“Whadya get when an ex-Nun and a liberal Brown Professor get an opportunity to grill a Catholic Priest about the Pope’s visit to America?”
Channel 12’s (and Fox Providence) Newsmakers program opened with a discussion of Pope Benedict’s visit to America. Host Steve Aveson opened by asking Father Najim about the impact of Pope Benedict’s visit. Father Najim explained that a Papal visit will help with explaining and encouraging Catholics, especially males, to enter the Catholic vocations and that, in general, it serves to energize the faithful. When asked to compare Pope Benedict to his beloved predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Fr. Najim talked about how the current Pope, when still a Cardinal, had a reputation as the Vatican’s watchdog, but that has changed as he’s had the opportunity to exhibit his pastoral side and that the priests love Pope Benedict.
Then the gloves came off. And we got the answer to the question, “Whadya get when an ex-Nun and a liberal Brown Professor get an opportunity to grill a Catholic Priest about the Pope’s visit to America?”
Arlene Violet – You mentioned the Pope’s reputation when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, the hard side, I guess they called him God’s rottweiler, but certainly in that capacity he was one of the stonewallers really to stop settlements or not initiate settlements with the victims of sex abuse. Does he not have a credibility problem notwithstanding his comments about how terrible the scandal has been on kids that have been sexually assaulted when he was behind the stonewalling on this issue?
Fr. Najim – I think the truth is that Pope Benedict has come out very strongly against the abuse cases in this country, the whole scandal. The first thing he addressed, even before getting off the plane, was how deeply ashamed he was of what’s happened in the Catholic Church and deeply ashamed of the priests who have committed these crimes…
AV – But wouldn’t it have been more real for him to have apologized for his position. I mean, while he was not in fact one of the people engaging in this horrific behavior, nonetheless he stonewalled on the settlements there so he should have said, “I’m sorry for stonewalling this.”
Fr. N. – But Arlene, the Church has aggressively tackled these issues, probably more aggressively than most institutions would. We look at the Church coming forward to make sure that there are clear and strong policies in place to make sure that these kind of abuses never take place again. The Pope himself has encouraged bishops to make sure that these policies are in place to make sure that these abuses do not take place again. Pope John Paul II apologized to the Church, and remember, when a Pope speaks, he speaks for the Church. And so, Pope Benedict needs to continue to be able to move forward. I think this is what we need to do. I mean, the Pope has acknowledged these abuses, he’s acknowledged the wrongdoing, at the same time we need to go forward. We need to move forward. He’s come to this country as a messenger of hope and so I don’t see the need that he has to personally apologize. We don’t have all the information that Pope Benedict had coming across his desk, so I think we need to be careful that we don’t make a judgment upon what he was seeing.
Jennifer Lawless – Wasn’t discussing it on the plane, though, sort of a cheap political way to not to have to deal with it when he’s actually traveling across the country.
Fr. N. – Well he is dealing with it…
JL – I mean he got ahead of it, he talked about it, he selected the question, he was able to deal with it completely on his terms. And, in a way, that makes it sort of inappropriate for journalists and other people along the trip to bring it up again. So I mean, isn’t that kind of indicating that this is not something he’s willing to address wholeheartedly?
Fr. N. – We have to be careful that we don’t reduce the Papal visit to a negative. Pope Benedict didn’t come to this country specifically for the scandal. Pope Benedict came to the United States of America as a messenger of hope as he himself said. To bring Christ’s word of life. And I believe that in his visit he is bringing healing by his presence in this country. He comes to us as the spiritual father of a billion Catholics, 67 million in this country. He comes to us as our spiritual father…who by his very presence brings that healing. And so as far as being a cheap political trick, I don’t think so. In fact, Jennifer, I thought he tackled it head on. That was my take on it, that, “Wow, even before he’s getting off the plane, he’s addressing this.” And he is addressing it in his visit, too.
Based on the lead in from Aveson and the topic that was initially explained, I don’t think Father Najim quite expected the reception he received. He dealt with it well enough, though. I’m a Catholic (about 12 yearly masses above a “Christmas Catholic,” I must confess), so I know the pain the Church has caused the victims. I certainly can’t speak for them and I’m sure there are many applauding Violet and Lawless for their questions, and even perhaps their tone. But now that we know what we do–that the Pope met privately with victims of abuse and has publicly addressed the issue multiple times–I think the questions by Violet and Lawless have been exposed as the innately cynical, “gotcha” journalism that they were.
It didn’t end there. In addition to the sex abuse scandal, Violet and Lawless grilled Fr. Najim over the Church’s stance against the ordination of women as priests or against priests getting married. Simply put, I think it was an opportunity lost. Instead of taking the opportunity of the Pope’s visit to indulge in a deeper exploration of what a Pope’s visit actually can accomplish, or of the good things that the Church does, the Q&A was just another bash-the-antiquated -hypocritical -Catholic-religion session; one that we’ve all seen before.
So, all I’m saying, is that a Papal visit is about so much more than defending the mistakes, as Fr. Najim said. (But even then, it is clear that the Pope is trying to help heal the wounds). Unfortunately, there are a lot of people–especially those who love to point to hypocrisy if only to hide their own–who see political ax-grinding in everything. Mostly because they spend a lot of their own time at the whetstone.