Friday, March 8, 2013

Papal Transitions 2

The change in papal administrations has drawn out a journalistic increase in stories about clerical sex abuse—not that there are new charges of misbehavior but as the old stories, especially those of how charges were mishandled—are revived and rehashed.  The records of various Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops are examined and reexamined for everything from criminal malfeasance to simple incompetence.  And I think we have to expect this—not only because these are the stories that “sell” newspapers, but because the person-in-the-pews is not yet convinced that sufficient reforms are in place.  But what triggers my concern is several articles that have appeared recently with scathing critiques of Mother Theresa of Calcutta.  The journalists claim that given the amount of donations the saint received she could have given a much higher level of care to patients in her “houses for the dying.”
Mother Theresa didn’t have an American understanding of her mission.  She was more interested in surrounding her dying patients with love and support, alleviating their loneliness and fear, than she was in offering high-tech treatments that would have prolonged life but at the cost of removing the human care and treatment her nuns and volunteers offer.  The American approach to death has long been to see it as an adversary that must be fought no matter what the price—price both in fiduciary and humane terms.  Fortunately the hospice movement is starting to change our perception of death and we are coming to see it as the closing part of the process of life and, like Mother Theresa, understand that what is really needed is to provide people with an environment of spiritual, emotional, and humane security. 
The motives beneath the attack on Mother Theresa’s work is, like the other articles “exposing” the Church, that these are the stories that sell newspapers.  But there are more baleful reasons.  There are those who realize that shining a spotlight on the Church, and indeed on religion in general, could—were it not for their mudslinging—be an opportunity for others to give consideration to the positive roles that religion plays in society.  Not only Catholicism but organized religion is at an all-time low in its standing in western culture.  One of Benedict’s goals in becoming pope was to reverse that trend.  He had no success whatsoever in reaching this goal.  It will remain to his successor who will first have to shovel the church out from beneath the avalanche of offal that has not so much fallen upon it as has been drawn down upon the Church by its own prelates who just never “got it.”   This papal election is perhaps the most critical of the last five hundred years as the direction in which this pope sets the Church could be its call for revival or its death-knell. 

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