Dear Friends of Istituto Acton,
As everyone knows, March was an extremely difficult month for Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church, with reports of sexual abuse cases in Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands dominating news headlines all over the world. The Holy Father’s letter to the Church in Ireland, the first of its kind, addressed the issue in the wake of government-commissioned reports on the cases as well as the visit of Irish bishops to Rome a few weeks earlier. The promoter of justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also gave an in-depth interview on the cases referred to the Congregation since 2001. (Click here for my interview, about 20 minutes in, on this and other aspects of the cases with Ave Maria Radio’s Al Kresta)
Not only have the scandals done great damage to the moral credibility of the Catholic Church, they have also raised a number of questions regarding Church-State affairs, especially the relationship between canon and civil law in individual countries and the responsibility of bishops to report criminal acts to the police. It is terribly disheartening to hear the anguish of victims and their loss of trust and faith in the priests who abused them. The Church should be held to a higher standard than other social institutions, but it also needs the freedom to operate publicly and in accordance with its own teachings and beliefs. While there is no question that these scandals are grave, self-inflicted wounds that require repentance and reparation, some secularists will denigrate and try to restrict the activities of the Church as a result. With all due regard for rooting out the perpetrators of the abuses and bringing them to justice, these calls must be resisted not only for the sake of the Church, as vitally important as it is, but also by those who care about religious liberty and the cause of human freedom in general.
Another negative effect of the abuse cases has been the attacks made on the discipline of priestly celibacy, so it was encouraging to attend the Congregation for Clergy’s international theological conference “Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of the Priest”, where several speakers defended celibacy from theological, scriptural and scientific perspectives. The aula magna at the Lateran University was made up overwhelmingly of priests who reacted enthusiastically to the timely and much-needed defense of celibacy.
The Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture held their 25th annual medical ethics conference at various locations in Rome the week of March 7-14, and I was fortunate to attend Fr. Kevin Flannery’s lecture on Thomas Aquinas and end-of-life decisions as well as Fr. Michael Sherwin’s on truth, freedom and medicine. Each in their own way showed how much Christian thought can and should shape our understanding of medical ethics, especially as rapid technological advances challenge concepts such as human dignity, the centrality of the family, and social concern for the poor and the sick.
The Church’s teaching mission is also crucial in the area of business and economics, as Pope Benedict recently pointed out to a group of Italian entrepreneurs:
The businessman who is attentive to the common good is called to see his own activity always in the framework of a plural whole. This attitude generates, through personal dedication and fraternity lived concretely in economic and financial choices, a more competitive and at the same time more civilized market, animated by the spirit of service. Clearly a simple business logic presupposes certain motivations, a certain vision of man and of life; that is, a humanism that is born from the awareness of being called as individuals and as community to form part of the one family of God, who has created us in his image and likeness and has redeemed us in Christ; a humanism that revives charity and allows itself to be guided by truth; a humanism open to God and, precisely because of this, open to man and to life understood as a solidaristic and joyous task.
So while we’ve all had to suffer – though nowhere near what the victims themselves have suffered - this Lent due to the abuse scandals, we must not give in to despair and turn our back on Christ. The Church’s mission to save souls and contribute positively to society will continue and provide essential support to the cause of human liberty if we remain vigilant and faithful, even in the midst of this crisis. We do well to remember that Christ’s redemption of our sins takes places only through His passion and death on a cross, which we are called to embrace lovingly.
In this month’s commentary, you will find engaging articles on what Catholic social doctrine teaches about health care with regard to the Obama health-care plan, the difference between mere selfishness and “self-interest well understood”, and an appraisal of the latest document on the common good from the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, as well as a clip of a Vatican Radio interview I did on the Italian court ruling affecting Google.
We hope you enjoy them; please do not hesitate to let us know your reaction, no matter whether it’s favorable or not.