A summary of an article by Timothy Radcliffe
The latest wave of shock revelations and media speculations about child sex abuse by church personnel, and its handling by church authorities, is causing some to reconsider whether they want to continue as Catholics. In a well-timed article - ‘Should I stay or should I go?’- former Dominican Master General Timothy Radcliffe offers a thoughtful response.
The argument for leaving centres on the safety of children. Without minimizing the evil of the abuse, the article points out that this is “widespread in every part of society” and warns against scapegoating the Church. Some surveys even suggest that Catholic celibate ministers are less likely to offend than the general population.
In regard to Church cover-up, the author acknowledges there has been irresponsibility involved. But he makes the distinction between the earlier view of abuse “as a sin rather than also a pathological condition” and today’s greatly advanced awareness. He regards it as “unjust to project backwards an awareness … which simply did not exist then”.
The relevant department of the Vatican struggles with a small staff and a huge work-load, which means that documents slip through cracks. Catholics’ reasonable call for transparent government needs to be balanced against the Vatican’s reasons for confidentiality: protection against unproven accusation, and wariness in a time of multiplying martyrs and sometimes-malevolent media. While identifying with the call for greater openness, Radcliffe can nevertheless see the Church’s secrecy as “understandable, and sometimes necessary”. He is quick, though, to acknowledge the invaluable role played by the media in addressing the abuse and challenging the Church.
He then offers his personal reasons for staying – nothing to do with consumer-choice or product-superiority. He believes that the Catholic Church “embodies something which is essential to the Christian witness to the Resurrection, visible unity”. Noting how the death of Jesus scattered his community, the article argues that his Resurrection became evident “in the astonishing sight of a community reborn”. God’s power was incarnated in this unity in Christ, a unity that continues to need “visible embodiment” because “Christianity is not a vague spirituality but a religion of incarnation”. Historically, the focus of unity has been the “wobbly rock” Peter and his successors, and what it points to is “Christ’s defeat … of sin’s power to divide”. So though it may be embarrassing to be a Catholic at this time, it is worth remembering that “Jesus kept shameful company from the beginning”.
This is just a summary, intended to appetize. Radcliffe’s fine ideas deserve to be read in his own words. The article, published in The Tablet of 8 April 2010, can also be found at www.thetablet.co.uk/article/14543
Michael Burke - editor
Photo courtesy of www.vocation-network.org