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.
Benedict was finally recognized as a Nazi resister whose cousin was liquidated because of a mental defect, and who deserted the German Army; and as a great scholar devoted to the reconciliation of faith and reason, who has been decisive and effective and unsung in combating child abuse in the Church for 30 years and had largely eliminated it before it was fanned into a conflagration this year. It was like Edward VII’s visit to Paris in 1903, when he arrived to shouts of “perfidious Albion” and left a week later to choruses of “Long live the King!” Benedict appealed to the strong British appreciation of the underdog, the undemonstrative man of principle. As the year ends, these qualities are again demonstrated by the pope’s refusal to tolerate the ordination of bishops by China’s puppet Catholic Patriotic Association, the People’s Republic’s enactment of Napoleon’s famous dictum that “the people must have their religion and the state must control it.” China antedates the Roman Catholic Church, but Communist China does not, and this usurpation, like all its precedents in church history, will be a complete failure.
By the time of the pope’s British trip, the swords of the worldwide Catholic-baiters had already been blunted by the sudden surge of alarm over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. For several months, War of the Worlds horrors of the destruction of the world’s oceans, the end of the shrimp industry, the irreversible sliming of the entire Gulf and Atlantic coastlines of America, had shouldered and bullied into the back of the public mind the cherished prospect of the exposure of the Roman Church as a racket of pedophiles and predatory Sodomites. Of course, the oil spill was a terribly serious problem too. But in the one case as in the other, there was a determined effort, halting at first, hampered by bumbling and by an urge to downplay and deny, but soon indomitably determined and focused, to address the causes of the problem and stop it, and then to put things right as much and as quickly as possible and prevent repetition. It is not obvious why the swift and dramatic progress in both crises came as such a surprise, and to many, even apparently, as a disappointment.
In the most imperfect days of the Church’s very human history as the custodian of the Christian message and mission, it plumbed much greater depths of depravity than these. The modern media seem to believe it can make or break anything, sacred or profane. The irrational hysteria over the oil spill must have contained a backlash from the rout of the Global Warming Terror. The mad Copenhagen Conference proposal to commit the advanced world to $100 billion in annual Danegeld to the world’s 77 designated poor countries — including the chief carbon-emissions-footprint offender of them all, China — was finally dismissed as nonsense, as was much of the “settled science” Al Gore had invoked to make himself a green centimillionaire and a Nobel laureate.
The Church’s enemies forgot that it does not have adherents because of its personnel, but because it is an ark of faith. The atheists, though often articulate and courageous and knowledgeable, and heavy-laden with the ammunition provided by the fatuity and hypocrisy of much Christian history, can never deal with the insuperable evidence of spiritual forces, miracles, and any ecclesiastical concept of grace. Nor can they surmount the challenge of man’s inability to grasp the infinite, the absence of an end and beginning of space or time. In these vast areas, notions of the supernatural and the deity will always circulate, no matter how great dissent may be. And no one, and certainly not a rag-tag of sacerdotal perverts, will displace Rome from its 2,000-year primacy in this sphere. Even more fundamentally, the ecology of the world has survived paroxysms of destruction such as World War II, when endless oil spillages and pollutions of the air and water were inflicted on the world for over five years. The world and its institutions are racked by the consequences of human failings, but they have what life and its primary modes of organization must have to go on. This is the trite but salutary lesson of 2010, and isn’t a bad Christmas message.