This week’s upcoming canonization of two Twentieth Century popes has many people hot under the collar. Although he did not succeed in cleaning up the child abuse mess among the Catholic clergy, I think he was an outstanding human being. His forgiveness of Mehmet Ali Agca, who came close to assassinating him on May 13, 1981, shows him to have been a real Christian.
While listening to the radio on the way to work this morning, I heard the usual complaints about his having done nothing to punish Cardinal Roger Mahony for reassigning guilty priest-predators to new parishes. This is an administrative matter, and Mahony; while certainly in the wrong, did not come under papal purview at this level. This is a problem across the entire Catholic world, with entire seminaries devoted to producing gay priests who are likely to molest the children of parishioners. At a time when the number of young people with religious callings is rapidly dwindling, many in Rome are afraid to stage what would amount to a major purge of religious.
Ultimately, the culprit is priestly celibacy. For hundreds of years, priests have not been allowed to marry in the Roman Catholic Church; but it is not forbidden among the Eastern Rites who do allow their clergy to marry. These include the West Syrian (Maronite), Armenian, Byzantine, and East Syrian rites, all of which recognize the authority of the Pope. I have always thought that the Church will ultimately change its mind on this score. Doing so would be attended with problems of its own, such as the right of priestly widows and children to inherit church property, which might put them into conflict with the laws of various countries.
But the Orthodox Churches have managed all these years, so it is not inconceivable that the Catholics will ultimately follow suit.
Looking back at what I have written above, I am somewhat disturbed that I have been criticizing John Paul more for the times in which he lived than in what he could and could not accomplish with the Roman Curia. I’m utterly delighted that the church turned to Communist Poland for its new pontiff, and that John Paul had such a major role in putting an end to the Communist Blight. He was a good man, and anyone who chooses to emulate him could not go wrong.
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