A few days ago, BBC held a televised debate, on a topic which is the title of this article. Two speakers on either side debated the subject. Sadly, those who spoke for the church did not have the facts and fire to match the other two. The opposition carried the day.
I am not an expert on the subject, but a Catholic who is very proud of being one. In a series of four articles, I shall try to reply to the points made by the opposition. This is not an official communication from the Catholic Church.
The opposition made 10 points, which I shall group as (a), (b), (c) of 1 and 7 other points. To each I shall give an explanation.
The Popes apologized for some errors of the past, which became a point of contention. First, an apology from the human head of the Church speaks for his humility, and for the virtue of humility which the Church fosters. Second, the Pope was not mincing words, but forthright and honest. Third, his apology was for acts that spanned centuries. Fourth, each error has to be seen in the context of the time it was committed.
Cardinal Thought:I must begin by making an important point. The Catholic Church has two faces " one is Divine and the other is Human. The Divine face is the face of Jesus Christ, which is sinless, blameless and an embodiment of love; nay, love itself. The Human face, comprising the Administrators and laity, suffer from human weaknesses. To confuse the two faces, or to accuse the Church founded by Jesus Christ, for human errors, is not fair. The fact that there are corrupt Senators in the Democrat Party and Republican Party does not cancel the principles they stands for, or the good work done by them. Likewise, Parents with the best of intentions fail in their parenting. That does not give us the right to condemn Parenthood. A deep understanding is necessary in dealing with the Church and its members, now numbering well over a billion. Errors do not negate intrinsic goodness. However, no attempt will be made to exonerate those who erred, although their errors do not weaken the force for good that the Catholic Church is.
1(a) Crusades and the Inquisition
The twelfth and the thirteenth centuries were a time when heresies were rife " a dark period in the 2000 years history of the Church. The Cathars and Waldensians were drawing away members of the Church, challenging the Humanity of Christ, rejecting the Sacraments and questioning the spiritual authority of priests. The Muslims, in trying to spread their faith, by force, were conquering territories and forcing Christians to accept the Muslim faith. Each side used different means to hold on to followers and not let the other encroach on territory considered sacred, especially the Holy Land. Although those joining the Crusade were admonished against motives of personal glory or personal gain, the choice of war (the Crusades) and torture (the Inquisition) was wrong. They ignored the teachings of Jesus, justifying their actions as necessary steps for reform. If only they had revisited the Gospels! When some disciples did not accept some of the teachings of Jesus, and decided not to walk with Him, He did not dilute His teachings or coerce them to stay. Instead, He let them go, respecting their freedom of choice.
Church Leaders of that time, who were overzealous and misguided, wanting to stamp out heresies and save those in error, justified the Inquisition on grounds that it was better to suffer physical pain on earth, than to suffer eternal damnation. It is a great consolation to know that the errors of The Crusades and The Inquisition have not been repeated. The Human face of the Church, the Administrators, erred; not the Divine Face. The garment was stained; not the soul. The Pope acknowledging the mistakes of that period, begged forgiveness of God and man.
1(b) A rather weak response of the Church to Hitler`s terror against the Jews
Pope Pius xii worked tirelessly to save Jews from slaughter. He used Churches, convents and other Church Institutions to hide and protect Jews. Using International Networks he had Jews escorted to German Borders and to safety. Thousands escaped the German dragnet. Little of this is publicised. What received needless propaganda was his apparent silence. What was the reason for his silence?
The Pope is not just the Human Head of the Catholic Church, but also Head of The Vatican State. As Vicar and Diplomat he had to safeguard Catholics, Catholic Institutions and innocent civilians in Germany and German occupied areas. An open assault on Hitler and his policies would have resulted in a crazed response from him, who had nothing to lose. He would have annihilated Catholics in areas under his control. The Pope could not risk that and had to be guarded in his statements. As we all know, sometimes choosing the lesser of two evils is prudent.
1(c) Child abuse by priests in different parts of the world
This is a ghastly crime against children, which calls for stern Justice. The Pope and his Administrators, while apologizing for the wrong done, have tried to compensate the victims in some way. It is true that no recompense can off-set the damage done. But an honest effort is being made to assuage the hurt caused to children and their families, and to beg forgiveness from them and God. Lax morals have bruised and broken the careers of Heads of State, Political Bigwigs, Celebrities, Judges and Police Officers, the Custodians of Law. But the offence is serious when priests are involved. The Pope understood that and his apology reflected his deep pain and sorrow.
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