NCR Dumps on Pope Francis and his Pastor

Their editorial: “Reality check was missing at US bishops' retreat.” NCR’s criticisms of the recent prayer meeting ordered by Pope Francis had a good deal in common with my previous blog (Pope’s Pastor in Bishops’ Prayer Session). Not surprisingly, NCR pulled many punches. But so far, only NCR has had the integrity to criticize it. Other Catholic papers refused to cover this embarrassment.

While the week-long retreat was originally supposed to focus on child abuse, Father Cantalamessa, the pope’s pastor and designated leader for the retreat, said Pope Francis told him to “lead a week of spiritual exercises for the bishop conference so that the bishops, far from their daily commitments, in a climate of prayer and silence and in a personal encounter with the Lord, may receive the strength and light of the Holy Spirit to find the right solution for the problems that afflict the church of the United States today.” You can’t really blame Father Cantalamessa for not finding any meaningful directions in this blather.

But it is shocking that Father Cantalamessa excluded the child abuse crisis from “the problems that afflict the church of the United States today.” This is part of the lack of a “reality check” that NCR complains of: “

“Why, if the sex abuse crisis and the bishops' mishandling of it was the impetus for the retreat, was it taken off the agenda as a topic to be dealt with? Why couldn't the spiritual exercises involve leading the bishops corporately to the basic requirements of the tradition — telling the truth, repenting, seeking forgiveness — necessary for reconciliation and rebuilding trust with the community?”

The first question is to the point. Their second point about repenting and telling the truth is no doubt necessary. More importantly, it implies that the Church has done neither – even after decades. But repenting and telling the truth are far from sufficient to solve the problem. After decades, you'd expect a lot more progress.

NCR goes further: “It appears to us that most of Cantalamessa's oratory presumes that there is not much wrong with the status quo. He seems oblivious to the depth of the problem or how disruptive it's been to the victims, their families and, by extension, the wider Catholic community.” Here NCR is too timid to name Pope Francis, who almost certainly shares this view. Pope Francis, in charging Cantalamessa with leading this meeting, failed to instill any sense of the atrocity of child abuse and the urgency of addressing it.

Father Cantalamessa told the bishops “to put ‘a cloud of forgetting beneath’ them, leaving behind ‘every problem, project or anxiety we may have at the moment.’ If only the rest of the church had such luxury available.” This is basically adding insult to injury. Pope Francis inherited a crisis more than five years ago, and has pretty much put ‘a cloud of forgetting’ over it. But burying your head doesn’t solve the problem.

NCR was also amazed at Cantalamessa’s comparisons with Jesus: “many bishops in the Catholic Church, starting with the bishop of Rome, are experiencing right now exactly what Jesus experienced in Gethsemane. As we have seen the ultimate cause of his suffering … consisted in taking upon himself sins that he had not committed himself and in bearing responsibility for them in front of the Father.”

NCR’s comment: “it doesn't take an expert to know that the comparison is woefully out of whack. It might work better had the preacher placed the victims in the garden.” NCR went so far as to say the Pope and the bishops “don't compare very favorably with Jesus.” They declined to note that the Pope and his bishops don't even compare favorably with politicians in Washington.

Catholic media are generally cogs in the Vatican’s propaganda machine. These comments by NCR, restrained as they may seem, are radical for the Catholic community. The rest of the Catholic press has chosen silence over truth-telling.


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