It is with great irony that during this Holy Week Pope Benedict XVI is under fire for mishandling child sexual abuse cases in Europe and the United States. As Christians the world over observe the holiest week of the year, many yearn for real Christian leadership in the church.
Advocates for survivors of child sexual abuse by priests make clear that the complicity of Catholic bishops in sex abuse cases is actually the greater atrocity than the original crimes. Across continents bishops have orchestrated cover-ups and transferred perpetrators, enabling them to evade criminal prosecution and re-offend against new victims.
Rather than addressing the reports forthrightly, the Vatican has chosen to attack the motives of everyone with reasonable questions about the Pope’s role in managing claims of abuse. They issue public relations missives daily defending the Pope, as victims in the hundreds report abuse by priests and cover-ups by bishops across Europe.
So, as millions of people observe Holy Week, now is the time to ask: “What Would Jesus Do?”
As Catholic school children have always been taught, the only act of anger and violence at the hands of Jesus Christ appears in all four of the Gospels when, during the Passover, Jesus threw out corrupt money changers from the holy temple.
Christ made a whip from some cords, toppled tables, and furiously expelled the bandits who violated poor vulnerable worshippers, but He had even greater indignation for the chief priests and Pharisees who desecrated the holy temple. In this act of rebellion, Christ revealed the evils of the church establishment in His time. “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations…but you have made it a den of thieves,” He said.
Today’s Catholic Church has much in common with the holy temple of Christ’s day. Our modern day chief priest and temple leaders have protected their institution over the interests of the most vulnerable in God’s temple.
To those outside the clerical culture and monarchical structure of today’s church, the answer about what Christ would do is clear.
A real warrior for God would turn sexual abuse cases over to the police and prosecutors.
A real holy man would protect children by voluntarily disclosing records and files from all credible claims of sexual abuse in the church, and by creating a database of church sex offenders, past and present, for all to see.
A real Christ-like leader would quickly remove the collars of offending priests instead of managing cases for years through arcane mazes of bureaucracy. He would also fire all bishops who covered-up sexual crimes against children worldwide.
Regrettably, this Pope is not a Christ-like figure kicking over tables and throwing out money changers. He is instead the chief priest who has enforced the official church policy of secrecy and cover-up for decades.
This Holy Week we will see the Pope play-act the role of Jesus Christ, piously washing feet, carrying a cross, and consecrating bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. These will be meaningless acts of ritual though if the Pope does not adopt the meaning of this week and reform a church structure that is responsible for perpetuating greater sins than the holy temple of Christ’s day.
His hollow words of disdain for perpetrator priests and complicit bishops should be replaced by actions that emulate an angry Savior anxious to cast out the filth in the church hierarchy who have desecrated his Father’s house.
In the halls of the church’s heartless bureaucracy, this Pope should start looking for loose change.