I'm not a Catholic, but I can't help be fascinated (and horrified) by the unfolding sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. I don't really know how much Pope Benedict is directly responsible for allowing horrific situations to continue and how much the self-protecting bureaucracy of the church -- like any bureaucracy -- is to blame. I strongly suspect that any of the former has its roots in the latter.
That said, I appreciate what Peggy Noonan has to say about the matter in today's Wall Street Journal:
In both the U.S. and Europe, the scandal was dug up and made famous by the press. This has aroused resentment among church leaders, who this week accused journalists of spreading "gossip," of going into "attack mode" and showing "bias."
But this is not true, or to the degree it is true, it is irrelevant. All sorts of people have all sorts of motives, but the fact is that the press—the journalistic establishment in the U.S. and Europe—has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on this issue. Let me repeat that: The press has been the best friend of the Catholic Church on the scandals because it exposed the story and made the church face it. The press forced the church to admit, confront and attempt to redress what had happened. The press forced them to confess. The press forced the church to change the old regime and begin to come to terms with the abusers. The church shouldn't be saying j'accuse but thank you.
This seems exactly right to me. But watching from the outside, it has appeared to me that the response of the Church has been largely to A) lash out at the "bias" of journalists who have uncovered the story and B) defend the Church by noting that other sectors of society have also had problems dealing with child abuse. As though the Church shouldn't be held to a higher standard. I'm reminded of a saying about removing the log from your own eye before telling your brother to remove the speck from his. Who said that again?
At its best (which isn't always) the Church has offered a powerful moral example even for those of us who do not share in its communion. I suspect it can retain that moral authority only if it follows Noonan's advice -- and its own teachings -- and offer up a full, real confession accompanied by appropriate penance. Such activities, I understand, usually take place in private. The Church doesn't have that luxury.