”The Church will never seek to hush up or not take seriously any case. Let it be clear that before these abominations the Church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes.”
The vicar of Christ and the head of the Catholic faith is serious this time. He knows that the “litany of child sexual scandals has rocked the Roman Catholic Church, which has 1.3 billion followers worldwide.”
The Pope is therefore dropping the guilliotine on these offenders. He is calling for “those who abuse minors” to “convert and hand yourself over to human justice, and prepare for divine justice.”
The justice Pope Francis demands are both on earth - human justice - and in heaven - God’s wrath. That might smack of double jeopardy on a life, but jurisdictionally speaking, it is not. For a believer, it is not inconceivable that both realms deliver justice to those who have been suffering silently from priestly depravity under the church’s watch.
It’s the season's greetings and somebody had better tell me to stop writing such things that dim the Christmas spirit and send gifts of wet-blankets to the adults waiting by the Christmas tree to unwrap presents for their kids.
But I think I didn’t get that message this morning as I continue to speak my mind starting with what Pope Francis has to say about the duplicity of the faith. He goes: -
“(There were still) consecrated men...who abuse the vulnerable, taking advantage of their position and their power of persuasion. They perform abominable acts yet continue to exercise their ministry as if nothing happened. They have no fear of God or his judgment, but only of being found out and unmasked. Often behind their boundless amiability, impeccable activity and angelic faces, they shamelessly conceal a vicious wolf ready to devour innocent souls.”
That in a nutshell is the unveiling of the great hypocrisy of our age, and of all ages. But let me be candid here and say that they don’t always start off as wolves amongst sheeps. I believe most of them enter the ministry with good intentions and well-meaning goals.
In other words, they were truly - to a large extent - exuding and presenting “boundless amiability, impeccable activity and angelic faces” with the utmost sincerity. As far as they are concerned, at the inception of it all, they want to do good, make a difference and leave an enduring legacy behind - pathological leaders with evil desires excluded, of course.
But having started in the spirit, they often ended up in the flesh. That is as much the story of mankind as Christ is the story of Christmas.
These prodigal sons of the Kingdom abused their powers and satisfied their lusts with impunity because they were given easy access to them, that is, the positions, the protection and the pardons.
The church is definitely in complicit here, for as long as that one lone wolf got away with what he did when Peter first placed the cornerstone to build the church on the rock of Christ.
From that time onwards, every time the church turns a blind eye to their own priest’s egregious deeds in order to keep the dirty robes and linens from public airings, these prodigal ministers got bolder and mutate into greedier wolves with insatiable appetites that they themselves could not control.
I think Gibbons puts it best when he talks about the papal pornocracy during the young Holy Fatherhood of Octavian who changed his name to John in 955: -
“...we read, with some surprise, that the worthy grandson of Marozia lives in public adultery with the matrons of Rome; that the Lateran Palace was turned into a school of prostitution; and that his rapes of virgins and widows had deterred the female prilgrims from visiting the shrine of St. Peter, lest, in the devout act, they should be violated by his successor.” (pg 76/77 of The Popes by John Julius Norwich).
Needlessly to say, Pope John's pornocracy would never have survived in today’s rule-based, swift-justice institutional framework.
So, going back to the complicity of the church as a whole, as the ordained priests grant indulgences to believers in a bid to reduce the amount of punishment for their sins, the Catholic order grants indulgences to the offending priest to hide the punishment he has to face before the court of human justice.
It’s a classic case of “I scratch your back so your deeds won't cause a dent on the reputation of the sacred order”.
This brings me back to Pope Francis’ rather urgent call for the condemnation of sex offenders in sacred robe.
He said: “It is undeniable that some in the past, out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience, or spiritual and human short-sightedness, treated many cases without the seriousness and promptness that was due. That must never happen again. This is the choice and the decision of the whole Church.”
Never happen again? Fingers crossed there, because if there is any lamentation worth offering at the Church's doorstep, it has to be that since the time Jesus promised Peter that upon the rock He will build His church to our modern time unveiling the worst publicised sexual scandals in the history of the Catholic Church, you can’t be faulted for feeling that the whole Great Commission has been somewhat a great disappointment.
You would have thought that a divinely appointed sacred organization founded on the foundational stone of the messiah who became God would have gotten it right by now, that is, really living up to the exemplar of Christ; or at least, stands out as a city on the hill shining brighter than the other secular organisations out there.
Yet, two thousand years have come and gone, and after splitting bitterly into hundreds of denominations, all competing to present the best version of the truth, the in-fightings, the ugly leadership battles, the sexual abuses, the financial corruption and the hypocrisy of the closeted priesthood still persist today. Go figure...
But having said all that, I still feel that there is a silver lining in the looming clouds. So, let me end with this silver lining that the story of the prodigal son is as much the story of the prodigal Father - taking prodigal here to mean “wasteful extravagance” or excessive-ness or extremity in action.
You see, however extreme is the failings of organised religion, there is always its countervailing force in the story of love that is equally, if not more, extreme. And this extreme love was once personified or incarnated in a man.
As a Christian, I always feel that Jesus is an extremist for this love and here is what I mean as fleshed out in Dr Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail": -
"“...was not Jesus an extremist for love: "love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and prosecute you.”
Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus."
Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God."
And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience."
...So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?...
In the dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime - the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment."”
On Christmas day, that is and has always been the message of human redemption - not about human achievements, its bragging rights, earthly prominence and the garlands of praises from transient sources. It is however about how the worst in us can be redeemed by a love that goes all the way. Extremity for extremity, hate for love and sheer darkness for abounding light. It is beyond transactional, it's transcendental.
For only a prodigal Father can match deed for deed the prodigal son at the crossroad of his life. The heart of compassion, the embrace and kiss, the finest robe, the ring and sandals and a feast to celebrate his son’s return are all defining acts of extreme love, truth and goodness, or wasteful extravagance. Only grace of that extremity could carry such hope of transforming even the hardest of hearts.
That has got to be the great consolation or empowerment for the Great Commission, despite the disappointment one may feel about the church’s failings time and time again. Amen.