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U.S.News & World Report

Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Scandal Is No 'Smear' Campaign of Pope

April 07, 2010 12:11 PM ET | Mary Kate Cary
By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Over Easter weekend, the pope said nothing about the sexual abuse scandal that continues to unfold. Instead, at Easter Mass at the Vatican, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, said a few words unexpectedly, according to the New York Times:

"With this spirit today we gather around you, successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome, the unfailing rock of the Holy Church of Christ ... Holy Father, the people of God are with you, and do not let themselves be impressed by the gossip of the moment, by the challenges that sometimes strike at the community of believers."

The Times also refers to an article in the Vatican newspaper that collected words of support for the pope from bishops and cardinals around the world, who variously called the questions about the pope's knowledge of child sexual abuse cases "defamation," "lies and vileness," and "a smear campaign" against the pontiff.

I don't think the church is facing a smear campaign from its enemies, and I don't think that this story is just some sort of "gossip." I agree with the newly ordained priest whose first Easter Mass I attended Sunday: that these allegations of crimes against children and their cover-up are akin to the initial disappointment of the women on Easter morning. They first found the empty tomb of Christ and thought something had gone horribly wrong. We all have our empty tombs—heartbreaking moments of disappointment, betrayal, or sadness. And to many Catholics, that's just what this is: heartbreaking.

Here's my recent column on the problems surrounding the Catholic Church's hierarchy, especially between the nuns and the bishops. For the hierarchy of the church to imply that the controversy is a "challenge" coming from outside the community of believers is just wrong. The people who are most worked up about the charges of sexual abuse are not the so-called enemies of the church, but the young Catholic victims and their families, the lay parishioners and parents of children being raised in the church, and the good priests whose reputations are being tarred by this. At another Easter Mass in my neighborhood, at a parish so full of young families they have overflow seating in the gym every Sunday, the monsignor got a standing ovation after saying he thought the children would have been better protected if women had been in the leadership of the church in the first place, and that the bishops involved should resign. I've never seen a standing ovation in church in my life. It's the community of believers who are as mad as hell. Really, it's heartbreaking.

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