In the wash of the seemingly endless reports of sexual abuse by members of the clergy in the Catholic Church, many of us feel shocked, betrayed, confused, dispirited and deeply saddened.
Hopefully, this humiliating and humbling reality will make us take stock and try to ensure that such scandalous and outrageous behaviour is addressed with all the energy and commitment we can muster.
No one addressed this scourge in the Church with more tenacity and energy than Cardinal Josef Ratzinger who later became Pope Benedict XVI. In the Friday Via Crucis of 2005, he had decried the filth in the Church. In the spring of 2010, as Pope, he had exclaimed: “There is something we have always known… the greatest persecution of the Church comes not from her enemies without but arises from sin within the Church.” He stressed the need for penance and justice, insisting that forgiveness does not replace justice.
As Cardinal and as Pope, Ratzinger did not just talk. He defrocked hundreds of priests. In a high-profile case, he sent his chief investigator, our now Archbishop Charles Scicluna, to lead an investigation that exposed and punished the notorious and powerful Fr Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ.
However, in our religious upbringing, we were constantly reminded that we are all at risk of being sinners, even if members of the Church. As young boys studying at St Aloysius’ College, we were made to study the masterpiece of Alessandro Manzoni, I Promessi Sposi, that made us aware of this reality in the Church.
Goodness, love, courage and integrity challenge evil and can lead them to remorse, contrition, penance and eventual redemption
We were introduced to the infamous historical figure of the Monaca di Monza who abused her power as an abbess to have a sexual relationship, and even conspired in the murder of a fellow nun who had dared to expose her scandalous behaviour.
In this remarkable novel, the tumultuous conflict of good and evil is brought out in sharp relief as we are made to realise the manner in which character, background and the unfolding temptations in one’s life can lead people to do wrong.
The overwhelmingly positive message of this most outstanding book showed us how even in the most wretched of cases, goodness, love, courage and integrity challenge evil and can lead them to remorse, contrition, penance and eventual redemption.
By reading Manzoni, one is almost sobered into digesting the words of the haunting ballad sung so beautifully by Joan Baez: “There but for fortune go you or I.”
Meanwhile, the Church owes the media recognition for having had the persistence and doggedness to expose this frightful stain on the integrity of the priesthood, which is such a revered vocation.
Yet, it is profoundly unfair and unjust that certain sectors of the media only seem to exploit these failings with the aim of disqualifying the Church from fulfilling its prophetic mission of evangelisation. Our dismay at the prevalence of sinfulness has to be tempered by objectivity. We are right to condemn evil, but to redeem society and cure the cancer of sexual abuse we must also examine our own conscience and seek to address a culture that mocks chastity, trivialises sex, and exploits the young, the vulnerable and women.
In Malta, one need only mention the prevalence and proliferation of so-called ‘gentlemen’s clubs’ and ‘massage parlours’ and the poisonous and addictive impact of the uncontrolled dissemination of pornography.
Finally, as Catholics, we must admit that we are all prone to sinfulness and are always in constant need of conversion.
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