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Saints and Sinners
Pope Francis on a new path.
New Candidates for Canonization
Catholics are rejoicing. Pope Francis I gives a thumbs-up to the sainthood of previous Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. Canonization is the highest tribute available from the Church, requiring the commission of full-on miracles for nomination. Both Popes have reportedly met the criteria.
Pope John Paul II is credited with two miracles involving healing illnesses. Pope John XXIII performed only one miracle but went above and beyond to help increase the Catholic Church’s popularity and strengthen its legacy by invoking the Second Vatican Council, known popularly as Vatican II, during his papacy. So, the Church has good reason to celebrate.
There also is bad news. Facts have recently surfaced about decades-long goings-on in Milwaukee involving priests, again, having violated their vows, their parishioner’s trust, and the law. The Church has become as infamous for its secret dealings as any sophisticated crime organization operating in modern times.
After Christ’s resurrection, followers began hiding in the tunnels, or catacombs, beneath Rome to avoid persecution as they worshipped. Near the start of the next millennium began a series of full-fledged military campaigns sanctioned by the Church, known as The Crusades, stretching over hundreds of years. The Catholic Church has been embroiled in controversy and concerned with its future at times, but not many organizations have exhibited its staying power.
So, did the Papacy spanning these operations turn a blind eye to activity that would largely be considered barbaric today, even in conflict? Well, that’s nothing new. Everyone has skeletons hidden somewhere. Besides, these things were done to “defend” the Catholic Church and, more importantly, they happened long ago, right?
However, Adolph Hitler’s now well-documented war machine activities occurred less than a century ago. There is no reason to think that the Church participated in these vile undertakings other than, in some cases, where it actually protected Jews during Nazi purges. But the Church has been accused of assisting Nazi Germany with the illegal acquisition and transportation of art initially stolen from people of Jewish heritage. There are filched family fortunes and perverted provenances that may never be sorted out.
You Don't Say
The Church has always held secrets and, like any organization, certain proprietary aspects will always remain low-profile or even hidden from the public. But today’s Catholic Church has no shortage of disappointments involving money and sex and, maybe worst of all, the all-too-many attempts at concealment.
There might have been unconditional forgiveness if the Church had immediately gone public when clergy sex-abuse allegations exploded decades ago. Opening up about the issue then would have indicated a real desire to prevent the abuse from recurring and would have established a better process for monitoring developments.
Instead, the unsuccessful attempts at cover-ups continued. We’re hearing about new (to us) instances of abuse, more clandestine relocation schemes, and huge amounts of hush money that should have been used to help many needy families through the Catholic charities.
The spate of sex abuse occurrences allowed the public a close-up look at the lax reaction by the Church. We felt plenty of shock and disbelief; now, there’s a lot of skepticism.
Worship all over the World
Can the Church Get An Amen?
The Catholic Church has always been on solid ground in South America and has increased its patronage in Asia significantly over the past century. The number of Catholics in Africa grows daily and, though no longer practiced with the fervor of its heyday, Catholicism still enjoys a prominent presence throughout Western cultures. It’s not going away.
Theology aside, many people today including Muslims, Jews, Christians, and non-believers, would agree that the overt Catholic culture provides a positive influence throughout most of the world as it, essentially, promotes peace among mankind. Even the newly appointed Pope Francis I champions a humble existence, lately calling for more modest wheels to drive the bishops.
A handful of religions have attracted armies of followers because people who share systems of belief find comfort in that experience and will stand together fast and firm in their conviction. Religious leaders appreciate strength in numbers and realize that, as long as those in control maintain their own integrity, these constituencies will allow for a more cohesive sense of community. Pope Francis has taken steps in that direction.
The Church has a strong legacy on its side. The new pope has demonstrated genuine interest in making improvements. Only time will tell. With any old-boys-network it is, at best, extremely difficult to make significant, even necessary, changes in long-term policy without attracting suspicion and causing turmoil. The bonds of trust are frequently and ever-more-easily stretched to the breaking point.
IMO, honesty is still the best policy, and always will be. I’m not talking about little fibs regarding hair or those clothes or someone’s derriere. But no one will argue that these crimes committed under the eaves of the church are far more serious and should never be the focus of any cover-up to avoid a full reckoning by those involved. The Church has the onus of learning how to confess its own sins openly rather than trying to hide them. And that’s the least that should be expected.