Jesus had problems with his bishops long before His bumbling bench of disciples got a promotion and a pointy hat.
One of the first things they didn't "get," back in the 18th chapter of Luke, was the Boss' memo about how "everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Quickly after, still scratching their heads over that pronouncement, no doubt, the clerics to be tried to shoo away children seeking the good rabbi.
Luke sets the scene in Judea on what had been a long, tiring day.
"People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them," the evangelist writes, "and when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.
"Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, 'Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.'"
ALMOST 2,000 years later, the successors to the disciples still don't "get" it. In fact, too many of them absolutely have perverted Jesus' unambiguous admonition.
In America and, as we now learn, all across the world, far too many Catholic priests -- these men who act "in persona Christi," in the person of Christ, at the altar -- let the children come to them all right . . . and then molested and raped them. Then, in the name of not giving "scandal," bishops protected not the children but, instead, their violators.
If what Jesus said is really so, and the "the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" -- the children -- and the bureaucracy of the church has spent decades acting contrarily, what then is the kingdom to which it lays claim?
If the guardians of the Catholic faith obscure the kingdom of God behind a phalanx of bureaucrats and canon lawyers -- with secrecy their cry and Vatican letters their shield -- does that mean they've decided to deny Jesus in order to save His church? Has the magisterium suspended "whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it," kind of like Abraham Lincoln suspended habeus corpus during the Civil War?
Do they consider that it is better for us that a few kids be thrown to the wolves instead of the hierarchy, so that the whole church may not perish? Is that it? Why does that sound familiar?
UNBELIEVABLY, the Vatican seeks to portray itself as the victim in all this -- hounded by the "pagan" media much as Caligula and Nero tormented the early church.
I am not making this up. Unfortunately, neither is The Associated Press:
The Vatican heatedly defended Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday, claiming accusations that he helped cover up the actions of pedophile priests are part of an anti-Catholic "hate" campaign targeting the pope for his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.NO, the "persecution" of the church by the press comes not because the pope "defends life and the family," but -- ironically -- because some elements of the church have been acting like (or covering up for those who've been acting like) Caligula. Or, at a minimum, a guest at one of the mad emperor's Roman orgies.
Vatican Radio broadcast comments by two senior cardinals explaining "the motive for these attacks" on the pope and the Vatican newspaper chipped in with spirited comments from another top cardinal.
"The pope defends life and the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, in a world in which powerful lobbies would like to impose a completely different" agenda, Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, head of the disciplinary commission for Holy See officials, said on the radio.
"There are those who fear the media campaign of anti-Catholic hatred can degenerate," Vatican Radio said.
It noted anti-Catholic graffiti on walls of a church outside Viterbo, a town near Rome, and reminded listeners that a bishop was attacked by a man during Easter Mass in Muenster, Germany. The bishop fought back with an incense bowl.
The radio likened the recent campaign to the persecution suffered by early Christian martyrs. "The crowds, incited by the slanders of the powerful, would lynch the Christians," the radio said.
The thing about the press is this: If you're in public life and generally keep your nose (and other appendages) clean, reporters generally don't go around creating slanders out of thin air with which to persecute you. If you're getting bashed, oftentimes it's because you handed someone a baseball bat and dared them to use it.
The Vatican's problem -- more our problem, actually -- is that its clerics and functionaries forget whom they serve. Sometimes, they're just serving themselves . . . perpetuating the bureaucracy and the institution with no regard for the first principles that gave life to the institution.
Other times, they're serving the pope -- sheltering a pope from scrutiny, accountability and, ultimately, reality. It's as if they have no faith that a church built upon the "rock"-- Cephas . . . Petrus . . . Peter . . . the clueless bumbler formerly known as Simon -- who denied Christ three times could survive a present-day pope being exposed as a fairly ordinary specimen of fallen humanity.
It's as if these slobbering toadies think only an übermensch with no need of Christ's saving grace could lead the church toward that Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
At no time in all of this has anyone at the Vatican given the impression of actually being, first and foremost, a servant of Jesus. Or of the billion Catholics today who, tragically, find themselves in the spiritual care of self-pitying political creatures such as these.
Really, were the last words of our first pope -- the martyred Peter -- "Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"? Somehow, I think not.
IN MATTHEW 18, Jesus has a few things to say about children, the hierarchy of heaven and the fate of those who causes the "little ones" to fall:
Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.IN THE CONTEXT of this particular Catholic moment -- one that has been decades in the making -- no fair reading of Jesus' words from Matthew would point toward divine condemnation of how the press has covered the scandals.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!
If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire.
And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna.
"See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.
But if anyone in Rome -- or among various mau-mauers taking up space on the world's hapless bench of bishops -- finds Christ's words here somehow discomfiting . . . well, I don't think that would be an unreasonable reaction.
We live in a world that is sick unto death. We are beset by death-lovers and death-dealers. We are slaves to materialism. We live amid a culture where vulgarity has beauty in full retreat.
We need Jesus. We need His saving grace -- all of us, Catholics, Protestants, pagans . . whatever.
We need to see Jesus. We need to see Him in all things -- and especially in His church.
Somehow, those who administer Christ's church on His behalf have come between the Son of Man and those of us who stand at a distance, crying "Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!"
We look for God, but do not see Him in Rome.
We look to the successors of the apostles but, at best, we catch only fleeting glimpses of pre-Pentecost imitators.
We listen for the Truth, but what we've been hearing of late -- from Rome -- sounds more like the Father of Lies to me.