Who could forget that chilling seen in Jaws when Mrs. Kintner, whose young son had just been killed by the shark, approached Chief Brody and slapped him in the face? Sobbing, she said, “I just found out that a girl got killed here last week, and you knew it! You knew there was a shark out there! You knew it was dangerous! But you let people go swimming anyway? You knew all those things! But still my boy is dead now. And there’s nothing you can do about it. My boy is dead. I wanted you to know that.”
As she walked away, the mayor turned to Brody and said, “She’s wrong.”
And in a moment of complete candor, the Chief shot back, “No, she’s not.”
Too bad the Catholic Church didn’t heed that powerful lesson. It too has a “shark” problem on its hands, but rather than hunting down the terrorizing threat, it simply throws more bait at the predator.
Common sense dictates that if you enable a shark, it is emboldened to keep preying; therefore, efforts must be made to eradicate the threat. But as Voltaire said, “Common sense is not so common,” and the Church was, and is, no exception.
If the Church had heeded Mrs. Kintner’s message of accountability and responsibility, it wouldn’t be paying billions in settlements related to widespread priest pedophilia over decades. It wouldn’t be seeing its own — including a certain Boston Cardinal flaunting the “Law” — fleeing the country to Vatican City’s safe havens to avoid possible extradition. It wouldn’t have to watch high-ranking Church officials be criminally charged for knowingly transferring pedophile priests to other parishes where they were put in direct contact with children.
And they wouldn’t be witnessing their churches continue to empty and the faithful dwindle, with rank-and-file priests now constituting the world’s largest old-age club, since so few young people enter the seminary.
It is incomprehensible, then, that in light of those crises, the Catholic Church would respond by fast-tracking the late Pope John Paul II for sainthood, since so many sins occurred under his watch.
If John Paul’s beatification — part of the path to sainthood — takes place as scheduled on May 1st, it will have been the fastest in history, thanks to Pope Benedict XVI, who waived the requirement of a five-year waiting period after a person’s death for that process to begin.
I’m sorry, but what planet are these folks living on … Uranus? One way or another, Pope John Paul is complicit in the scandal. Given his vast intelligence and the worldwide publicity surrounding the plague of pedophilia, if the former Pope had no idea what was transpiring, then he was irresponsibly asleep at the switch. No matter how insulated he may have been, and no matter how much his inner circle shielded him, it is simply not believable that he had no knowledge of the crimes being committed. Which leads us to the more likely scenario.
Just as he rightly receives accolades for the good things that happened during the 26 years of his Papacy — and there were many — John Paul must also be held at least partly responsible for the illicit activity that occurred. It seems obvious he looked the other way on the sex scandals, choosing to bury his head in the sand in the hope that the problem would take care of itself. And that makes the sin mortal.
But even worse was the direct enabling of predator priests and the subsequent cover-ups. Not only was appropriate action not taken most of the time, but in many cases, victims and their families were discouraged from taking next steps and going public, with some being threatened with ridicule and excommunication. Even high-ranking Church officials were not immune; many were told in no uncertain terms that if they cooperated with investigative authorities, they would be subject to severe repercussions.
As a matter of fact, a letter from 1997 was uncovered last month from the Vatican to Irish bishops demanding that no pedophile cases be turned over to police — which blew away prior Vatican claims to the contrary. That letter was signed by the late Archbishop Luciano Storero, Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland. So unless the Pope never read the papers, watched TV, or communicated with Church administrators under his command, he absolutely knew. And that should make sainthood out of the question. For the Church to pursue it just shows how out of touch it has become.
Many believe that the cover-ups took place because the Good Old Boy network was taking care of its own. Maybe so. But just as possible is that Church leaders were deceitful because they feared the worst for their Institution if the facts came to light. And if that’s the case, a question comes to mind. Where was the faith of those leaders? Faith that the Church, which can be traced directly back to Jesus Christ and a fisherman named Peter, could weather the storm, faith that it could stand firm in the face of adversity, and faith that the solution is to always do the right thing and tell the truth?
In other words, to do what Jesus would have done.
It is a tragedy these leaders didn’t practice the faith that they continually preach.
For far too long, the Church has been perceived as either being against things or involved in cover-ups. Lost in the headlines is all the incredible work the Church performs as part of its core mission.
It is the biggest non-governmental provider of social services in the world, operates the largest network of non-public schools in the nation — many of which are the only salvation for inner-city, non-Catholic, non-white students — and runs numerous hospitals that provide health care to many who would otherwise go without. Most important, the Church offers a voice of reason and compassion to world leaders and the larger global community, a moral compass in an ever-increasing secular society.
But the Church is at a crossroads. It can continue to defend the indefensible, drag its feet on huge problems of its own making, and watch its flock dwindle — a situation sure to be accelerated if Pope John Paul II is sainted. Or it can tackle the obstacles head-on, admitting mistakes and renewing its commitment to purge its ranks of criminals and predators. It would also behoove the Church to keep an open mind when considering long-term solutions, such as allowing priests to marry — as they did for over hundreds of years.
It will be a long road back to respectability, but if a serious effort isn’t undertaken soon to address these issues, what was once the most powerful institution in the world will be reduced to a sad ghost of past glories.
An easy first step: Don’t ignore the most faithful.
A lifelong churchgoing Catholic, a product of 15 years of Catholic education and longtime staff-member at a Catholic hospital, wrote the Pope a letter last year (cc’ing other Vatican officials) about the abuse her son and his classmates endured at the hands of a priest — a priest who had allegations of sexual misconduct leveled at him while still in the seminary and who was repeatedly transferred to other schools where parents and students were never informed of his past actions.
The point of the letter was simple. “I am only asking to stop allowing cover-ups to take place. I am asking to eliminate old age as a factor for tolerating these horrible predators. We are asked to forgive but we should not have to continue to care for these criminals.” She also asked that the fast-tracking of John Paul be halted, despite all the “wonderful things” he did, since he presided over the Church “during these horrible times.”
She ends by recounting “how many of (her) friends had left the church because of the pedophile and cover-up issues,” and reminisced how “honored” she felt to have seen Pope John Paul II in person in the United States, and Pope Benedict in St. Peter’s Square several years previous. “I am saddened to say I do not feel the honor is quite the same for me anymore.”
The Church’s response? It’s been nine months and counting. Absolutely nothing.
As a human, a parent, and yes, a faithful Catholic, I implore the Church, for God’s sake, to end the preying, and start the praying. After all, it’s the most Catholic thing to do.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com. Readers of his column, “Freindly Fire,” hail from six continents, thirty countries and all fifty states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller “Catastrophe.” Freind, whose column appears nationally in Newsmax, also serves as a guest commentator on Philadelphia-area talk radio shows, and makes numerous other television and radio appearances, most notably on FOX. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com.