Widening Cracks in the Roman Edifice?
Who would have thought – even five years ago – that the highest-ranking Roman Catholic cleric in the land would be observed writhing in front of a television camera as he struggled to answer pointed questions, from a leading investigative journalist, on his own conduct and the conduct of others belonging to the same fraternity? Yet that was the spectacle recently viewed by millions of people as this representative of the Papacy endeavoured to extricate himself and his organisation from the difficulties in which they are now placed as a result of revelations about the nefarious activities of a significant number of Roman Catholic priests under his jurisdiction.
Those hearing the words and noting the body language of this man as he sought to portray himself as the injured innocent would have formed their own opinion of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, who, not so long ago, preached before our Protestant Queen – the first Roman Catholic to be accorded that honour since the Reformation. His failure to discipline, or report to the police, a priest within his diocese whom he knew to be guilty of abusing children was explained away on the ground that he was simply naive. In actual fact, when he was informed of the conduct of this vile man, he resorted to the expedient of moving him elsewhere in his diocese, thinking that this would solve the problem. But it did not lead to any change in the man’s immoral behaviour, nor did the attempt to cover up succeed, and now the Cardinal is, according to The Times (9/12/2002), “currently at the centre of a police investigation into whether he ignored the activities of paedophile priests while Bishop of Arundel and Brighton”. So serious is the situation that there have been calls for his resignation.
He would have us believe that the present crisis is inspired by the media and that the Roman Catholic Church is in trouble only because it has become a victim of “paedophile hysteria”. It seems to us that the more the media searchlight is turned on Rome, the more its wickedness becomes known. And the more its wickedness becomes known, the more its true character will be revealed as “a cage of every unclean and hateful bird”, or, as Calvin expresses it, “Satan’s masterpiece”. Murphy-O’Connor was forced by events and media disclosures to give this interview. As an attempt – if that is what it was – to salvage his reputation, it was, in our view, a dismal failure. It is to be hoped that all morally-upright Roman Catholics who saw their leader and heard his lame, implausible excuses will now begin to think for themselves and consider the dangerous situation in which they are placed. Would that some of them would heed the call: “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues”!
We have reason to believe that there are still some within her pale who are prepared to admit the truth and publicly disagree even with the Cardinal. From The Times article we learn that the Cardinal wrote to all parishes in his archdiocese: “As you know, not only I personally, but the whole [Roman] Catholic Church, has been under attack from some quarters”. From the same source we learn that the Rt Rev Crispian Hollis, Bishop of Portsmouth, has written in a diocesan letter what is in direct contradiction to the views of the Cardinal. He stated: “We must not forget that we are in the relentless media spotlight because children have been sexually abused and we have not always handled this matter in a proper way. . . . We are at fault for our mistakes, however uncomfortable and unhappy that may make us feel. The Church is not the victim in all this – the children are.” Being “uncomfortable and unhappy” comes far short of evangelical repentance but there is at least an admission of guilt. We have here the spectacle of a divided house and we have from the lips of the Saviour the very words which fit the situation: “If a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand”.
Meantime, across the Atlantic, we have the Boston Archdiocese in deep trouble, struggling, according to the Washington Post, to contend with “a flurry of sex-abuse lawsuits” and making history in having to file for bankruptcy. This, we are told, would mean that a secular court would be given control over its finances and open it up to unprecedented scrutiny. Some of the lawyers acting for the abuse victims (there are around 450) are suspicious and think that archdiocese leaders may be “bluffing in order to gain leverage”. It is estimated that “if each litigant sues for more than a million dollars apiece, that will exceed the liquid assets of the diocese”. However, it appears that the diocese owns 2.4 billion dollars worth of real estate! So tense is the situation in Boston that one of these lawyers wants the Cardinal to “explain to a bankruptcy judge why he should be permitted to remain in his palatial residence while the victims of clerical sexual abuse lie wounded”.
But Cardinal Bernard Law has now been to Rome, where the Pope has accepted his resignation and his tenure of the palace has come to an ignominious end. Calls for his resignation were loud and numerous, many from within his own diocese. The resignation of the Boston Cardinal does not mean the end of these troubles for the Roman Catholic Church in the USA. The litigants in Massachusetts are not going to give up and it is now also reported that “thousands of cases” of sexual abuse by priests are coming before the law courts in California. In view of the state of the Church of Rome, not only in the USA and Britain, but throughout the world, may we not begin to hope that the fall of Babylon is drawing nigh?