A brief defense of the Pope
“I read the coverage of the Pope every day in the newspapers and listen to the BBC news and as a Catholic and a journalist I feel like crying out pathetically: “This is not fair!” And it isn’t fair, or reasonable. Intelligent journalists who are normally capable of mental subtlety and of coping with complexities have abandoned their critical faculties. There is an atmosphere of unreason.” ~ Andrew Brown
I have been meaning to put together a much longer – and more thorough – defense of Pope Benedict XVI, but I’ve been busy and scatter-brained in my real life and haven’t gotten around to it, though I’ve been doing the research and gathering information (and please do email me with any other resources or information you might have on the matter) and hope to have something decent written up shortly, perhaps in time for Easter.
In any case, from what I’ve read and from what I can tell most of these accusations and calls for the Holy Father’s resignation are reactionary at best, and in many ways are just the latest attempt by those with bones to pick to turn a tragedy into a political vendetta. Andrew Sullivan has been among the loudest in this latest witch hunt. Oddly reminiscent of his treatment of Homeland Security Boss, Janet Napolitano, Sullivan has repeatedly called for the pontiff’s resignation, as though accountability were in direct proportion with the lopping of heads. I am reminded of the Red Queen’s preferred method of justice.
Andrew also draws the rather odd parallel between priestly celibacy and child molestation that many people seem to do nowadays for reasons I have yet to fully comprehend. While I am not against reforms in Church policies toward marriage in the priesthood per say, I do find it somewhat odd to imagine that simply allowing priests to marry would somehow put a stop to child abuse in the Church. Do married men not molest children? Unless I am quite mistaken, the vast majority of child molestation cases take place among family members. Ending priestly celibacy may sound good on paper, but in the end it would likely be about as effective as calling for the chopping block.
In any case, there are a number of good defenses of the Pope floating about the internet. Father Thomas Brundage has one of the more forceful pieces. You should also read George Weigel here, Andrew Brown here, Daniel McCarthy here, and more here, here, and here.
And as all of these Papal defenders say themselves, child abuse in the Church is a real problem and hopefully the Vatican and the Pope will do more to combat this terrible tragedy, and God willing we can have more transparency and more justice for all those involved. This would be undeniably good and is – without a doubt in my mind – needed for the resuscitation of the Catholic Church after so many horrible revelations of abuse in the past decades.
However, the attacks on Pope Benedict XVI seem to have very little to do with the molestation scandals, and much more to do with the wishful thinking of those who despise the Pope for political reasons and will use this crisis to fight for his removal. ‘Never let a crisis go to waste,’ as Mr. Emanuel has said.
Why a man who is so extraordinarily similar in faith and politics to his predecessor – the much beloved John Paul II – is a question that has been bothering me for some time, and I think I’ve stumbled on the answer.
I think it is entirely an aesthetic obsession which motivates Benedicts fiercest critics. Let’s face it, unlike the charismatic John Paul II, Benedict has a somewhat sinister look about him. He has aged in such a way as to make him look less the cuddly grandpa and more the evil villain; he bears an uncanny resemblance to Emperor Palpatine.
I mean no disrespect to the Holy Father in pointing this out. It isn’t exactly something he has control over, nor is it any way to judge a man’s character. But it is easy for us to subconsciously find ways to despise something we find to be ugly or flawed, and I really do think that this entirely incidental feature influences the way people think about the Pope in ways which they’re not even fully aware of. If you doubt me, just look at the pictures critics use in their posts or articles – always the least flattering they can find. And how many people have it in their heads that – unlike John Paul II – Benedict is some arch-conservative? Is there any reason for this belief beyond a dislike of the man’s face? In what sense has the Church really changed since the days of John Paul II? If anything, the record suggests that Benedict has been more rigorous in rooting out corruption than his predecessor.
And like the Pope’s physical appearance, his critics’ calls for his head on a platter are similarly all about appearances. Demands for more transparency and calls for swifter justice are reasonable. Indeed, after so many sexual abuse scandals anything short of public outrage would be odd to say the least. But calls for the Pope’s resignation are not really about accountability. They are politically motivated or born out of a personal dislike for the Pope, ultimately empty attempts toward radical change rather than part of a thoughtful discussion on how to end child abuse in the Church.
P.S. One can be both horrified and hugely critical of the Church’s handling of the sex scandals and still defend the Pope from these accusations. Too many people seem to conflate a defense of the Pope with an acceptance of the sexual abuse – which is absurd. Similarly, too many people take the easy road and think that just being critical of the Pope amounts to being on the ‘right’ side of the debate. This is lazy. As I’ve said before, demanding the Pope’s head is not the same thing as calling for accountability from the Church. If anything it is a shabby attempt at manufacturing a scapegoat. Until actual evidence surfaces that the Pope was directly responsible for what went on in Germany – and it hasn’t – then all of this is mere rhetoric, showmanship, and reaction. I can’t really blame people for having a strong reaction to such hideous crimes, but let’s make sure we get it right. Accusation is not the same thing as justice.
P.P.S I have made a similar defense of Janet Napolitano, actually, and have used similar arguments defending her against calls for her resignation. It is the nature of this type of accusation which is motivating me more than my faith or my political differences with critics of the Pope. There is a vital difference between accountability and scapegoating, and I think an equally important case to be made for ‘innocent until proven guilty’ which is both important to those accused but also to the victims. False justice is no justice at all.
This grisly little man is not above or outside the law. He is the titular head of a small state. We know more and more of the names of the children who were victims and of the pederasts who were his pets. This is a crime under any law (as well as a sin), and crime demands not sickly private ceremonies of "repentance," or faux compensation by means of church-financed payoffs, but justice and punishment. The secular authorities have been feeble for too long but now some lawyers and prosecutors are starting to bestir themselves. I know some serious men of law who are discussing what to do if Benedict tries to make his proposed visit to Britain in the fall. It’s enough. There has to be a reckoning, and it should start now. [emphasis added, EDK]
Y’all may be right that I overstated the aesthetics initially, but it seems to crop up time and again and Hitchens helps prove my point to some degree with this very descriptive line. William notes that the ‘fiercest critics’ want the entire church hierarchy dismantled. That is an excellent point. Perhaps the aesthetic is merely a helpful visual aid.
And yet – I have still seen no arguments or evidence which point out how I am wrong, how Benedict is in fact guilty – beyond assertions that he is or that things aren’t looking good for him. Are we going to do away with even the pretense of withholding judgment until the light of truth has been shed? Are we to be ruled by our preconceived notions?
Heads must roll it seems, whether or not that results in actual justice.