Monday, April 12, 2010

Ross Douthat: Media Attacking the Wrong Pope [UPDATED]

The one (but still annoyingly equivocal in a "Please like me, liberals" sort of way) voice of reason at The New York Times points out that the media are going after the wrong Pope:
... But there’s another story to be told about John Paul II and his besieged successor. The last pope was a great man, but he was also a weak administrator, a poor delegator, and sometimes a dreadful judge of character.

The church’s dilatory response to the sex abuse scandals was a testament to these weaknesses. So was John Paul’s friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The last pope loved him and defended him. But we know now that Father Maciel was a sexually voracious sociopath. And thanks to a
recent exposé by The National Catholic Reporter’s Jason Berry, we know the secret of Maciel’s Vatican success: He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, and those funds often flowed to members of John Paul’s inner circle.

Only one churchman comes out of Berry’s story looking good: Joseph Ratzinger. Berry recounts how Ratzinger lectured to a group of Legionary priests, and was subsequently handed an envelope of money “for his charitable use.” The cardinal “was tough as nails in a very cordial way,” a witness said, and turned the money down.

This isn’t an isolated case. In the 1990s, it was Ratzinger who pushed for a full investigation of Hans Hermann Groer, the Vienna cardinal accused of pedophilia, only to have his efforts blocked in the Vatican. It was Ratzinger who persuaded John Paul, in 2001, to
centralize the church’s haphazard system for handling sex abuse allegations in his office. It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel’s conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaries in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.

So the high-flying John Paul let scandals spread beneath his feet, and the uncharismatic Ratzinger was left to clean them up. This pattern extends to other fraught issues that the last pope tended to avoid — the debasement of the Catholic liturgy, or the rise of Islam in once-Christian Europe. And it extends to the caliber of the church’s bishops, where Benedict’s appointments are widely viewed as an improvement over the choices John Paul made. It isn’t a coincidence that some of the most forthright
ecclesiastical responses to the abuse scandal have come from friends and protégés of the current pope.

Has Benedict done enough to clean house and show contrition? Alas, no.
[ED.: For what personal "shortcoming" does the Holy Father owe "contrition"? Didn't the Pope come to America and personally meet with abuse survivors and offer apologies on behalf of the Church? Oh, yes. I almost forgot this is Ross "See, I can be 'reasonable' just like my liberal peers" Douthat.] Has his Vatican responded to the latest swirl of scandal with retrenchment, resentment, and an un-Christian dose of self-pity? Absolutely. [ED.: Because it's not like there has been completely unfair and libelous media coverage coming from your own rag, or anything, for the Vatican to be the least bit defensive about, right?] Can this pontiff regain the kind of trust and admiration, for himself and for his office, that John Paul II enjoyed? Not a chance. [ED.: Not everyone is as worried about being "liked" by the intelligentsia as are certain columnists acting as the "house conservative" for certain leftist rags.]

But as unlikely as it seems today, Benedict may yet deserve to be remembered as the better pope.
(editorial commentary added)


UPDATE
Writing at The American Catholic (and citing to Douthat's column), Michael Denton asks whether John Paul II is still "the Great".

Here's my response:
The failure to adequately address the sex abuse scandal was the great failing of the JPII papacy.

Yet I came into the Church in 2004 – just after the height of the scandal in the U.S. in 2002. Not only was the Church’s poor handling of the crisis NOT an impediment to me, but I have my doubts that I would be here but for JPII. I had loved John Paul and considered him “the Great” for well over 20 years before I ever entered the Church.

I think there can be no doubt to anyone who saw the entirety of JPII’s papacy and witnessed his compelling presence on the world stage – his contribution to the fall of Eastern European communism, alone, in my view, merits the sobriquet “the Great” – that such a title is apt.
And my follow-up:
... That said, the love I feel for Benedict is a much more personalized love, like one might have for a kindly old grandfather or a favorite uncle. He might not be a “great” man, but, more importantly, he is a “good” man. And that is why I am so angered by these unfair attacks upon his character.

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