Perhaps as many as 150,000 people congregated in the Vatican today, apparently to show support for Ratzinger in the midst of criticism over botched handling of clerical abuse:
Benedict said he was comforted by such a “beautiful and spontaneous show of faith and solidarity” and again denounced what he called the “sin” that has infected the church and needs to be purified. Citing estimates from Vatican police, the Vatican press office said 150,000 people had turned out for the demonstration organized by an association of 68 Italian lay groups. Despite a drizzling rain, the balloon- and banner-toting faithful from around Italy overflowed from the piazza; banners hung up on Bernini’s colonnade encircling the piazza read “Together with the pope,” and “Don’t be afraid, Jesus won out over evil.”
Rome’s center-right Mayor Gianni Alemanno was in the crowd, along with other pro-Vatican Italian officials. “We want to show our solidarity to the pope and transmit the message that single individuals make mistakes but institutions, faith and religion cannot be questioned,” Alemanno told Associated Press Television News. “We will not allow this.”
This would be a baffling phenomena, but for some statistics I first encountered last week. Via Catholic Culture:
A new poll conducted by CBS News and The New York Times has found that 77% of Catholics who attend Mass weekly say that ““the Vatican’s handling of recent child sex abuse reports” has had no effect on how they “feel about the Catholic Church.” An additional 12% of practicing Catholics say that they have a more positive feeling about the Church as a result of the Vatican’s handling of the scandals.
The survey of 1,079 adults was conducted between April 28 and May 2. Results were released on May 4.
88% of Catholics– practicing and non-practicing– report that the scandal has had no effect on their dealings with priests. 82% say it will not affect their Mass attendance, 79% say it will have no effect on donations, and 87% say that it will have no effect on their children’s involvement in Church activities.
52% of the general population says that the Vatican’s handling of the scandal has had no effect on their feelings towards the Church, while 36% have more negative feelings.
The survey also found that Pope Benedict’s popularity among Catholics has increased since March. 43% of Catholics have a favorable view of him (vs. 27% in March), while 17% have an unfavorable view (vs. 11% in March). 38% are unsure or “haven’t heard enough” to make a judgment.
I think it’s usually unfair to accuse one’s opponents of ignorance unless they actually advance a false truth-statement. But I honestly think churchgoers come off better if one assumes they have purposefully been avoiding coverage of the systemic abuse coverup. I honestly don’t think 77 percent of Catholic church goers would approve of “the Vatican’s handling of recent child sex abuse reports” if they were cognizant of the fate of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. It was in his archdiocese that the first crack in the facade of secrecy appeared. It is incontrovertable that he shuffled abusive priests between parishes and made no reports of rapists to the law. Even after the story broke, Law refused to disclose the names of priests who had not yet been publically accused. And after his resignation from the archdiocese, he was promptly given a job in the Vatican as Archpriest of the Papal Basilica of Saint Mary Major, and also membership on several doctrinal Congregations, including those for Bishops, Catholic Education, and also the Pontifical Council for the Family. He was allowed to vote in the 2005 papal enclave. At least five years ago, the Vatican was still so willing to forgive concealers of child rape that they allowed at least one (and almost certainly more than one) to participate in the election of their chief executive. That is the urgency with which they treat the problem.
“Oh, but Ratzinger called abusers the ‘filth’ of the church!” But, as John L. Allen of the National Catholic Reporter wrote, it was only in 2003-2004, a year or two that he began his papacy, that Ratzinger had a “conversion experience,” after which he started to take pedophilia as a matter of paramount importance. And even after this “conversion experience” and throughout papacy, Ratzinger allows Law to administer his numerous duties. Moreover, the man himself never once appealed to outside authorities to aid in the bringing of justice to at least seven serial rapists.
Even if on the off chance one finds nothing objectionable in his treatment of Peter Hullerman, Marcel Maciel, Lawrence Murphy, Michael Teta, Robert C. Trupia, Stephen Kiesle, or Hans Groër, one must still fault him for his refusal to publically discuss the abuse cases he was involved in after the issue came to light in 2002 in Boston for the purposes of enabling broader awareness of the still-unresolved issue. If not then, he ought to have made disclosures in 2005 when he found himself a candidate for the papacy. It seems to me that to take someone who personally dealt in secrecy with abuse cases, and then appoint him to the chief administrative position of an organization still investigating and prosecuting analogous cases of abuses, is a grave conflict of interest. Ratzinger finds himself compelled to leniency in cases of abuse conspiracy because if he were to admit such conspiracies were, in fact, wrongdoings, he would be indicting himself, and inviting the enforcement of whatever punishment he were to dictate. In short, in refusing to speak about the abuse cases he oversaw, he is insulating himself from responsibility for his own decisions. He is insulating himself with the full magazine of resources and authority of the world’s oldest institution.
But, again, I don’t think the 77 percent of approving churchgoers have processed Ratzinger’s role in the seven abuse cases listed above. I think many of the churchgoers who did process that information are no longer churchgoers. Now, congregations have been thinned to the point that those people who
A.) don’t read or watch the news at any length, or
B.) are able to exercise a high degree of cognitive dissonance to the news they do consume
are both disproportionately represented.
For the above remark, I’m probably going to be accused of committing the genetic fallacy of appeal to psychology. I offer two responses for now: Firstoff, I acknowledge everyone exercises cognitive dissonance on some topics–especially on issues as emotionally fraught as political and religious questions. Secondly, I recognize the possibility I myself in possibly falling back on a fallacy that I am exercising cognitive dissonance myself; I may very well be defending an irrational faith in the possibility of humans to cultivate good conscience and understanding. It would be an easier world for me to live in if it was only by a topical lapse in judgment that otherwise sound and good-intentioned people excused or make apologies for a man who
ii.) only in secret initiated an investigation against a scam artist, bigamist, and serial rapist who abused the seminarians under his own care and the children he fathered, only to sentence the criminal to a pacific retirement,