19 July 2010
By Tracy Grant
The Catholic Church has shown that it has a lot in common with your typical 6-year-old.
In announcing its latest attempt to deal with the decades-old priest sex abuse scandal, the Vatican wheedled when it could have healed, deflected when it could have taken a punch squarely and ultimately, failed to put behind it the greatest calamity to face the church in centuries.
Fundamentally, the church failed to recognize that “honesty is the best policy” is not merely a hoary chestnut, not merely a pat moral salve: it is, in times of crisis, a highly effective, but infrequently used, strategy.
Every mother who has ever caught a child next to a broken vase and heard “I don’t know what happened, Mom. HONEST” knows that very elemental, human urge to avoid a little bit of trouble that has been around since – well, Adam and Eve. Such is human nature … to blame, to skirt the edges of truth, to believe against all odds and evidence that we’ll get away with the lie, that we can contain the situation with half-truths, nuanced answers.
But imagine the kid who when caught next to the vase doesn’t spew out a bald-faced lie, doesn’t blame his sister or the dog, doesn’t say that Mom is stupid to have an expensive vase in a house with kids but instead looks up into Mom’s face (a quavering lip would probably be a nice touch) and says “I’m SO SORRY, Mom. I was running when I shouldn’t have and I broke your vase. I’ll use my allowance to buy you a new one.”
How does Mom respond? Probably with a comforting hug, words that convey that we all make mistakes but that the really important thing is that we learn from them. She probably calls Dad at work, not to lament the loss of the vase but to herald the moral rectitude of their amazing future Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Was the child honest for the sake of honesty or because he had calculated that simply coming clean would spare him being yelled at, lectured to and punished?
I’m not going to say that it doesn’t matter, but I am going to say that I wish 20 years ago, the Catholic Church had been that smart, that strategic, that cunning in dealing with the priest sex abuse scandal. Of course, it would have been good for the victims of the abuse, acknowledging their pain and suffering Of course, it would have been the right thing to do for an institution that preaches the power of confession and forgiveness. But it also would have simply been the smart, pragmatic, strategic move.
Instead, this week the Church announced new rules that embrace, instead of close, loopholes; rules that suggest that there just might be under some circumstances, a case where a priest abusing a child just one time might be excusable; rules that don’t hold bishops (bosses) accountable for the actions of priests (employees).
The public outcry was predictable and justified.
My disappointment in the church is no longer that it lacks the soul to stake out the clearly moral position but that it lacks the brains to stake out the clearly strategic one.
Tracy Grant is editor of Weekend and KidsPost.