Most American Catholics are preparing to give Pope Benedict a friendly "glad to see you" kind of welcome. Most but not all. Groups with agendas of their own make it clear they hope to use the pope's presence as an occasion for pressing their issues. Among them are organized victims of clergy sex abuse and their friends.
Today's Washington Post features an Op Ed column on what Benedict XVI should do to about the abuse scandal while he's here. It is the work of one Emmett Coyne, whom the newspaper identifies only as "a Roman Catholic priest." Whoever he is, he sounds like an angry man.
"The pope will address the United Nations," he writes, "lecturing to its members on how to run the world....He needs to put his own house, the household of faith, in order first....Americans, Catholic or not, are acutely aware of the clerical sexual abuse issue. More than a leader, will the pope be a true pastor, a shepherd who will walk into the wilderness to seek the hurting members?"
Coyne demands that Benedict XVI meet with abuse survivors. There have been hints that he may, although that remains to be seen. He also wants the pope publicly to wash the feet of victims, whom he calls "voiceless and invisible." Voiceless and invisible they may have been at one time, but few groups have been more successful in getting media attention in recent years than clergy abuse victims who wanted it. (As it happens, many don't.)
Whatever Pope Benedict does or doesn't do and say about clergy sex abuse when he's in the United States, his record already is good. As a tribunal, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he headed from 1981 until his election as pope, handles the cases of abuser-priests when they reach Rome. His own sentiments were made memorably clear among other places in the meditations he wrote for the Good Friday 2005 Way of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome.
He spoke there of the Church as "a boat taking in water on every side" and exclaimed: "How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to Christ!"
-- Russell Shaw