The news and punditry about the pope and the Catholic Church this week elicits a series of emotions: shame, yes; anger, yes; frustration, yes. But in my case, I can’t say these emotions are aimed at the pope.
If only women had power in the Church! (Sister Maureen again, natch.) The pope must resign! (Consensus on MSNBC.) Such comments are fruits of ignorance. I realize every Catholic with access to a TV camera or microphone is an expert, but such comments are coming from people who simply have not been paying attention.
On women: To walk around Rome — St. Peter’s itself! — to study the history of the Church, or to even watch the recent health-care debate is to realize that women do, in fact, have power in the Catholic Church. I’d argue the Church understands the beauty and power of the feminine more than most, these days.
Being a priest isn’t everything in the Church; the body of Christ has other parts, all essential. It’s also not plausible for women to be ordained in the Catholic Church, and it won’t be unless up becomes down theologically. But to infer that the Church thinks women are inferior is to misunderstand things; it’s to view all power as political power. Service is power, too.
And, as religious sisters are still humans with free will, sometimes their power can be misused. I’ll just note Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards thanking a group of politically liberal religious sisters for their “critical” support for Obamacare. (There were other sisters, by the way, but the media wasn’t as interested in them.)
On Pope Benedict XVI: He may have been a participant in the cultural problems in the Church, but he has also been a most prominent and effective leader in the solution (John Allen made this point well in the New York Times this weekend). There are decades’ worth of stories that can and will be drudged up, and they should be. (George Weigel, biographer of John Paul II, actually gave thanks for the work the Boston Globe did back in the Nineties.) But the easiest takeaway — that the source of the problem, these crimes and cover-ups, is some perversion at the heart of the Catholic Church — may just be a sloppy, ignorant conclusion. The real source of the problem is Catholics not being Catholic. It’s Catholics not imposing their beliefs on themselves and not applying fraternal correction where it is needed most. If you’re a Catholic and you’ve been listening to him, Benedict, in just about his every remark and release, has talked to you about what being Catholic means. And being Catholic is challenging to those on the political Right and the political Left, to every man and woman, including priests and prefects. As it should be.