Today’s New York Times breaks more news about the investigations of the Belgian church.
It’s an ugly story, a very ugly story. A bishop, his 10-year-old nephew, sexual molestation—and the all too familiar story of ecclesiastical retreat from reality as the Belgian hierarchy closed ranks and credible reports were dismissed a malicious rumor mongering.
The latest revelation now adds to a turmultous atmosphere, not just in Belgium, but perhaps more widely in Europe. Here is what the folks at Der Spiegel in Germany are saying about the rolling wave of scandals and the increasingly vigorous response by civil authorities.
Even if the raid in Belgium was inappropriate, it is another indication that the scandal-ridden Catholic Church can no longer expect leniency—neither in Belgium nor in the US, where a week ago Monday the Supreme Court ruled that the Vatican enjoys no immunity in cases of alleged molestation by priests.
Der Speigel is wrong to draw parallels between Europe and America. We’ve had a long history of separation of church and state, and it was Liberal Protestantism that functioned as the established religion for decades, not Catholicism. If ardent secularists (and greedy litigators) get too aggressive, most Americans, even those with no great love for Catholicism, will come around and defend her.
About Europe, however, they are probably right. The traditionally Catholic countries have retained aspects of establishment, and even though attendance is small, Catholicism continues to be linked to society in the cultural imaginations of many Europeans.
A few years ago, Europeans debated about the mention of Christianity in the EU charter document, with the not-mentioning party winning the day. The outcome of that debate reflected a growing sentiment that the cultural entity called “Europe” need have no ties to the religion called “Christianity.”
This is why the Belgian scandal may serve as a tipping point. For many secularists, the churches need to be pushed to the side. A public disgusted with the ugliness of misconduct at the highest levels of the Church—along with what now seems to be a blatant attempt to simply ignore credible accusations—will make this much easier to do.
For those of us loyal to the Church and concerned about her future, the coming months and years will be difficult. On the one hand, the need for purification of the Church is obvious, and this will require criticism. On the other hand, we can’t have illusions about the larger goals of many critics of the Church.
For example, I’m not quick to forget Bill Keller’s New York Times column in 2002, which was laced with vituperation against the Catholic Church.
His agenda isn’t hidden from view:
Probably no institution run by a fraternity of aging celibates was going to reconcile easily with a movement that embraced the equality of women, abortion on demand and gay rights.
Keller is now the executive editor at the New York Times, and while the paper undoubtedly does a good job bringing us the news, his agenda may influence the spin. See, for example, the unbalanced reporting that claimed that Pope Benedict played an intergral part in the moral failure of the Church.
In a recent posting I parsed the distortions.
No doubt Keller’s views also influenced last weekend’s unsigned editorial, which denounced the Pope for failing to handle the priest scandals as would a go-getting CEO or rear-end covering politician.
Yes, it’s going to be difficult. When a faithful Catholic chastizes the Church for its failures, lots of folks who are looking for any stick to use to beat up on the Church will join the fray. But we can’t allow that possibility to force us into silence. After all, it was silence that got us into this particular mess in the first place.