My friend and colleague Austen Ivereigh has a post below about the revelations of corruption contained in a new investigative report by Jason Berry over at NCR. I concur with everything that Ivereigh says except this: "It makes for shocking reading." I was not shocked in the least.
Perhaps Austen has spent too much time with those British Whig historians who always see human advancement and improvement in history. They think that the sins of the Borgias, say, are unique to the Renaissance. Or, that, hiding behind theological gibberish in order to justify inhumane acts was unique to Pope Pius IX’s concurrence in the kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. Such scandals cannot happen in our own time. We have moved on, we have progressed, we are better than the past.
Alas. I recall sitting down with an Italian monsignor. We were discussing some scientific development, I do not recall which, and he said, "Well, of course, this can be put to much good." Then, he paused before adding, "and much evil." Who was it that said technology was nothing more than improved means for unimproved human ends?
The sins of the fathers are not visited upon the sons. The sins of the fathers will simply find different ways to manifest themselves in the lives of their sons and their grandsons and their great-grandsons. The manner and methods change but the human capacity for greed, for corruption, for a sense of entitlement, remains the same. Borgia cardinals may have taken gold goblets as bribes. Cardinal Sodano may have taken cash. But, should it really shock that men invested with such power, and who are so removed from the actual work of pastoring or working with the poor, and who are accountable to no one except the Pope, is it shocking that they should behave badly?
Buckle up. This story is not nearly over. Cardinal Sodano links to Father Maciel and the Legionnaires are profoundly ugly and the lawyers will find a way to bring much of that to light. (Note to the Vatican: Having this same Cardinal Sodano conduct an interview in which he blames the scandal on gays and those who favor abortion rights is probably not such a smart idea!) It is shameful that those who so closely worked with the late Pope John Paul II will now trash his reputation with the stain of their own corruption. But, there it is.
Plus ca change. None of us should be Catholic because we like our priest, or we respect the Pope. The only reason to be Catholic is because the deepest yearning of the human heart – to live forever with those we love – is a restless yearning that does not go away until it finds landfall, and the news that the Crucified Lives is our landfall. What did or did not happen in the Vatican in the latter years of John Paul II’s pontificate is not decisive. What happened in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago is decisive. Our hearts also demand justice, and no one, not even a Cardinal, should be spared the demands of justice. But, our faith cannot be touched by curial malfeasance.
Michael Sean Winters