The tornado of accusations that blew over the Church in March and April sent sheets of rain down on the just and the unjust alike. Most of it fell on the figure least responsible for the abuse scandal, Pope Benedict XVI. His papacy, far from hostile to reform, had begun with it.
Within the very first year of his pontificate, he restored the long-neglected ban on the ordination of homosexuals (a tacit reform in light of the fact that an estimated 80 percent of the abuse cases involve male teens) and removed from public ministry Father Marcial Maciel, the corrupt founder of the Legionaries of Christ.
But the secularist chattering class was too ideologically invested in its caricature of Pope Benedict as chairman of a checkered ecclesiastical club to care about the facts. So it didn’t matter to editors and pundits that he had backed zero tolerance policies in 2002. It didn’t matter that he had acknowledged “filth” in the priesthood. It didn’t matter that he had convinced his predecessor to update the Vatican’s treatment of sex abuse cases. It didn’t matter that in the face of curial sniping he had bravely pushed blocked investigations into powerful churchmen like Maciel and Hans Hermann Groer.
To say the coverage of Pope Benedict has lacked proportion is an understatement. The truth is that it has been breathtakingly crude and malicious, far more like a Stalinist show trial than anything approaching objective journalism.
“Arrest the Pope? I rather think we should,” ran a headline on a column in the Times (United Kingdom). Another column headline in the British media blared, “Put the Pope in the Dock.” In April, a United Nations jurist, Geoffrey Robertson, along with secularist pundits Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, advocated the prosecution of Pope Benedict for “crimes against humanity.”
The American press has been no less savage to him. Leading this coverage was the New York Times, whose top editor, Bill Keller, is a self-described “collapsed Catholic” with a very antagonistic view of the papacy (he identified it with the “forces of absolutism” in a 2002 column).
This hazing and jeering of Pope Benedict, which reached its fever pitch during Holy Week, can only be regarded as the sick chortles of a dying civilization with just enough energy to plunge its sword into the body of Christ while releasing Barabbas back to the world.
Derelict bishops and molesting priests handed this mob an additional sword, to be sure, but the Church, while recognizing the need for greater purification, should not surrender one inch to it. The Church should fight back not by defending the indefensible or hatching some contrived PR campaign, but by restoring holiness and orthodoxy to the priesthood, which is the one authentic reform that these self-appointed reformers of the Church most fear.
For all of this mob’s talk about laxity in the Church and the need for reform, its true ambition is not to protect children and bring discipline to the priesthood but to corrupt both.
Did the Pope’s critics, some of the very ones calling for accountability now, oppose the lowering of seminary standards and the relaxation of discipline within the priesthood? Hardly; they championed it. Secular psychologists like Carl Rogers were recruited by like-minded revolutionaries within the Church to hold seminary retreats in the 1960s that accelerated the homosexualization of the priesthood.
Did the Pope’s critics support the zero tolerance policy that he helped the American bishops implement against abusers in 2002? No, many of his critics opposed it. Worrying about that policy’s implications for homosexual clergy, the National Catholic Reporter, which is secularism’s Fifth Column within the Church in America, objected to zero tolerance on the grounds that it would unfairly tarnish priests attracted to children above the age of puberty. “I do not support the ‘zero tolerance’ approach in every instance,” said Bishop Thomas Gumbleton in its pages. Another NCR article dismissed the zero tolerance policy as a “blunt object of punishment” and said it shouldn’t apply to, say, a “priest who briefly exposed himself to a teenager.”
The millstone, in other words, that they wish to hang around Pope Benedict’s neck belongs on theirs. The ostensible concerns of secularists about the abuse scandal and a permissive priesthood amount to nothing more than an opportunistic phase in an anti-clerical campaign that existed long before the scandal and will exist long after it.
“Let the children come to me,” said Jesus Christ. And while members of the secularist mob inside and outside the Church are heard quoting that line these days, its meaning in reality is the last thing they want. They do not want children listening to Christ’s voice on faith and morals but to theirs, which is why silencing and smearing his Vicar has become so imperative for them.