Challenging words over the Mediterranean

On the papal flight from Tel Aviv to Rome, Pope Francis held a news conference. After responding to an Italian journalist’s question about the Holy Father’s invitation to the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to come to the Vatican to pray for peace, it was now the turn for an English-speaking reporter to ask a question. Although coverage of the Holy See has been more positive since Pope Francis’ election, the English-language media still focuses on either sexual issues or the abuse scandal. So, the reporter said to the pope, “You have spoken with very strong words against the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, by priests. You have created a special commission to confront better this problem on the level of the Universal (world-wide) Church. In a practical sense: we know that in almost all the local churches there are norms which impose a strong moral and often legal duty to collaborate with the local civil authorities, in one way or another. What would you do, when ever a bishop clearly did not honor this, had not observed this obligation?”

Here at The Anchor we think that it is helpful to read the pope’s own words answering this question. He said, “In Argentina about privileged people we say, ‘He is the son of the father.’ In this problem there will not be ‘sons of the father.’ At this moment there are three bishops being investigated: under investigation, three, and one is already condemned and the punishment to give him is being weighed. There are no privileges. This abuse of minors is a crime so ugly, so.… We know that this is a grave problem everywhere, but what interests me is the Church. A priest who does this betrays the Body of the Lord, because this priest should bring this little boy, this little girl, this young man, this young woman to holiness; and this young adult, this child trusts him and he, instead of bringing them to holiness, abuses them. And this is extremely grave! It is exactly like — I will give an analogy: it is like doing a black mass, for example. You should be bringing them to holiness and you bring him to a problem which will endure for his whole life. Soon there will be a Mass with some people who have been abused, at St. Martha’s (where the pope lives), and afterwards a meeting with them. I and them, with Cardinal O’Malley from the [sexual abuse] commission. But about this one should go forward, forward. Zero tolerance.”

We all can read what the pope said: that three bishops are under investigation for not following these norms for dealing with clerical sexual abuse cases; that this type of abuse is analogous to participating in a black mass; and that he will be meeting soon with survivors of abuse for Mass and conversation. At the end of the press conference the Holy Father asked for prayers for himself. We definitely commit ourselves to praying for him to be guided by the Holy Spirit in this very important task.

After that question, the pope took more questions, about the Vatican Bank, reforming the Roman Curia, and the Holy See’s position on the dispute between Israel and Palestinian Authority about what will be the final status of the city of Jerusalem (since both wish to claim it as their capital). A French reporter asked him to react to Sunday’s results of the election to the European Parliament, in which many “populist” parties did well. The pope admitted that he had no time while in the Holy Land to follow the news, so asked the reporter to fill him in. After the journalist said that many “Euroskeptics” (people who would like to end the European Union or dismantle parts of it) had won, the Argentine pope said that he was not an expert on the EU, but added, “You have said a key word: unemployment. This is serious. It is serious because we are in a world economic system in which the center is money, not the human person. In a true economic system, the center must be man and woman, the human person. And today the center is money. To maintain itself and keep itself in equilibrium, this system must move forward with measures ‘of rejection.’ And babies are rejected — the birth rate in Europe is not very high!” He then recited the very low birth rates of Italy, France and Spain. “Babies are rejected. Old people are rejected.” He then mentioned “situations of hidden euthanasia, in so many countries.” From that topic he went back to the beginning of his answer, unemployment, and quoted off the top of his head the youth unemployment rates of Italy, Spain and the southern Spanish region of Andalusia (where it is 60 percent). “This means that these is a generation of ‘neither-nor.’ They neither study nor work and this is very serious! A whole generation of young people is thrown away. For me, this throw-away culture is extremely serious. But this is not only in Europe, it is everywhere, but in Europe one feels it more so. One compares it to 10 years ago, when [they had] the culture of ‘the good life’ (when the economy was seemingly doing well). It is an inhuman economic system. I didn’t fear to write in the exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: this economic system kills.”

The Holy Father’s answer shows that he is not a slave to one political tendency or another. Rather, he fearlessly gives witness to Christ, Who came to raise up humanity from the depravity of sin. His comments can seem from the right (criticizing euthanasia and the contraceptive/abortive culture) and the left (saying that capitalism, as it is lived right now, is anti-life). As the pope repeatedly said, the center should be the human person, because we have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Whether it be abuse someone has received inside the Church community or the degradation that our society heaps upon humanity, it all is about putting something other than the good of humanity at the center of decision-making. Let us ask Mary, as we end this month in her honor, to help us say to God, “Let it be done unto me according to Your Word,” instead of echoing the song “My Way,” which often involves figuratively steam-rolling a highway over other people’s lives. 

© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts