Current Comment

Sin Inside the Church

En route to Portugal, Pope Benedict XVI spoke bluntly about the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. “The suffering of the church also comes from within the church, because sin exists in the church…today we see it in a truly terrifying way,” said the pope. “The greatest persecution of the church does not come from enemies on the outside, but is born in sin inside the church.

One might seize on the pope’s words as proof that he had finally grasped the severity of the crisis and that he was also rebutting Curial officials who had blamed the church’s woes on “enemies on the outside.” If so, one would be only half right: the pope has been aware of the problem for years. During his time in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger strove to discipline the Rev. Marcial Maciel, the now-disgraced founder of the Legion of Christ. As pope, he met also with abuse victims during trips to the United States, Malta and Portugal.


On the other hand, the pope’s words did signal a rebuke to the Curial cardinals who have blamed the media and other so-called “enemies” for a problem that was of their own making.

The pope’s strong words should be followed by strong actions: establishing U.S.-style standards for handling abuse cases; making reparation to victims; apologizing whenever possible; accepting episcopal resignations; reforming the Roman Curia; providing stronger assurances to parents for organizations that have children in their care. Failure to match actions to words, particularly in this case, would be just as “terrifying.”

Failure-Prone Climate Bill

We have learned in the last weeks how sophisticated technology can lead to disaster. Soon after multiple system failures caused the collapse of a British Petroleum oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, which now threatens the U.S. Gulf coast with ecological collapse, a glitch in the electronic trading system seems to have plunged the Dow to a 1,000-point drop in a matter of minutes, dragging down blue-chip Proctor and Gamble to a one-cent value. The most ingeniously designed systems can cause enormous, unanticipated damage when they fail.

Congress should think of that as it considers eliminating roles for the Environmental Protection Agency and for the states in the new Kerry-Lieberman climate and energy bill, known as the American Power bill. That statute would exclude the E.P.A. from a role in regulating greenhouse gases. In 2007 the Supreme Court upheld that responsibility as consistent with E.P.A.’s mandate, under the Clean Air Act, to regulate air pollutants. The new bill would also supersede inter-state covenants for controlling atmospheric emissions. It would replace them with a new, nationwide cap-and-trade system shaped by financial analysts and energy industry lobbyists.

The country and the world need a U.S. climate change bill, but not one that disallows action by the E.P.A. and the states. They have both acted as Congress dithered. They should be allowed to continue as necessary back-up systems in the event a loophole-ridden nationwide cap-and-trade mechanism designed by lobbyists fails to reduce greenhouse gases—even as it enriches traders and energy producers.

Kony at Large

As violence rages in eastern Congo, Congolese bishops blame the Congolese government for allowing the violence to continue “under the impassive eyes of those who have received a mandate to keep the peace and to protect the population.” Among the deadly bands ravaging the countryside is the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed spokesperson of God. The L.R.A. killed over 300 villagers last December and abducted over 100 children to serve as child soldiers and sex slaves. Kony is thought to be hiding in a national park near the Sudanese border. The International Criminal Court issued warrants in 2005 for his arrest and that of his senior leaders, but the indictments have not led to their capture.

Faith-based organizations are providing humanitarian assistance in the midst of the devastation. Catholic Relief Services, for example, has trained local women in psychological counseling for survivors of sexual attacks. Rape of women and young girls has been used for years in eastern Congo as a weapon to force villagers from their homes. Denis Mukwege, M.D., head of the C.R.S.-supported Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, reports that in many cases the reproductive organs of victims have been completely destroyed. Dr. Mukwege has met with congressional officials in Washington to heighten awareness of rape atrocities.

The House of Representatives has just passed a bill approved by the Senate in March, the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. It requires President Obama to develop a regional strategy to protect civilians in central Africa and to focus on apprehending Kony and other L.R.A. leaders. This is a step in the right direction.


