The year now ending has been one of immense alarm followed by serenity’s sudden rushes to the head. It is hard now to remember the hysteria generated by the tawdry and often appalling scandal of clerical abuse of young men in the Roman Catholic Church, between February and July. The New York Times appeared to be offering free visits to New York with city tours of all boroughs, capped by five-course dinners in five-star restaurants, for anyone who could recall an indiscreet clerical hand on the knee from decades before. I repeat it is a grievous problem and there were many disgusting and shameful incidents, compounded by excessive episcopal indulgence in many cases. These facts do not alter or diminish the fidelity, dedication, and self-discipline of the 99 percent of Roman Catholic religious personnel who have served through living memory throughout the world with unblemished devotion, nor blight the education and care they gave to an approximately equal percentage of the scores of millions of children confided to them.
All bad news for the Roman Catholic Church brings that Church’s enemies swarming out like hornets whose nest has just been squirted with a garden hose. To the litigators, the editorial mudslingers, the deep, thick, serried ranks of militant skepticism, Rome is a Satanic bumblebee which infests the brave, aging secular world of utilitarian progress and the methodical human march toward a plenitude of knowledge. Earlier this year, they thought they saw the end, at last, of Rome’s ghastly, tenebrous, saturnine magisterium that defies all laws of nature and reason by not simply crashing to the ground as the endlessly proclaimed laws of rational aerodynamics require. They were, as always, mistaken.
The long-promised ecclesiastical fall of Rome was to be celebrated, like a spectacular crash at the great Farnborough Air Show, by the fiasco of Pope Benedict’s madly insouciant visit to Godless Britain to beatify the already Venerable Doctor John Henry Cardinal Newman in September. The allegedly dogmatic pope supposedly combined all the dislikes of the British caricaturist, commentator, and pub bore: Germanic, authoritarian, sophistical, pompous, superstitious, and curial. In the first half of 2010, the pope was reviled as complicit in the crime of hiding the molestations, and even as an ex-Nazi and a ruthless dogmatist. In his British visit, though, Benedict was seen as intellectually courageous, the quietly spoken wise man. He was apologetic for the Church’s failings, solicitous of its victims, indomitable in the championship of Christian faith, and reverently admiring of Newman, a quintessential Englishman and one of the intellectual giants and greatest English prose stylists of the 19th century. The pope did not put a Prada-clad foot wrong. Leftist pundits who had predicted huge outpourings of hostility were completely silenced, as the pope came and went in an ambiance of reciprocated good will in which all, including Queen Elizabeth, the prime minister, and the archbishop of Canterbury joined.