The words used by Pope Benedict and others in responding to the Church's ever-deepening sexual abuse crises reflect a sickness that is not unique to the Catholic community. In fact, that sickness creeps into all religious communities of which I know, and leaves a trail of victims in its wake every time. I refer to the way in which religious leaders and the communities which they lead wear the mantle of victimhood to cover their naked moral failings.
In the past days I have heard Catholics tell me again and again that "the Church is under assault." Under assault by whom? Is this "assault" the real problem? Or is it a deflection from the horrors of child abuse committed by the religious?
In his Palm Sunday address, Pope Benedict spoke about allowing neither himself nor the Church to be "intimidated by petty gossip". "Petty gossip"? Is that how the Holy Father understands the outcry against the evil acts which members of the Church have committed? Is it really his view that the Church is a victim of gossip mongers more than the thousands of children have been victims of the Church?
It's not that I don't appreciate how Catholic-bashers and Church-haters, from certain comedians to some members of the punditocracy, are having a field day with this tragedy. I do. And frankly, they should be ashamed of themselves. Their "I told you so" ranting about the Church serves no good, except to their own careers.
But however ugly such ranting is, it hardly compares to the ugliness of what happened to the victims in these cases, and the sluggish response, if not full out cover-up, by the Church. For the Church or its leaders to portray themselves as the victims at this moment, is beyond reprehensible, it actually lays the groundwork for further abuse.
This is no different than when leading members of the Jewish community have attempted to silence those who were sexually abused by rabbis. The arguments in defense of such behavior are the same as those made by many in the church, including, it now seems, by the Pope. "It's not as bad as they say", "the charges are motivated by anti-Semitism/anti-Catholicism", "we can handle this ourselves", and "if we don't keep it in the community, we will all undermine our community/church." It doesn't matter where those arguments are made, they are all grotesque.
Faithfulness is not proved with silence, raising a voice of moral conscience is not betrayal, admitting horrific abuses is not defeat, and public accountability is not gossip. Frankly, any religious community which doesn't know these things is neither genuinely religious or truly a community.
I don't know what the Pope should do, but I know that hiding behind the mantle of victimhood at moments such as these is what brings down communities and their sacred institutions. As well it should.
The "rock upon which the Church is built" could crumble if the Vatican doesn't figure that out soon, and so will those Jewish institutions which fall prey to the same ugly institutional protectionism which abets protecting abusive rabbis instead of their young victims.