For a Lenten penance this morning I read some mainstream articles about the Catholic Church. It’s amazing how, at this historic time, the Church is under full blown attack. Cardinal O’Brien resigns after allegations of “inappropriate behavior” by fellow priests, a “top-secret” dossier in the Vatican (which we all know must be full of terrible scandals!!!) will only be seen by Pope Benedict and his successor! Cardinal Mahony should stay home and not take part in the conclave! There aren’t enough cardinal electors! Benedict will have to quickly appoint a few more like Vincent Nichols of Westminster! There’s a gay cabal at the heart of the Vatican! They blackmailed the pope and had him ousted because he’s anti-gay.
There are several things about this reporting which are irresponsible and maddening. First of all, there is the fact the a huge percentage of it is exaggerated rumor-mongering. We don’t actually know what Cardinal O’Brien’s “inappropriate behavior” is. If it was so terrible, so explicit and so criminal why don’t the accusers say so? We don’t actually know what is in the Cardinals’ report on the Vatican, and it is perfectly reasonable for the Pope to keep it confidential for now, just like any other CEO or top government official would hold sensitive information at crucial times, and perfectly reasonable that the new pope should have privileged access before anyone else does. Will the pope suddenly appoint new cardinals because one has resigned? No. Is there a gay cabal in the Vatican? I expect the reality is that there are some actively homosexual priests, and there is concern that security, the witness of the church and their own ministries will be compromised by their hypocrisy.
The second aspect is the inconsistency of the secular press. On the one hand they are busy sexualizing just about every aspect of society, encouraging every sort of behavior in the cause of “freedom”, but when it comes to Catholics they snort with righteous indignation at every sort of “inappropriate behavior”. The fact of the matter is, human beings are sinful. We stumble and fall. We aim high and live low. We miss the target. It is the Catholic Church which recognizes this basic fallen condition of humanity and calls us, on the one hand, to the highest of standards, and also offers a way of mercy when we fail. It is the world, on the other hand, which does not call anyone to a high standard, and yet goes mercilessly in for the kill should anyone not achieve the high standard of behavior.
When are we going to wake up to the reality and being to understand that weakness and failure and hypocrisy is part of the deal. It is realistic and human and humane and humorous and humble to say, “I messed up. Forgive me.” It is also human and human and humorous and humble to embrace our fellow man and say, “Welcome to the human race. I forgive you. We’re all in this mess together.” What is cruel and hard and merciless is to refuse to forgive others while pretending that we have no faults ourselves.