Pope Francis has been in the news ever since he took over the papacy. Happily, he has been like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise suffocating Christendom, with its baggage of several aberrations. This is significant as he has come at a time when churches of all hues and shapes have been disenchanting to the believers for many reasons.
One of the deadly sins often swept under the carpet is the sexual harassment of children and women. The Pope had on earlier occasions condemned the paedophile priests in the Church and went on to castigate the authorities who tried to cover up such crimes, thus denying justice to the affected children and their parents.
His recent admission that the Roman Catholic Church has been beset with a persistent problem of sexual abuse of nuns by priests and even bishops is yet another bombshell that has come down on the church as never before in the history of the Church. In India, a nun’s complaint against a Bishop is still in the court of law. So, the Pope’s words are too shrill for us to ignore.
The Holy Father knows too well that the well-entrenched higher-ups in the Church will never appreciate this public statement. For them, this is an embarrassment, and even an impediment in carrying on their facade of spirituality. He must have known this, but his convictions are stronger than the need to conform to traditional obscurantism.
Why has this reality come home to roost now? Why did the Pope say what he said? He must have thought really hard, and agonised over it for days and months before he made his angst public. Nobody can have any reasonable doubt about his motive. It’s to cleanse the Church. He wants to clean the proverbial Aegean stables. Will he succeed? Only time will tell!
The world is too much with the Christian leadership. ‘The world’ means everything from materialism to criminality. The church today is immersed in worldliness; so much so, the spiritual quotient is hardly visible to the faithful. There is no solace in the Church anymore. Christ had said clearly that you cannot serve God and Mammon at the same time. Mammon stands for love of power and pelf. Wealth is the sole reason for the erosion of faith and godliness in all religions, the Church being no exception.
One of the worst aspects of the Church hierarchy is its hubris, its excessive pride and self-confidence. They brook no criticism. They use all their ecclesiastical authority to quell any dissidence or discordant voice. Ex-communication is a handy tool to silence any uncomfortable voice from any quarter.
A lot of wealth and the feeling of invincibility it breeds cause unmitigated arrogance. The next step to arrogance is authoritarianism, and injustice. All these are seen as part and parcel of the established Church today. Misappropriation of funds and embezzlement of various kinds are all matters of dispute, often remaining unsettled in our courts of law for years or decades. Huge amounts are spent to fight ‘ego-battles’ and advocates laugh their way to the banks. The Church has become a laughing stock in the public eye, with pitched battles taking place in the open or even inside the Church.
Christ spoke many times against the self-righteous attitude embodied by the Pharisees of the time. The high priests of the time were often his sworn enemies for the simple reason that he exposed their hypocrisies. Today, the Pope has done exactly the same thing. So, he is just following in the footsteps of Jesus.
The Pope’s pronouncement is a historical imperative –- an open admission of guilt. His clarion call is loud and clear. The Church must reform itself. The Pope has suggested internal systems to address the long-pending issues of sexual harassment against women and children. The systems must be effective and efficient and deliver justice to the affected. This is the only way to redeem the sanctity of the Church. There is no other way to regain the confidence of the faithful adherents of the Church. The authorities shall no longer presume that the sheep are meek and defence-less. The Pope has spoken for them –- the ones who were voiceless and helpless.
One pitiable fall-out of this is the terrible pain all this inflicts on the really sincere and committed ones among the priests and bishops. They suffer for no fault of theirs, which is really a sad situation.
Another aspect that can be extrapolated from this situation is that the Church must look at the vow of ‘celibacy’ afresh. The involuntary denial of a human instinct and its impracticality are undoubtedly exposed. Obviously, the time has come to reverse this imposition. Until this is done, scandals will continue to hang over the head of the Church like the sword of Damocles.
The Pope was, in fact, revisiting the Biblical proverb, ‘Physician, heal thyself’. Will they listen?
(The writer is Director, Little Rock Indian School, Brahmavar, Udupi)