The somewhat detached response of the Vatican to the hole that the church finds itself in Pennsylvania shows that the adage to stop digging is being ignored. Perhaps they are leaving it to the Pope to sort out when he comes to Ireland to the World Meeting of Families next week.
This week the Pennsylvania grand jury found that over 1,000 children in six dioceses there had been molested by 300 Catholic priests over the past 70 years while senior church officials took steps to cover it up. The grand jury said it believed the “real number” of abused children might be “in the thousands”.
In farming when we have losses among livestock we sometimes console ourselves with the fact that the same thing is occurring in other farmyards. It’s a truism to be expected. It stands to reason that the same thing is going on elsewhere. It is hard to believe that similar reasoning did not take place in the Vatican and a global enquiry set in motion to root out the scourge of abuse.
There has been plenty of evidence of cover-up of abuse by the hierarchy but few heads have rolled to date although that may change. Seldom has there been any public expression of sympathy for the victims. Admittedly there is the fear of being sued but churches should lead the way in offering compensation and rehabilitation where necessary.
There exists the parallel legal system of Canon Law. It may be that its requirements have been met and errand priests disciplined. However, one of the basic tenets of any justice system is that it must be open. How else can people be confident that justice has been done or mercy, where appropriate, been granted? This lies in the jurisdiction of the Vatican. Perhaps the Pope can use one of the keys of St Peter to open it otherwise its back to platitudes and handwringing?
There is a sense that all churches are tainted when one in disarray. We are all sinners and need the Saviour. Catholics look to the Mass for cleansing. This is dispensed by someone in apostolic succession. The reformed view of apostolic succession would be the passing on of the gospel of grace from the first apostles, to their converts in a steady stream down through the avenue of time to the present day in answer to Jesus’s prayer recorded in St John 17 verse 20.
But the heart of the Mass is where the ministerial Priesthood who alone can “make present” (in what the Council of Trent calls an “unbloody manner”) the bread to represent the body of Christ (St Matthew Chapter 26 verse 26 – 28).
The reformed view would be that the one who officiates directs the worshippers to the once crucified now risen Christ and invites the believers present to eat and drink in memory of Jesus their sin-bearer and Sovereign Lord until he comes again.
There is a blessed simplicity in the Lord’s Table which easily gets lost in protocols. We need to remind ourselves of Isaiah “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols (chapter 42 verse 8).