Imagine the worst. Suppose that you discovered that a member of your family was actually a criminal. Not a petty criminal, mind you, but one whose crimes were truly awful, morally repugnant in every sense. What would you do?
When David Kaczynski realized that his brother Ted was the Unabomber, he made the hard choice and called the FBI. Thanks to David's moral courage, the man responsible for murdering and maiming dozens of people with homemade bombs sent through the mail was stopped before he could carry out his grander schemes of putting bombs on airliners and detonating them over cities. When Kaczynski received a million-dollar reward from the FBI, he donated most of the money to his brother's victims.
Kaczynski had no special moral training to prepare him to turn in his brother or make other wrenching decisions. Until then, his life's work had been helping his father run a foam rubber business. It is therefore instructive to contrast his actions with those of the Pope, a man supposedly chosen by God to lead the world in the path of righteousness, and of his ring of cardinals and bishops.
Faced with overwhelming evidence that the church has been harboring and actively shielding child molesters and rapists, the Vatican went into a defensive mode that would have done the Nixon White House proud. Speaking to the faithful in his Palm Sunday address, Pope Benedict said he would not be intimidated by "petty gossip."
Bear in mind that gossip means unsubstantiated rumors. Imagine how that made the thousands of victims of priest-attacks feel -- including the hundreds of deaf boys who were molested by the man in charge of their care, the Reverend Lawrence Murphy. Their stories are documented. You can read them for yourself. It's just that no one would pay much attention, because their abuser was a priest.
In fairness, I suppose the Pope may have meant that only the published reports, based on documents, implicating him in Rev. Murphy's escape from justice were "petty gossip." But less than a week later, the Pope's personal preacher stood before a mic and made the outlandish comparison of media "attacks" on the Pope to the "collective violence" suffered by Jews. Yes, criticizing the Pope's failure to bring child-molesters in his house to justice is a lot like murdering six million Jews. Anyone can see that.
Six weeks later -- and centuries too late -- the Pope has made a very different speech. He blamed sin within the church for the crisis. That turnabout is commendable. So are his efforts to convey apologies to victims.
Yet the church has not entirely changed its longstanding policy of refusing full cooperation with law enforcement and is mounting the most vigorous defense possible against the claims of victims. Now you can't -- and I don't -- blame the church for defending itself. But in its pattern of using bankruptcy and arcane canonical legalisms to dodge settlements, it has shown all the compassion of a particularly nasty coal mine company toward its victims. And there's no sign yet of a change in that. Maybe it will come. Maybe not. But until the church does what any other legal institution harboring criminals and their abettors would do, such speeches amount to empty gestures of piety.
More:Priest Sex Abuse Pope Benedict Pope Benedict XVI Roman Catholic Church Sex Abuse Scandal Christianity
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more