Saturday, November 6, 2010


Was it a mistake, a miscalculation, a disregard for the importance of the issue…? I have no idea, and surely there are facts about which I am ignorant. Nevertheless, as an “outside observer” I wish to offer a few thoughts about the “non-meeting” that occurred in Rome on 31 October.

A large number of demonstrators was expected to want to enter St Peter’s Square on this Sunday evening. Their goal was to declare a “Year of the Survivor” which would parallel the recently ended “Year of the Priest” proclaimed by Pope Benedict. In fact, the number was estimated as only between 60 and 100. A delegation was met by Fr Federico Lombardi, Pope Benedict’s Press Secretary, who delivered a personal message (his own, not the Pope’s) to the demonstrators. They had wanted to gather at St Peter’s and were prohibited by Italian police; they gathered at nearby Castel Sant’ Angelo, instead.

The organizers included 2 men who had been abused in Boston—they had both been consulted by Cardinal Law (before his resignation) and Cardinal O’Malley in the course of this scandal; one of them was among those whom Pope Benedict met during his pastoral visit to the United States in 2008. So they were not “nobodies” from anyone’s point of view. More to the point, far too many revelations of sexual abuse of minors (in countries other than the US) have come to light in the last few years. What was perhaps “good enough” in 2008 has the complexion of incompletion now.

Virtually co-extensive with this particular demonstration was a gathering of well over 100,000 Italian youth from “Catholic Action,” and they did indeed enjoy a celebration in St Peter’s Square on the day before—30 October, with the Pope presiding.

If only: if only the Holy Father had taken this opportunity to say, “Evil happened in the past to other young people; we will never allow such evil to happen again to such wonderful young people as are now gathered in this Square!” If only there could have been a bridging of past and present and future during that celebration.

It was a perfect opportunity to make the world see that the Church does in fact take its sins of omission (and commission) deadly seriously; it was a chance to live the pledge of our Act of Contrition—“I firmly intend, with the help of your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.” In the “old school” this was referred to as “firm purpose of amendment.”

Some demonstrators carried signs that said “Put the Pope on trial” and “Shame!” Should these have been tolerated? Perhaps, in the sense of the Holy Father’s saying, “I allow you to accuse me in this way; I am indeed ashamed of what happened.” The words of Proverbs 15:1 ring true here: “A mild answer calms wrath…”

What if? What if things had happened differently? What if I had all the facts? Still, as one man said to John Henry Newman, “…the world is ruled by seems, not is, by words and appearances, not by things and realities; that if you once give an obnoxious name to a book or a man, no power can rescue them, no power can make them sufficient for good.” Can we at least pray that seems and is can be closer together and beg for mercy for our past without seeming to paralyze us for our future? In fact, the former may well lead to our empowerment for the future…
PS--For those who want more of the facts as they have been published, I encourage you to see Rocco Palmo's blog "Whispers in the Loggia" (from which the photo above was in fact taken).

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