The volcano in Iceland willing, the Pope will be in Portugal for four days, doing what modern Popes do, including a huge outdoor Mass at the shrine of Fatima.
He has made a headline already; and typically by saying something that is a commonplace of Catholic belief, to astounded media reporters. On the plane from Rome he mentioned that the worst persecutor of the Catholic Church is her own propensity to sin. Her worst enemy is inside, not outside.
Indeed, most of the external persecution has been, over time, quite beneficial. The prospect of martyrdom does sharpen the mind, and refresh the spirit. Of the institution at large, one thinks of Nietzsche’s old throwaway line that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”
Instead, one is made weak, by weakness. Priests and other Church employees, who have left their mark as pedophiles, and those who have sheltered them within the Church bureaucracy, haven’t exactly helped the Catholic cause.
Yes, I am being droll: for a moment of drollness is necessary to grasp the extent of what has been done, by men (and women) whose chastity was supposed to be above reproach; who were entrusted with deadly serious responsibilities including the cure of souls, and failed, totally.
As Pope Benedict said on the plane, “forgiveness” does not cut it as a response to this failure. There must also be justice, which involves punishment.
But again, he is saying something that will astound some people, because the average modern, poorly-informed, nominal Christian may be under the impression that Christianity itself reduces to “forgiveness,” and “tolerance,” and “not judging people.” And this is utter crap.
A quick read through the four Gospels should persuade any half-intelligent reader that Jesus never preached tolerance at all, and that the forgiveness hones to a very sharp edge. Note, in particular, His remarks on Damnation, which are almost too candid for delicate modern ears.
Chances are, that if my reader is a Catholic in, say, Ottawa these days, he is a rather pallid one, mired in the sop of a mild nostalgia. Even church attenders often show little knowledge of basic Church teachings. If it weren’t for Christ, we’d all walk away.
Portugal is more or less typical of modern Europe, in having a population that is still overwhelmingly Christian, on paper. About nine in 10 put themselves down as Romans, when asked politely. Only one in five actually get to Mass of a Sunday, and given that Sunday Mass attendance is an unambiguous obligation for all Catholics, one may guess how faithful they are to the other obligations.
Imagine how a business would function, in which the average employee turned up for work about one day in five, and you have some idea of the degree of dysfunction.
This Pope—not the last, much beloved one, who accused himself on his deathbed of having been too lenient—but this Pope Benedict, has toyed both aloud and in action with the notion that, “It is time we started firing people.” Over the last few weeks, he has accepted the resignations of quite an interesting number of bishops, over the latest Church scandals.
But the problem of laxity towards sexual perverts is only the most blazing, immediate issue. The rest of our city is also on fire.
The core problem is not sexual perversion. That is one big symptom of something deeper and broader: the collapse of real faith across the Western world, that was built on it. One might blame “modernity” or “materialism” or “scientism” for this collapse. But a good Catholic will blame the Church. And Pope Benedict is a good Catholic.
To understand this, a non-Catholic must imagine what Church and world look like, from a genuinely Catholic point of view. This will require a brief but vigorous mental exercise. Let’s do it now.
To the faithful Catholic, the Church was founded, and is ultimately directed, by Jesus Christ. It is therefore a divine institution, and that strangely uncompromising assertion of the “real presence” in the Mass follows from this: not just a symbol, but The Thing Itself. That is the central task of the Church: to administer the Sacraments, as spiritual food, to those who will partake.
But the same Church has another aspect. It is also a human institution, with human staff. This Church has lasted, continuously, vastly longer than any other specific institution in human history; but it has been populated by fallible humans the whole time.
How fallible? As Hilaire Belloc said, by way of proving the divine origin: “Any purely human institution run by such a group of knaves, fools, and cutthroats wouldn’t have lasted a fortnight.”
We will know the Catholic Church has got its act together, when it is once again building a civilization, founded in Christian faith, through conspicuously voluntary efforts.