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Kate Smith
8 years 8 months ago

I agree with this statement:  "Failure to match actions to words, particularly in this case, would be just as 'terrifying.'"

But I have found Jesuits, especially provincials and the superior general, Adolfo Nicolas, to be just as unwilling to match actions to words.

I have an excellent written example of this from a Jesuit provincial if you want to do a story for the magazine and hold a mirror to Jesuits.

Just let me know.

Norman Costa
8 years 8 months ago


B R A V O !

I encourage you to keep at it. You will have to risk being repeitive to the point of your own boredom. But, don't give in. Keep repeating until we start to see some real cracks in the obstructionist wills of the curia officials, and of the conference of Bishops in the U. S.

Then, when you start to see some real change of heart, raise it up a notch. They will do the right thing, eventually, but only by being dragged to it, kicking and screaming all the way.

michael slajchert
8 years 8 months ago
As a high school teacher, I have had the privelege to see how the activism of very young people, including many not old enough to vote, directly led to the introduction and successful passage of the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act. Whenever it appeared that the usual government roadblocks intruded, these kids mobilized and refused to give up (as a couple of our esteemed legislators learned, to their chagrin).Kids in the US were directly paired with their counterparts in devastated Ugandan schools through the Invisible Children Schools for Schools program, and those kids led the charge in getting this legislation introduced and passed. Student activism for good causes is still alive and well.
Michael Barberi
8 years 8 months ago

Bravo America!  A good commentary about Sin Inside the Church.  Indeed, actions need to follow words. 

I would add one major important point about Sin Within the Church.  Nothing is morally worse than a Church that allows two different teachings of Humanae Vitae, namely, the Vatican's position and that of many priests.  The debate on this teaching is only about the merits and shortcomings of Humanae Vitae.  It is NEVER about the management of the moral message.  The Church is both negligent and delibrate in doing nothing to correct the obvious moral dichotomy that has existed since 1968.   It is not enough to issue encylicials and say the Church has spoken.  Church Hierarchy, inclusive of many Bishops and Cardinals, simply pass down the Church's position and turn a blind eye toward its implementation and message management.  Read on.

The practice of artificial birth control is morally wrong and intrinsively evil according to the Vatican.   You practice it, you commit a mortal sin.  However, everyone knows that unless mortal sin is confessed before Holy Communion, a Sacraledge is committed.  Which is morally worse... parishioners who rely on the guidance of their priests to follow their conscience regarding artificial birth control, OR, the diliberate allowance of two different teachings on artificial birth control, the Vatican's position and that of many priests?  

The answer is obvious, yet no one has the courage to do something about it.  Another sin within the Church?  I think so.

Norman Costa
8 years 8 months ago


The Church, the people of God, have already spoken on the matter of artificial birth control, and have determined it is not morally wrong nor intrinsically evil.


Michael Barberi
8 years 7 months ago
I agree with Mr. Costa but his repsonse was not the point being made.  Most catholics ignore Humanae Vitae and Pope John Paul II's support for it.  The Church uses its Magisterium to proclaim this doctrine infallible, and they admit it.
To ignore the fact that the Church permits two contrary teachings to exist on birth control, allows the Church to be unaccountable for its actions.  Its easy to say, "I don't believe in Humanae Vitae".  Its another to sit on the sidelines and not raise your voice when it is clear the Church is not managing its theological and moral responsibilities.  If we expect, or hope, for the Church to change we must all join our voices in solidarity.  It was only when the press and public opinion was loud and clear, did the Church reluctantly respond to the sexual exploitation of minors.  While two differente messages about artificial birth control is not a criminal offense, it is a serious moral offense.  The Church cannot simply issue encylicals and occasional printed material and say "we have provided the correct moral direction".  No priest clearly explains from the pulpit the morality of sin and sacriledge regarding the practice of artifical birth control, grounds for confessing such sin, requirements for absolution and holy communion.  They hide in silence.  It is absurd and irresponsible.  If we don't call them on this, who will? 


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