The Courage of the Pope

I heard the stunning news that the Pope has just resigned the first Pope to do so since Pope Gregory XII(resigned 4 July 1415), almost 600 years ago. Listening to him being lauded for his courage in knowing when to step aside, I thought of the kind of courage I would like to see in the next Pope.

I stand, open-mouthed, when I see good, serving priests excommunicated. And why? Because they fall in love, admit they cannot keep their vows of chastity and marry. These are good men who find they cannot serve God alone, without the support and nurture of a partner and the joy of children. The Church loses a devout family for each one they get rid of. Not only that, but some of these men start their own church and take their parishioners with them. There are many dioceses who have to make do with lay preachers, crying out for priests, when there are good ones cast aside.

Believe me, this is not a flippant debate. It has been going on at least since Vatican II. Why deny such men their rightful place in the Church? Why not let them marry and solve the problem?

I once spoke to a priest about this and he explained that the vow of celibacy was the ultimate sacrifice: the key to the priesthood. Yet, I have seen such sad priests. They listen to everyone’s problems, have so much misery dumped on them; then when they get home there is nobody to comfort them.(It is not just sex I am talking about here, but the physical and emotional support of a family.)  Fine, if they want to aspire to such a pinnacle. All I am saying is that it should be personal choice and if they find they fall short, they can still be good, perhaps even better priests.

The Pope I want to see will have the courage to go back to the Bible rather than Church tradition and allow priests to marry as they once did. Many Catholics have hailed Saint Peter as the first Pope. There is no doubt that he was married.

If I am flummoxed by seeing good men excommunicated, I cannot even find words to describe how I feel about the green light predators have been given to infiltrate the Church, their repulsive desires concealed beneath a mantle of piety. Church authorities, having failed to deal effectually with this incendiary issue, have continued to sweep it under the carpet until the mound has got so big it is blocking the door and will now be the subject of a Royal Commission.

 I believe in the seal of the confessional, but priests have a duty of care to protect the innocent. Why should they not as a general procedure support and encourage the victims themselves to go to the police? They will then have satisfied both criteria. Alternatively, the Church has closed orders where they could keep these vile creatures away from children. Defrocking them first, of course.

Then they could spend the rest of their lives in isolation, praying for their victims. I would have no fault to find with that. But because of cover-up, crimes committed over the last 40 years are only now coming to light, the Church having negotiated compensation in return for what? The silence of the victim? More cover-up?

Who can compensate victims who will never recover: who struggle with horror every day? What price betrayal by a trusted family friend? What figure can be set upon a ruined life?

The Pope I want to see will have the courage to lift the carpet, clean out the filth and put down a bright, new welcome mat. He will recognise that damaged souls need more than money, putting in place a victim support network to help them heal. A wise and holy shepherd, he will banish wolves that would ravage the flock; and shore up the walls of the fold.

I don’t wish to denigrate the achievements of Pope Benedict XVI. To me he is a sensible man. Perhaps he will encourage other public figures to know when their time of service should be over.

But a Pope who would change the church for the better? That is the courage I would like to see.

Will I get my wish? I wonder, hope and pray …