Eight years ago all the press could talk about before the visit to Britain of Pope Benedict XVI was child abuse. The media predicted the week would be at best a failure and at worst a disaster, but had to re-write the script on day one when the sun and 70,000 people came out to greet the pontiff at Bellahouston. The visit was such a success that the prime minister, David Cameron, who had found a reason not to greet the pope at the start of the state visit, made a point of seeing him off at the end, trying to bathe in the reflected glory.
Yet the feeling at the end of the papal visit was less one of triumph than of healing. People were ready to move on from the scandal and focus instead on the Church’s mission. Catholics let out a collective sigh of relief. We could look to the future not the past.
Last month all the press could talk about before the visit to Ireland of Pope Francis was child abuse and that is all they have talked about since. This Pope, who more than any other has focused the world’s attention on humility and the relief of poverty, instead of contraception and homosexuality, should have been able to move the agenda on. Instead he allowed the Church’s past sins to dominate the future.
I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked in the course of my “audience with” evenings whether I regret joining the Catholic Church because of the prevalence of child abuse. I ask: is there no child abuse in the CofE? In the Scout movement? Children’s homes? Schools? Overseas aid agencies? And of course where does most of it take place? In families. Should I lose faith in all of those groups as well?
However, even if it were entirely unique to the Catholic Church, why would I regret joining it? I did so because I believe it to be the source of God’s truth and that cannot be vitiated. I joined also because I believe in its mission and that too has not changed.
Have the people who ask me this question stopped watching the BBC? Have they stopped giving to Oxfam after the revelations of sexual misconduct? Some indeed will have done the latter but whom does that affect other than the world’s poorest?
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