else do the dirty work.
What the Vatican needs to do to prove its viability is for the next pope, as his first act, to demand an accounting of every act of child abuse in the church. Every priest who is known to be guilty should be routed out, excommunicated and jailed. Every priest, bishop and cardinal who had any knowledge of these heinous crimes and protected abusers should be excommunicated and prosecuted in the courts. There should be a zero tolerance policy against child sexual abuse, or sexual abuse of any kind for that matter. If ever there were time for the church to ask, “What would Jesus do?”, this is it.
Sexual abuse, however, is not the only issue the new pope must deal with.
Garry Wills, a devout Catholic and religion scholar, in his new book, “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition” argues that as we have seen in Vatican II, the church can and does change. And it should if it wants to stay relevant.
Wills’s book takes the reader back to Christ’s time and walks through the creation of the church.
Priests, he points out, were man-made, not prescribed by God. There were no priests in the New Testament and certainly no one held the title “pope.” (Many Christians agree, see: the Protestant Reformation.) The idea of priestly celibacy is relatively new, too, as is the sacrament of confession. Wills points out that even the central facet of the Mass, a belief that an ordained priest can literally turn bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood, is not universally held.
According to Wills, some of the teachings of the church have had to be twisted like a pretzel to make sense of them. You have to be baptized or you will go to hell. So what about babies? That didn’t seem fair. Well, they could go to limbo (a holding place between heaven and hell). What about sinners who have been baptized? They can go to purgatory, not as bad as hell but not as good as heaven. But then, limbo didn’t really make sense so that was done away with.