The Associated Press is reporting the story (carried by MSNBC) that in a Good Friday sermon in front of the Pope, the Pope’s own preacher, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, compared the attacks on the Catholic Church over the priest abuse scandal to attacks on the Jews during the Holocaust, thereby drawing outrage from around the world for a strained comparison in victimization that seems more concerned about defending and protecting the hierarchy than dealing with the widespread problem of sexual abuse and molestation by priests and attempts to conceal the problem by Bishops. It appears that Good Friday in 2010 will be seen as the church crucifying itself before the world.
Fr. Cantalamessa’s comments leave me almost speechless—almost! When an individual or a corporation has a public relations nightmare, the wisest voices always suggest that the resolution of the crisis will only come when and if: (a) there is immediate ownership of the problem; (b) get the news out quickly, don’t let it come out piecemeal so that the story drags out; (c) say you’re sorry you screwed up; (d) make amends as quickly as possible.
The Roman Catholic Church has a major crisis on its hands and it is doing everything wrong. Every principle of crisis management is being ignored. We see denials of responsibility. We see attacks on the press for reporting the problem. We have priests like Fr. Cantalamessa making really stupid and unbelievable statements, implying that the church is the victim in this crisis as were the Jews in the holocaust, a “victim of collective violence,” with “violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope and all the faithful of the whole world.” That is chutzpah!
No wonder there is outrage. They seem not to be aware of who the real victims are in this crisis. These “attacks” as Fr. Catalamessa refers to them are reports of priest abuse and molestation that are coming forth daily in a never ending stream, along with the release of documents that show that the church hierarchy very clearly knew about the abuse and tried in very amateurish fashion to conceal what was going on in the church and to protect the priests from having to accept any responsibility or pay any price. This is not an attack on the faithful of the whole world, it is an attack on the unfaithful in the hierarchy and in the Vatican. It is too bad if Vatican officials don’t like the crop that they sowed, but it is their problem.
Is it an attack on the Pope? If so, it has been a pretty muted attack. What is reported (and denied, but not convincingly) is that this problem has been going on and been known to be a problem for decades, the church did not deal with the problem, the church moved offending priests to other dioceses where they continued to abuse, that Archbishop of Munich Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger knew (or should have known) what was going on in his diocese. As head of the office in the Vatican charged with dealing with sexual abuse, for Joseph Ratzinger to say he did not know about abuse is simply not believable, particularly because he was the author of instructions to dioceses around the world to keep such matters secret.
Attacking the messengers, and trying to play the victim in this sad story, will not play well on the world’s or history’s stage.