There is something about the journey through Lent, as one encounters it on the Internet, which suggests that the strain of fasting and self-denial is not necessarily an aid to patience and mutual understanding; perhaps it is only when he feels challenged that the devil feels it – and tries to disturb us.
As usual, during the Lenten season, the Catholic Church finds itself under attack, and, as, alas, is so often the case, not without cause. Cardinal Pell’s testimony to the abuse tribunal in Australia, raises, again, the spectre of the way those in high positions in the Church covered up child abuse and moved priests around. It is not the only large organisation to do this, but then none of the others makes a claim to be the Bride of Christ, and none of the others (even the BBC) preaches about morality to the rest of the world. There is no point complaining about media bias, the fact is at the time there was a cover u, it looks like what it was – a set of serious errors of judgment. But, of course, that has not stopped the innuendo that the Cardinal must have known more – and the fact that at least some of that comes from Catholic sources, shows that in civil wars, some people are not fussy about what weapons they use.
The Pope’s unfortunate habit of speaking extempore on air craft is not helping, and no one has to search very hard to find fuel to keep the Catholic civil war going. This time no one can blame the media, it is Catholics themselves doing the damage. But what to do? To stay silent in the face of what seem to be abuses of Catholic teaching because of group solidarity would be to leave oneself open to the charge of ignoring abuse because it would not reflect well on the Church – precisely the allegation which, in the case of child abuse – has brought so much more grief in its wake. Moreover, if, as we are always being told, the church hierarchy wants more involvement from those below it, including the laity, it really has to get used to debate being more robust than it has been used to. It is not as though the hierarchy’s record in terms of handling difficult issues is one which commands the respect necessary for anyone to take the view that it can be trusted to act wisely; that was the sort of thinking which, again, led us to where we are on the child abuse question. Yes, God forgives the repentant sinner, but it is a little naive to suppose that a child abuser can be stopped by forgiving him after he has confessed; it doesn’t work that way.
But, one the other side of the question, the critics of the Church also have to learn how to make their case effectively. Too often it can come across as carping and over personalised. That might be because the hierarchy has never shown itself either welcoming of private criticism, or liable to act on it, but even if that is the case, we need to find ways, as Catholics, of talking to each other in ways that does not sound bitter. There is a witness we all give to the world, whether we notice it or not. So for Lent, we might all ponder on how to make it a better one.