April 18, 2008

You know what’s great? It’s when someone lives up to the expectations – big or small – you place on them. Kinda restores your faith in humanity a little bit, and also makes you think that maybe you’re not as crazy as your family and friends think you are, or as you might suspect. And this is especially true when it comes to the Church – after all, how many times have you found out that various spiritual leaders you once respected turned out to be not only poor leaders, but not very spiritual either.

I’m talkin’ here about Pope Benedict XVI – for not only is he talkin’ the talk, but he’s walkin’ the walk. No better example of this is the fact that this extremely intelligent, humble, and, yes, holy servant of God not only has talked about the grevious fashion in which his church handled the clergy sexual abuse scandal, but he took time out, on his own initiative, to meet face to face with several victims of clergy sexual abuse from Boston, the “ground zero” of that scandal. As Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe reports:

Pope Benedict XVI, in a dramatic move likely to alter forever the image of his pontificate, met this afternoon with five victims of clergy sexual abuse from Boston.

The private meeting, which was first reported by the Globe this afternoon and has since been confirmed by the Vatican, was brokered by Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston.

The meeting took place at the papal nunciature, which is the home of the pope’s ambassador to the United States. The meeting did not appear on the pope’s schedule, but took place during the window between a Mass this morning at Nationals Park and a talk that he is to deliver later this afternoon to Catholic educators gathered at Catholic University of America.

You know, a lot of Catholics believe Pope John Paul II to be a great, if not one of the greatest, popes, but to me his pontificate will forever be stained by the way the clergy sexual abuse scandal was handled on his watch. Rather than take a firm and swift “no tolerance” stand by sacking the priests and the bishops most involved in the scandal, he not only pretty much swept it under the rug but actually aided and abetted those at the center of the crisis – for example, by allowing Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law to take a cushy job in Rome when he really should have gone to jail.

In his desire to meet with victims of this scandal (and especially so given the fact they are from Boston), this pope’s actions obviously speak louder than any words possibly could. But let his words also speak for him:

Benedict has spoken repeatedly about the abuse crisis during his first trip to the United States as pope.

He called the crisis a cause of “deep shame,” pledged to keep pedophiles out of the priesthood and decried the “enormous pain” that communities have suffered from such “gravely immoral behavior” by priest.

He told the nation’s bishops that the crisis was “sometimes very badly handled,” and said they must reach out with love and compassion to victims. At an open air Mass on Thursday at Nationals Park, he also urged Catholic parishioners to do what they can to reach out to victims.

Sure, anyone can discount Benedict’s meeting with the victims by saying it’s the very least he could have done and that doing so didn’t require a whole lot of courage on his part. And in that regard they might well be right. But I think this humble action by the head of the Roman Catholic faith speaks volumes about the man’s heart and the priorities he has set for his pontificate. And I find myself increasingly enamored of this humble and holy leader who is not afraid to face the big issues head on.

And I’m not afraid to say that if Benedict XVI hadn’t done something of this magnitude during his visit I would have been sorely disappointed, because I’ll admit it – I expect a lot from the spiritual head of the faith tradition I choose to attend on a regular basis. I’ve found that same kind of humble and holy leadership sorely lacking at the top of both the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, and to see it at work in the Roman Catholic Church gives this Episcopalian just another reason to believe that his journey in the direction of Rome feels like the right thing to be doing.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:48 | Comments (0)
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