Last spring one of the cable channels ran a series called “The Young Pope.” The basic premise was a young, American cardinal is elected pope and proceeds to go to battle with entrenched forces – tradition and people – in the Vatican. Each week’s episode was more bizarre than the week before, but the manipulation, infighting and intrigue was fiction. It was easy to watch, roll your eyes, turn off the TV and go to bed.
Now I feel as if every day brings a new episode of ““The Young Pope,” only it’s not the creation of a Hollywood screenwriter. It’s all too real, but maybe not entirely true. Unlike television fiction, this is far too sad and maddening, and – let’s be frank – quite embarrassing.
Between Masses last Sunday I checked messages on my phone — I need to stop doing that — and found a news update reporting allegations that Pope Francis had known about and concealed abuse committed by Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., who was demoted from the status of cardinal last month. The archbishop making the accusations demanded that Pope Francis resign.
Of course this made headlines. One of the pope’’s own archbishops, someone who had served as the highest-ranking Vatican official in the United States earlier in this decade, was demanding something quite unprecedented. And, coming as it did, in the midst of spiritual and emotional consternation following the report of a Pennsylvania grand jury detailing hundreds of incidents of sexual abuse by priests over more than 70 years, the archbishop’s letter only added to the strife. As well as the confusion.
Curiously, and probably not so curiously, some factions in the Church jumped at the chance to endorse the accusations and the demand for the Holy Father’s resignation. One Texas bishop ordered priests in his diocese to read a letter at Masses last Sunday in which he echoed the archbishop’s call for Pope Francis to step aside. Just life that! Seemingly no need or desire for at least a moment’s reflection, or sorting through the complicated details.
Thankfully, most bishops, including our own, have not joined in a public tug-of-war on this matter. There are too many unanswered questions, as well as plenty of complications in the back-story of the archbishop who threw out this bombshell and has since disappeared. More intrigue. Pope Francis has said he will not honor the accusation and demand with a response.
So, what are we to make of all this? First of all, I’d suggest this is far more about Vatican score-settling than it is about children being abused. That is unseemly to be sure, we expect more collegiality and Christian virtue among those working at the highest levels of the Church, but whatever involves people also becomes political, and whenever there are efforts to unsettle long-entrenched attitudes and customs, there is going to be resistance. Pope Francis has, for the better I think, upset the apple-cart of clerical complacency and control, much to the chagrin of entrenched forces in the Vatican and in powerful Church positions around the world, including the United States. He has demanded, in his gentle, firm manner, that the Church and its ministers become more centered in the Gospel and not power or prestige. He’s experiencing the repercussions, and we are unfortunately left to witness it.
Second, let’s not allow this side-show, which is what I hope it is, to distract us further from what we need to be about. In my homily last week – as well as blog post – I expressed the fear that a harmful side effect of the abuse crisis is that it distracts us further from the important work of the Gospel, from confronting injustice and honoring life, from caring for the hurting, the hungry, the homeless and all who need our attention in response to what Jesus has taught and what the Church must always be.
Finally, this is an opportunity to reclaim the Vatican II admonition that the Church is the People of God, of which those political players in the hierarchy are merely a part. We are the Church! This is a time to deepen our commitment to how we celebrate and live the Gospel of Jesus in our parish, in our families and in our lives. It’s more true than ever, that we – the people of St. Anne, and all parishes – need to live, really live, the Gospel with love and courage! TL