MAY 30, 2002
Of Troubled Hearts
-- Christopher Beem
"Do not let your hearts be troubled." I recently heard my parish priest read Jesus' words from the Gospel, and apply them to the ongoing crisis in the Catholic Church. I found that I was not persuaded. Of course, I accept the idea that ultimately and fundamentally, Christ is in charge of his church. But I worried that an overeager search for quietude is a recipe for quietism -- that is, inaction in the face of grave problems.
I felt the same uneasiness as I listened to the American Cardinals report on their meeting at the Vatican. Church leaders were so eager to move beyond this scandal, so eager to restore untroubled hearts to the American laity, that they passed over the really hard questions.
The crisis in the church is not and never was about pedophilia. Any profession that deals with children will attract some few who would prey upon them. The crisis rather is about a leadership that routinely placed the welfare of the institution -- the preservation of appearances, finances, and the status quo -- ahead of the welfare of children.
Commentators repeatedly noted the extraordinary nature of the Vatican meeting. And indeed, the meeting was an extraordinary opportunity to address this far more scandalous sin. And yet at the end of it, we were told that we should find it extraordinary that the Pope declared pedophilia a sin and a crime. I already knew that. Indeed, I know that aiding and abetting a crime is also a crime. In an extraordinary meeting, church leaders would have asked why they acted like criminals.
I believe these men when they say that they love our children. But the fact remains that our children are not their children. The responsibilities, burdens, joys and sorrows of parenthood are not theirs. The more I think about it, the more I believe this to be the heart of the matter. Cardinal Law is not a parent. If it were otherwise--if he were a father--I cannot believe he would have treated children with such chronic and wonton callousness.
Those who are parents -- lay men and women -- bring an insight to the Christian pilgrimage that the church leadership does not have. And the current crisis demonstrates with appalling clarity that they desperately need that insight. I am not an authority on Canon Law, so I will simply ask the question: Can the Pope appoint someone who is not a priest, or who is not a man, to the position of Cardinal or Bishop? That is, can he appoint a mother or father to genuine church leadership? Perhaps he cannot. But the more operative issue, of course, is that he will not. The extraordinary opportunity came and went. And it is all too likely that neither he, nor his successor, nor the American church leadership, will ever summon the courage to ask this question. But until they do, the current crisis may be weathered but it will not have passed. Indeed, until they do, I am unable to avoid the sad conclusion that the leadership of the Catholic Church is incorrigible and that my heart will and should remain deeply troubled.
-- Christopher Beem received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1994. He is a member of Holy Family Parish in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.