Pope’s Preacher Hits the Wrong Key

In his Good Friday remarks, Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, likened recent criticism of the Pope over his role in the priest abuse scandal to Jewish suffering during the Holocaust. Needless to say, his remarks provoked outrage from the Jewish community as well as survivors of sexual abuse. Before writing this blog post, I had the opportunity to read Rev. Cantalamessa’s full remarks on Good Friday. Toward the end of his homily, Cantalamessa quoted from a letter he had received from a Jewish friend who compared the Jewish suffering during the Holocaust to the suffering the pope and Vatican officials have experienced recently. To say the least, the comparison is unfortunate and completely inaccurate. The Pope and bishops are not victims of the sexual abuse scandal. The criticisms lodged against the highest officials of the Catholic Church are warranted (even the Catholic conservative commentator Peggy Noonan admits it in her Wall St. Journal column today).
While the Pope’s defenders continue to cry foul at the criticism it has received. The Pope nor his subordinates have bothered to tend to the real issue at hand. I believe there’s a fairly straightforward reason for this. The Catholic Church has existed as a monarchical institution for more than 2,000 years. It’s not used to being forced to acknowledge mistakes or failures. The Church is not used to being questioned or criticized. When the Church speaks, the world is supposed to obey and take heed. Roma locuta est, causa finita est.
However, times are changing. The priest abuse scandal has not only rocked the church to its core but fundamentally changed the way in which the Church must deal with the outside world. The Pope can continue to call the criticisms of its handling of the sex abuse crisis as “petty gossip”, but the rest of the world doesn’t see it this way. The Church’s own internal documents provide a stark blueprint of how it has handled bad priests. It can’t simply run away from its own history.