To Pope Benedict XVI: This Church is all of us.
By Ruth Bertels
Somehow, it seems to me that Pope Benedict XVI is already into the second act of his papacy. The first weeks were simply a flash-back to the days before and during Pope John Paul II’s final illness.
The then Cardinal Ratzinger delivered a Good Friday homily guaranteed to make everyone in the Vatican sit up and take notice of the dire straits in which the Church found herself. Not just anyone is asked to give the Good Friday homily. It is a distinct honor, and, therefore, carries a good deal of weight. Ratzinger was up to the challenge. Or was he?
A Vatican homily is meant, not only for the Curia and the members of the hierarchy present, it circles the globe in minutes, leaving either chaos or the peace of Christ in its wake.
Chances are, Ratzinger’s words did more than astonish his listeners; they may well have caused deep-seated sadness in the hearts and minds of ordinary Catholics on Main Street, Anywhere-in-the-World. Jason Berry reported the harsh judgment in the New York Times:
How much filth there is in the church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to God.
Later, he compared the Church to a boat about to sink, taking in water on every side.
Here, Ratzinger appears distraught over the scandals that have rocked the Church, though one cannot help but wonder why, since they have been in the Vatican files since 1993, but dismissed by him as a planned campaign by the news media to discredit the church.
Somehow, Ratzinger appears to have forgotten that this is a mighty big Church of ours, a holy Church, a Church of sinners, yes, but, also, of millions of everyday saints, whose names will never guarantee them a Mercedes limo if invited to Rome, nor dining in the finest restaurants, nor a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI.
Yet, it is these people who staff the soup kitchens, keep vigil for the dying, do the volunteer work that keeps parishes going year-round, support the Vatican, and lift the spirits of their fellow pilgrims by their courage and humility, patience and perseverance. They give us joy in the morning and peace at even-tide. They are the Church.
What might be upsetting the new pope, Berry tells us, is the case he recently reopened against Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, a powerful Mexican priest who founded his own order and lives in the seminary in Rome.
Berry goes on to say that in 1998, when Ratzinger was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a legal tribunal of the congregation accepted a case by nine seminarians who accused Father Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, of sexual assault, an allegation that first surfaced in the 1960’s. (Please refer to the articles in the Archives: Vows of Silence.)
In 1999, Ratzinger told a Mexican bishop that it was not “prudent” to proceed against a man who had helped the church by attracting young men to the priesthood.
However, since Ratzinger reopened the case, Berry asks, “Why?” Was it because he thought that he might be pope one day, and wouldn’t want the case clouding his standing before the world?
Since the Vatican is an independent country, it may be easy for those living and working there to be lulled into a false sense of security, far from the eyes and questions of the ordinary folks in ordinary little and big towns. How else can one explain the congratulatory, lengthy letter sent by Pope John Paul II to Marcial Maciel on the anniversary of his ordination, November 24, 2004?
Here is a brief quote from it:
Your 69 years of priestly life, Reverend Father, have been characterized by significant spiritual and missionary fecundity with different apostolic works and activities, such as the Regnum Christi Movement …
I cannot, of course, forget the service that you have rendered in these years to the Holy See, which has made use – on several occasions and in different ways – of your generous and competent collaboration, whether on the occasion of some of my apostolic trips, or in the activity of organizations of the Roman Curia.
Personally, it is impossible for me to doubt that Ratzinger cleared this letter, especially considering the poor health of the pope at the time. What was Ratzinger thinking? Didn’t he understand that the message would see the light of day and cause scandal upon scandal? Because he is so brilliant, does he consider the little people so ignorant they would not be repulsed at the sight of a founder of a religious order, accused of molesting nine seminarians, receiving accolades from the Holy Father?
I’m sorry. I just don’t understand this.
A number of times, the pope has said he would favor a smaller Church, implying one where the faithful were unquestioningly faithful. The problem is that this is not his Church; it is Christ’s Church, and the Church is all of us. Jesus told his apostles to feed his lambs and sheep. Not only the ones who stay quietly on the hillside, but those who wander off, especially those who wander off, and must be rescued by an alert, caring shepherd.
Some have said we must be willing to give Pope Benedict XVI a chance. That we are most willing to do. But in turn, we ask him to give us a chance, a chance to find peace and respect and love within the Church that belongs to all of us. Amen.