26 September 2010
Catholics are deeply disturbed by the clerical sex abuse scandal and the general response of the bishops and the Vatican. But the emphasis on this, to the exclusion of all else, along with focusing on the supposed apathy by Catholics to the papal visit to the UK last week obscures the true nature of the Catholic church.
The work of the Catholic church, with one billion adherents, is carried out in all cultures and countries. It works for the eradication of poverty, the reduction of inequality, the promotion of social justice and to combat climate change – all causes near to the hearts of so many liberals for whom the current child abuse crisis is confirmation of their darkest doubts about Catholicism.
This work ranges from being the largest provider of support to people with Aids in Africa to London##s Cardinal Hume Centre, which works with homeless young people, badly housed families, and refugees, migrants and asylum seekers; from the world##s largest international aid agency, Caritas Internationalis, to religious orders running care homes.
Priests work in the shanty towns of South America – where liberation theology has proved a revolutionary force – and nuns on death row in the US. Because of their faith, millions of ordinary people in the pews give time voluntarily as mentors, fundraisers, and workers with drug users and children. This is made all but invisible by the storm beating against the barque of St Peter.
The child abuse scandal is a wound to the Catholic Church which may take years to heal. And the acts of commission and omission by too many in positions of power in dealing with its consequences both baffle and anger the faithful. As John Cornwell wrote: “The scandal has prompted Catholics of every generation to question the leadership of the church. I am not alone in wanting to take issue with Pope Benedict##s particular response to a scandal that is part of a crisis involving the entire Catholic priesthood.”
In the article, Cornwell focuses on the most “backward-looking” of the pope##s initiatives. He says that these include “bringing back the Latin mass, routinely denouncing homosexuality, and declaring the ordination of women a great sin”.
What he fails to mention is that the much-maligned Benedict XVI and his predecessors have spoken out on climate change, against poverty, nuclear weapons and capital punishment, and in favour of social justice. These opinions stem directly from what##s been called the Catholic church##s “hidden treasure” – its social teaching formulated over more than 100 years. It is about “the option for the poor”, the dignity of work and the rights of workers, human rights generally, social justice, a fairer distribution of wealth, and the role of the citizen and the state.
Cornwell is correct in stating that the church is in need of a post-scandal “root-and-branch inquiry” – reforms the Vatican seems unable to countenance.
But behind the anger, the hurt and the headlines are those everyday unheralded doings of individual Catholics – lay, clerical and professed – whose work truly expresses “the one true faith”.
The Guardian (abridged)