Pope Benedict XVI made his first trip to America this weekend, so now seems as good as time as any to re-evaluate my faith. Being a Catholic over the last ten years hasn’t exactly been a cakewalk, as we’re not exactly having our best decade. Osler wondered aloud on his blog what excuse people have for not going to church, and I can only give him mine: anger.
That’s right, I’ve been angry with the Catholic Church. Not God, mind you, just the church. I don’t think it was God who was commanding priests to abuse little kids, and it certainly wasn’t God who tried to cover it up. What got me so angry was the church’s refusal to just come out and defrock the offending priests and lead the investigation. Instead they stonewalled the victims of abuse. And that’s just cowardice. It went from a scandal of “a few bad apples” to an institutional problem. How hard is it to say “Priests shouldn’t rape anybody. But especially kids”? Not very. In fact, it should go without saying.
And then Pope John Paul died and Cardinal Ratzinger became Benedict XVI. And I felt like I was getting slapped in the face by the church. Were they this out of touch? Or am I just out of touch with my own church? Ratzinger was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for 25 years. It’s a very old office in the Catholic Church, and you might know it by its original name: the Office of the Inquisition. His responsibility was to stomp out any deviation from Orthodoxy and, incidentally, to investigate and monitor the priesthood. So he’s the guy ultimately responsible for the Church’s policy on trying to keep the sex scandal confidential. Which didn’t exactly endear me to the new pope.
But more than that, he’s one of the leaders of the conservative wing of the Church. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but I’m a firm believer that one of the great things the Church has done in the past fifty years was Vatican II, which was the great liberalization of the Church. And one of the great legacies of JPII was the way he reached out to the world beyond Europe and to the other religions, particularly Judaism. The Catholic Church’s history regarding the Jews is not what you may call stellar, so actually apologizing for the Holocaust was a huge step for Catholics. And I thought that Ratzinger was a symbolic turning away from all of this progress. I stopped going to church because I didn’t feel like the Church had much to say to me anymore. And when I did go, I felt distant and closed off from God.
And who did that hurt? Well, me. So, as we enter Pentecost, it’s time to be open to the Holy Spirit again. It’s a fitting time for renewal, as it’s one of my favorite times of the Christian calendar. It celebrates the birth of the church, so it’s one of those holidays that celebrates the very people doing the celebration. And it’s been remarkably resistant to commercialization. It’s a true holiday in the sense that it is a Holy Day.
I went to my new Church this weekend. And the priest talked about the very things I was angry about and admitted he was angry, too. But part of being a Catholic is to be an example of Christian ideals: humility, faith, patience, and forgiveness. It’s time to forgive.
Pope Benedict, when he spoke at St. Patrick’s Cathedral this weekend, used the analogy that we are like the stained glass windows. From the outside, we are dim and dark, but when we enter, the glass is vibrant and colorful from the light shining through. We need to go out and shine God’s light. It was a message from my pope.
And I felt moved by the Holy Spirit.