A number of church leaders, including the head of the CDF (Cardinal Levada – see article), the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York (Archbishop Dolan – see article), and the Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (Bishop Zubik – see article) have publicly defended the Holy Father against a rather hollow swipe against him in a March 24 article by the New York Times.
It is not an easy thing to do given public sentiment: defend the Holy Father while appearing to convey, credibly, that the Church is properly governed. The head of the US bishop’s conference, Cardinal George, articulated this concern last November at the last USCCB meeting. Here is an excerpt from Cardinal George’s opening address to the plenary session of bishops:
Our pastoral concern for ecclesial unity does not diminish our awareness of our own mistakes and sins. There are some who would like to trap the Church in historical events of ages long past and there are others who would keep the bishops permanently imprisoned in the clerical sexual abuse scandal of recent years. The proper response to a crisis of governance, however, is not no governance but effective governance. Loss of trust, we know, weakens relationships and will continue to affect our ministry, even though clerical ranks have been purged of priests and bishops known to have abused children and the entire Church has taken unprecedented means to protect children and to reach out to victims. In any case, the sinfulness of Churchmen can not be allowed to discredit the truth of Catholic teaching or to destroy the relationships that create ecclesial communion.
Cardinal George balances the need to defend the Church with a credible expression of accountability. This Thursday, Archbishop Zubik gave a heartfelt apology, that in my view goes far beyond that which he owes, since Archbishop Zubik is regarded as a true pastor of Jesus Christ. Here are Bishop Zubik’s words.
As I stand before you, I see also the face of Christ, the Jesus who met Peter on the seashore, confronting Peter’s betrayal. Your very presence here tonight both painful and trusting, confronts the need for the Church to ask forgiveness from you and the opportunity to renew your trust in the Church as Jesus renewed His trust in Peter.
To those of you who looked for the compassion of Christ in the sacrament of Penance but found only scolding and harsh judgment in return—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who found sacred moments in your life and the life of your family (baptisms, weddings, funerals) met with callous, heartless, unfeeling, un-Christian-like attention to your need—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who are here tonight who have in any way been the victims of any abuse, sexual or otherwise, whether as a child or as an adult, or as a parent, or sibling, or friend who shared in the pain of that someone you love—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who came to the Church, rightly expecting her to help you understand the rich tradition of our teachings and traditions, but met with a less than half-hearted response—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who have been hurt by the poor judgment of others entrusted with leadership—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who believed in the Church to be a voice against prejudice but found, rather, a deafening silence—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who looked to the leaders of the Church—lay, religious or ordained—to give good example but met, rather, with a philosophy that said: “Do as I say, not as I do,”—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who needed the Church to be with you in sickness, in grief, in trauma, in turmoil, but found her representatives to be too busy—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
To those of you who have offered your talents for the mission of the Church, but experienced an injustice in the Church’s workplace—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
For whatever ways any representative of the Church has hurt, offended, dismissed, ignored, any one of you—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.
For any ways that I personally, as your Bishop, whether in speech or deed, by omission and commission, have disappointed, not heard, or dismissed you, I ask you for your forgiveness….
With all the love in my heart and with all the sincerity in my soul, you can be assured that I will do all that I am able to do to restore your trust in the Church and to work together with you to reflect the very love, compassion, mercy of Jesus Himself in and through the Church.
The Church is going through a crisis in governance, to which Cardinal George referred last November. In that respect, the greatest gift we can give to the Holy Father is not just empty rhetoric in defense of the Holy Father, but our willingness to conform ourselves to Christ – to persist in faith, hope and charity -as ordained and lay members of the Church of Jesus Christ. That said, Bishop Zubik showed himself this past Thursday to be a true Statesman of the Catholic Church. I am sure the Holy Father appreciates it.