I don’t know much more than the bare bones of this particular story. The BBC reports it rather sketchily at the moment as breaking news; even the My San Antonio website doesn’t make it all that clear whether criminal proceedings are attached to the $10 million payout by the LA archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church, designed it would seem to settle four cases of child sex abuse. There is talk of further punitive claims against the Church, mind – but I don’t think I fully understand what this means either. Of course, $10 million can never serve to repair the abused childhood of any poor young person, but – at least in an English context – $10 million would I think be considered pretty punitive already.
I do – out of ignorance – wonder what’s happening here, though. Is the Church really not of this world? Are criminal laws not applicable for those who move in the grace-filled circles of godliness? We hear, as over time the details seep out, of reports having been sent to the Vatican time and time again. Someone with more money than sense then pulls out their temporal wallet and finds the means to settle what can surely never be settled. Confession is supposed to be good for the soul, but it would appear that the Church has a very cardinal side too – and the response to these very cardinal sins is not unlike, say, Mr Murdoch’s in the face of phone-hacking scandals various.
That is to say, get out the chequebook.
By now, you must be thinking me very naive. “Why not?” you may ask. “If the aggrieved are happy to achieve closure through a wad of promissory notes, who should be reserving for themselves the right to intervene?” Well, I may be naive, but I’m bloody well not stupid.
I was watching a TV interview last night with an Italian priest – a fairly young Italian priest. He was sat on a terrace outside a bar, a cup of coffee to hand I think; a brain as sharp as anyone’s might be. During the interview he cared to remind us of the example of St Francis of Assisi. No airs and graces there – though plenty of a very different kind of grace.
He asked, almost pleaded, for a different kind of Church: a Church of the lay people; a Church for the real people.
A Church, essentially, which was of this world.
If the Church is to lead its faithful out of the mire in which a wider society finds itself, both politically and economically, both democratically and socially, then it needs to understand this world. And it can only understand this world by understanding how to engage with its miseries. To distance itself, to separate itself, to see the hand and works of the Devil in everything bad that its representatives carry out, is to repudiate all sense of personal responsibility and liability: to excise, in fact, from the people who form the Church all possibility of a true redemption. You cannot be redeemed unless you want to be; unless you express true sadness at what you did, even as you shouldn’t have done. But to go down the path of saying the Church is capable of no evil – and where it is, it is the acts of extraneous forces or weak men or sheer greed – is to argue that the structures of the Church have no impact on how its flock, clergy and faithful end up behaving.
This is what they said at the start of the Germany that became the seedbed of Nazism. Structures do matter – terribly too. The environments we construct – or perpetuate from generation to generation – affect the behaviours we exhibit.
I’m not versed in the Bible; am not versed in the religion I was born to. But I do feel that if God existed … well, He would not choose structures for His work on earth which distanced that work from the earth He was looking to save.
In any case, it seems clear enough, with the examples I have linked to above, that such distancing from the grassroots has served no purpose whatsoever: to an outsider looking in, it would seem that there is now very little difference between a) those who, from the depths of Wapping, formerly ran the blessed News of the World; and b) those who, from the depths of the Vatican, currently evangelise the blessed Word of God.
Both, in a nasty and very ultimate place, understand the power of money to make problems go away.