Ross Douthat, an intelligent and literate Catholic observer, and a columnist in the New York Times, writes perceptively on the surprising turnout for Pope Benedict in light of the protests by atheists like Richard Dawkins and predictions of embarrassing crowds. (The same phenomenon of surprised secular observers happened during the pope's visit to the States in 2008). He's spot-on when it comes to the hidden Catholics who practice their faith and who are loyal to the office of the pope; he's less spot-on, I think, it comes to the trauma inflicted on the church by the abuse crisis. But he's always worth reading. See what you think. A bit here:
No doubt most of Britain’s five million Catholics do not believe exactly what Benedict believes and teaches. No doubt most of them are appalled at the Catholic hierarchy’s record on priestly child abuse, and disappointed that many of the scandal’s enablers still hold high office in the church.
But in turning out for their beleaguered pope, Britain’s Catholics acknowledged something essential about their faith that many of the Vatican’s critics, secular and religious alike, persistently fail to understand. They weren’t there to voice agreement with Benedict, necessarily. They were there to show their respect — for the pontiff, for his office, and for the role it has played in sustaining Catholicism for 2,000 years.
Conventional wisdom holds that such respect is increasingly misplaced, and that the papacy is increasingly a millstone around Roman Catholicism’s neck. If it weren’t for the reactionaries in the Vatican, the argument runs, priests might have been permitted to marry, forestalling the sex abuse crisis. Birth control, gay relationships, divorce and remarriage might have been blessed, bringing lapsed Catholics back into the fold. Theological dissent would have been allowed to flourish, creating a more welcoming environment for religious seekers.
James Martin, SJ