Valletta, Malta -- By meeting privately with sex abuse victims here, but avoiding any public apologies or defense of his record on handling sex abuse cases, Pope Benedict XVI seems to have confirmed his strategy for engaging the fallout from the crisis, one that might be summarized in a sound-bite: “Pastoral, not Political.”
tIn other words, Benedict is willing to do the behind-the-scenes pastoral outreach he believes the suffering of victims demands, but he is otherwise largely opting out of the wider public debate over the church’s policies on sexual abuse, as well as the critical examination of his past.
I bet a good number of people who read NCR Today will resonate with this column, written by Nicholas D. Kristof, and appearing in The New York Times today. Kristof writes about the Vatican, as it "wrestles with the consequences of a patriarchal premodern mind-set," going on to describe another Catholic church he has gotten to know over the years.
The following is how he describes that church and, in a few paragraphs, casts light on some of the ingredients of Catholicism that inspire so many of us. I know that every regular NCR reader personally knows some of the priests, nuns and lay persons he refers to in his column.
You might add their names, as comments, when you think of them.
Valletta, Malta -- One of the eight victims of sexual abuse who met Pope Benedict XVI today in Malta described the encounter as "very emotional," saying most of those present were crying, and even the pope had "tears in his eyes."
"I made peace with the church," said Joseph Magro, one of the victims who met the pope.
Valletta, Malta -- A Vatican spokesperson confirmed this afternoon that Pope Benedict XVI has had a private meeting with victims of sexual abuse in Malta. It is the pope’s third such encounter, after meetings with victims in the United States in April 2008 and, in July of the same year, in Australia.
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
tPope Benedict XVI this morning delivered a strong appeal to Malta to resist secularizing currents during his homily at a large open-air Mass, staged in a public square called “the Granaries” because it was once used to protect Malta’s food supply.
tIn effect, Benedict urged Malta to make its cultural exchange with Europe a two-way street, evangelizing the secular world rather than being evangelized by it.
“Not everything that today’s world proposes is worthy of acceptance by the people of Malta,” Benedict insisted.
“Many voices try to persuade us to put aside our faith in God and his Church, and to choose for ourselves the values and beliefs by which to live,” the pope said. “They tell us we have no need of God or the Church.”
Instead, the pope urged the Maltese to hold onto this conviction: “At every moment of our lives we depend entirely on God, in whom we live and move and have our being.”
In the first place Benedict was making a spiritual point, but the argument also had clear cultural, social and even political resonance in terms of defending Christian principles.
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
tTo the extent that the Vatican has a discernible public relations strategy for Pope Benedict XVI's weekend visit to the island nation of Malta, it might be expressed in a simple formula: "Let Benedict be Benedict."
tRather than allowing the global media to set the agenda, which in practice would have meant a near-exclusive focus on the sexual abuse crisis, the pontiff has instead concentrated on his core themes: Europe’s Christian roots, the struggle to defend human life and the family, a welcoming stance towards immigrants, and the important of not succumbing to secular values and relativism.
tAt least on the ground in this nation of 400,000, where 94 percent of the population is Catholic, the strategy appears to be working. Crowds for the pope have been large and lively, and the Times of Malta led its day one wrap-up coverage by referring to the “enthusiastic welcome” the pope received.
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
tThough Pope Benedict XVI is struggling mightily to keep the focus on Malta and St. Paul during his weekend stopover here, fallout from the sexual abuse crisis continues to hang over the trip like the clouds of ash from an Icelandic volcano which are currently hovering over much of Europe.
tThree fresh developments are keeping the crisis story alive, even as Benedict receives a warm and enthusiastic welcome from thousands of people in this tiny Mediterranean island nation:
- In Italy, an essay in the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference described a Nazi smear campaign against the Catholic church based on reports of pedophile priests which was orchestrated by Joseph Goebbels in 1937, hinting that criticism voiced on the same theme in recent weeks bears striking parallels;
- In Spain, a defiant Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, now 81 and retired, insisted that he had the approval of Pope John Paul II when he sent a letter to a French bishop in 2001 applauding him for not reporting an abuser priest to the police;
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
tWhile the sex abuse crisis is inevitably part of the subtext to Pope Benedict XVI’s April 17-18 visit to Malta, so far it has not been the top note in the pope’s own remarks. Instead, Benedict has interwoven notes of gratitude for Malta’s Catholic past with strong pleas to preserve the that identity in the present.
tIn his brief remarks at Luqa airport, Benedict applauded the rich tradition of Maltese missionaries, and called upon Malta to play a role in elaborating “European identity, culture and policy.”
tThe pontiff then ticked off a host of specific issues to which Malta can make a contribution: “Tolerance, reciprocity, immigration,” as well as “the true nature of the family,” “the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death,” and respect for religious freedom.
Valletta, Malta -- Heading into Pope Benedict XVI’s weekend trip to Malta, the $64,000 question for the global media was whether, and how, the pontiff would address the sexual abuse crisis facing the Catholic church, both here in Malta and around the world.
tSo far, however, the most incisive words on the crisis have come not from the pope but rather from his official host, Maltese President George Abela – a prominent Catholic lawyer who has also worked over the years for church courts on marriage issues.