Art Goodtimes’ stint in the seminary was apparently not quite long enough to learn what is meant by the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility (Up Bear Creek, Nov. 29th, “Reading a History of the Vatican”). Infallibility is often mistakenly assumed to mean “impeccability”, that the popes do not sin. Given what we know from history and our own common sense, that would be a ludicrous doctrine indeed. Rather, infallibility means that the pope is protected by the Holy Spirit from teaching error when he issues a solemn statement regarding faith and morals.
The clergy sex abuse scandals to which Mr. Goodtimes also refers were indeed heinous and deeply sad. This was a great failure of leadership within the Church, and it will be many years before the wounds caused by it can be healed. Sadly, many Catholic bishops relied on the advice of secular psychologists, also relied on by public school administrators and authority figures in other faiths and institutions who were dealing with the same issue. For many years, psychologists believed that sexual abusers could be rehabilitated. Only a decades-long trail of broken lives and hearts has revealed that while rehabilitation may be possible for sexual abusers, they can never be entrusted in positions of authority with children or vulnerable persons. Moreover, it has become clear that our churches, schools, and other institutions must have an “open-door” policy in which people of authority are never put in a position where they might have the opportunity to exploit those entrusted to their care.
And yet…I must admit I am sick to death of reading Mr.Goodtimes’ and other Telluride Watch columnists’ and cartoonists’ hateful and continuous jabs at the Church I love. Are you not aware that the Catholic Church is the largest humanitarian organization in the world, bar none? A few years ago I had the chance to spend a day working at the hospice in Greenwich Village that Mother Teresa started in New York in 1985 to care for homosexual men who were dying of AIDS. In 1987 she started another in Washington, D.C. This was at a time when the disease was still widely misunderstood, and people with AIDS were treated like lepers.
At times, terrible things have happened in Catholic Church for the past two millennia. But this is also the Church that has produced millions of great saints, known and unknown, who have devoted their entire lives caring for the poor and standing up for the vulnerable. A lesser-known modern saint is Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, who was one of the many Catholic priests interned in the concentrations camps for his outspoken criticism of the Nazis. One day a fellow prisoner was selected to die in the starvation bunker, and he cried out to to be spared because he had a wife and children at home who needed him. Fr. Kolbe volunteered to die his place. He spent his last days comforting the others dying with him and leading them in prayer.
A dear friend of mine who is a priest, a wonderful, hard-working, down-to-earth man who runs himself ragged every day ministering to the poor, the sick, the dying, and others who need him, often says with a mischievous grin, “When you find a perfect church, go join it. Then it won’t be perfect anymore.”
– Maria Lynch, Montrose