One of the abiding characteristics of the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI has been humility. He began his pontificate calling himself a simple laborer in the vineyard of the Lord. He ended it admitting to his lack of strength to carry on the task. Humility, the queen of virtues offsetting the capital sin of pride, demands a great faith in God and divine providence. It is a difficult virtue in the best of times, and these are not those times.
The resignation of the pope, and the subsequent migration of hundreds of journalists to Rome who are now trying to justify their expense accounts until the white smoke blows, has led to a feeding frenzy of sorts at the expense of our Church.
An unsourced story in the daily Italian newspaper La Repubblica alleging an unseen secret report on unseemly goings on among Vatican officialdom has been picked up by press around the world. It is titillating in its vagueness, and the fact that the Italian newspaper was not to be bothered about journalistic niceties like sources, evidence and attribution did not deter other news agencies — including many American ones that should know better — from using the La Repubblica story as source, evidence and attribution.
This story line was bracketed by two other campaigns: One was the campaign to get Cardinal Roger Mahony to sequester himself from the conclave. This was unsuccessful, but it may have led to a well-timed series of anonymous allegations in Scotland that Cardinal Keith O’Brien had decades earlier acted inappropriately toward three young priests and a seminarian and that he should recuse himself from the conclave. This was successful.
It is hard for any ordinary Catholic to make sense of all this, but it surely is contributing to the ongoing erosion of trust in their leaders. Each fresh wave of allegations — whether erroneous, exaggerated or true — has the same impact of corroding the fundamental bonds of allegiance and respect that should characterize a hierarchical Church. It is difficult to overstate the damage that has been done by the endless allegations, the embarrassing documents, the resignations and even the convictions of leaders of the Church.
It is not too soon to begin composing suggestions for the priority list of the next pope. High on the list must be both accountability and transparency. Accountability must be for everyone, no matter how highly they are placed. Without this accountability, it will be an agonizingly slow process for Church leaders to win back the trust of their faithful.
|High on the next pontiff’s priority list must be both accountability and transparency.
Second, there must be transparency. This will always be somewhat qualified, given the pastoral as well as canonical and doctrinal concerns of the Church. Yet without some significant degree of transparency, it will be too easy for enemies of the Church to raise doubts, and for members of the Church to succumb to or to entertain doubts themselves.
Pope Benedict has taken many actions that show he understands these needs. He also understands that both accountability and transparency demand humility. In the world’s eyes, that may lead to further humbling of an already stressed institution. This must not deter our next generation of leaders. In the Year of Faith, we as a Church are demanded to take a leap of faith. Church leaders must not lay heavier burdens on others than they would lay on themselves. Those entrusted with the fate of souls must model trust in the Lord.
Pope Benedict has exhibited a profound trust in the will of God, and he has in turn become an authentic and powerful witness of Christ in this moment of surrender. It is now time for another to be selected to pick up the cross and continue the ascent up our Church’s modern Calvary.