The Pope's Visit
Pope Benedict XVI spent his first full day in the United States today by celebrating his 81st birthday at the White House while meeting with President Bush. Benedict received the same sort of rock star reception that his precessor, Pope John Paul II, regularly got when in the United States. Catholics and Protestants alike are excited and inspired by the Pope’s visit.
Count me among those inspired. Benedict XVI is not perfect—but he is a wonderful pope. It is impossible to realize the extent of the Pope’s influence on moral issues. Whether or not they agree with him, he speaks for the world’s billion plus Catholics. His (and his precessors’) leadership on this issue has been a significant, perhaps even vital, factor in the pro-life movement. He is easily the most influential religious leader in the world, and his uses his influence to advance the cause of traditional and Catholic morality. His visit to our country is inspiring to Catholics—and really, anybody of faith—across the country.
The only downside to the Pope’s visit is the revelation that so many Catholics have absolutely no knowledge of even the most elementary elements of their faith. It is understandable that some causal, “cafeteria Catholics” might not quite comprehend some of the more complex elements of their faith. Catholicism is difficult to really understand.
What is shocking—almost offensive, really—are the people whose ignorance is an insult not only to their faith, but to intelligence itself. Consider this piece by HuffPo blogger Verena von Pfetten
Is the Pope considered the physical representation of God on earth? (I should probably already know that or at least be googling it, but I'm lazy so I'm just going to let that question hang. And it has a point, I'm just getting there slowly.) And if he is, wasn't (isn't?) God all good? Wasn't / isn't the point of God just straight-up, undeniable, inarguable, all-around goodness?... So, in that regard, what exactly does the Pope do?... Feel free to fill me in here, this is not a rhetorical question.
I suppose that many Catholics aren’t quite clear what the Pope’s exact duties are, but anyone (espcially someone who claims, as von Pfetten does, to be an ex-Catholic) who thinks that Catholics believe that the Pope is the “physical representation of God on earth” clearly has never met a praticing Catholic. And anyone who is so “lazy” that she’ll just let the question hang is either too stupid or too intellectually lazy to be writing anything about the subject. Von Pfetten wrote an entire column asking for answers to the question of what the Pope actually does. Five minutes on Google would have given her the information needed to write a column that actually made sense.
Von Pfetten is hardly the only media representative to be clueless on this subject—coverage from many other media outlets and commentators is similarly sloppy. One can’t ever expect perfect coverage—but is it too much to ask that those who cover and comment on the Pope’s actions get the most basic facts right?
Fortunately, not all commentators are clueless. Many conservative blogs have provided good coverage of the visit, and NRO’s the Corner has provided some interesting comments. One of the most thought provoking (and most brutal) thoughts has come from Christopher Hitchens, writing in a Newsweek religious blog. He says
The scandal is not the presence of pedophiles in the church, but the institutionalization of child-rape by the knowing protection and even promotion (by non-pedophiles) of those who are guilty of it. The most grievous offender in this respect is Cardinal Bernard Law, currently an honored figure at the Vatican. This expression of contempt for the victims makes the Pope himself adirect accomplice in the very atrocity that he affects to denounce
Hitchens is immoderate in his language (did anyone in the Catholic Church promote child-rape? And it’s absurd to suggest that the Pope is an accomplice, direct or otherwise, in the child molestation scandal) but the main thrust of his argument is probably valid. The Pope was faced with a difficult dilemma when considering what to do with Cardinal Bernard Law (who covered up pedophile priests in Boston), and may have felt that keeping him in the Vatican where an eye could be kept on him was the best course.
But Cardinal Law enabled child molesters. That crime is so heinous that child rapists are kept segregated while in prison, since the rest of the population tends to kill or maim them for their crimes. If this crime is unforgivable even among rapists and murderers, doesn’t Law deserve a more dire punishment than that of being stuck on some Vatican committees?
I admire Pope Benedict XVI, and perhaps there are perfectly legitimate reasons for his actions regarding Cardinal Law. But someone should ask him to explain them. Child abuse is unforgivable, and no one who engaged in it should go unpunished.