Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Don't Pity the Pope

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on April 17, 2010
It is generally unwise to write an opinion column on religion. So I won’t. But I am going to offer an opinion on the recent political and legal actions – or inactions – of the Catholic Church.

It has been a rough few weeks for the Church worldwide. The difficult and emotional issue of child abuse allegedly perpetrated by priests and ignored or covered up by Church officials has once again raised its ugly head. But this time accusations of a cover-up have not only reached the Vatican, but extended to the religious leader and Vatican head of state – His Holiness Pope Benedict.

Files recently made public as a result of a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee show Vatican officials were made aware of alleged abuse committed by a priest at a school for deaf children in Wisconsin. The case in question was handled by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led from 1981-2005 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict.

The priest in question, the late Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, was never dismissed by the church. Nor was he ever prosecuted by civilian legal authorities. He was transferred by church officials to a diocese in northern Wisconsin where he served his final 24 years of life working freely with children and parishioners.

Vatican and church officials have quickly rallied to defend Pope Benedict, strongly denying he ever had personal knowledge of the abuse situation. Many have denounced the accusations against the then-Cardinal as an attack on the Catholic Church, with one high-ranking official comparing it to anti-Semitism. Lawyers for the Vatican have also indicated the Pope has status as a secular Head-of-State, and therefore would have immunity from being forced to testify in any legal proceedings.

It is unfair and wrong to associate these horrible acts by criminal clerics with the core beliefs and faith of the Catholic Church. If that is indeed what some critics are doing, they should be ashamed of themselves.

But the actions of individual men and women – even in the name of religion – are indeed open to not only criticisms but legal action. You cannot and should not be allowed to abuse children nor hide the actions of any abuser without becoming liable for the consequences.

Thus far it appears the Catholic Church hierarchy is utilizing the “They’re Picking On Us” defense in battling the most current scandal. They are circling the wagons and attempting to portray those critical of them as anti-Catholic. And indeed, it is likely some of them actually are.

But it is not the faith or beliefs of the Catholic Church that are being questioned and tested here. Rather, it is how the flesh-and-blood people who run the multi-billion dollar entity that is the business end of the Church have conducted themselves and that business.

That should not be cloaked in religious terms. Just as the accusers should not indict an entire religion for these alleged horrific acts, the church organization itself should not seek to deflect attention from its own mistakes by questioning the integrity of victims and others unfairly.

Catholics in this area are many and devout. In Norton, a new St. Mary’s Church will open this month with a joyous celebration involving the entire community at a time when some churches are closing or consolidating. Throughout the area, Catholics remain firm in their faith and secure in their beliefs.

But it is hard to imagine they do not question the actions of some Catholic officials. It is hard to believe they approve of Cardinal Law remaining protected in Rome rather than facing investigation here. It is certain they are appalled by a priest who allegedly molested deaf children being transferred rather than disciplined by the Church or prosecuted with the Church’s help.

Can we clearly differentiate between the faith of a religion and the system created by the human beings who run it? I believe we can, I believe we should, and I believe we must.

This is dangerous ground, and those who believe their church leaders to be the infallible continuation of God on Earth will no doubt take issue. But on the list of those being treated unfairly right now, the Catholic Church doesn’t even make the top 10.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist who can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Grandson Will Turns Two!

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on April 3, 2010.
My grandson (did I mention his name is William?) turns two today. So yes, I’m writing about him again. Deal with it.

His birthday falls one week after my own and one day before his mothers’, which effectively renders both those birthdays meaningless. So Happy Birthday also to my beautiful daughter-in-law, now forever burdened with being the mother of the world’s most perfect child.

There is nothing more boring than a grandparent bragging about their grandchild. The simplest accomplishments become landmark achievements. We forget our own kids did this stuff, and that we laughed mightily when our parents created a fuss over the most mundane events.

But of course, that was THEIR grandchild. When it is YOUR grandchild, the rules are completely different.

We have already had a party for Will, complete with all the toys his parents politely asked us not to get. He got clothes from Grandma, but she also helped me pick out the motorized toy forklift he loves, like the real one Grandpa lets him sit on at his work. Needless to stay, that noisy toy is living at Grandpa’s house.

Two is a wonderful though certainly challenging age. Will is much more verbal now, which is both good and bad. While hearing “I wuv you Poppa” just makes my day, the constant requests for “outside” and “go car” can sometimes be a bit much. And as you might imagine, when visiting Grandma and Grandpa he tends to get what he asks for.

We get the fun stuff, leaving the more serious and difficult tasks to his parents. That’s the true joy of grand-parenting. It is a loophole I complained about constantly when it came to my own kids and their grandparents, but one I am fully enjoying these days.

But a few weeks ago something happened to put things in perspective. A couple we know encountered a situation that made me stop and appreciate just how fortunate I am, and how quickly that can change in ways simply unthinkable.

These folks have grandchildren, and one of those precious youngsters recently had a sudden and serious medical situation requiring both risky surgery and ongoing difficult treatments. This is complicated by the fact the kids and their parents live a considerable distance away.

As our friends rushed to the side of their stricken grandchild (who right now is doing fine, thank goodness) I was overwhelmed with concern and worry for this small child I have never met. While any seriously sick kid is something that concerns me, knowing the child’s grandparents put the whole thing in a new and different light.

The thought of anything serious happening to my grandson is absolutely paralyzing. I know as he grows there will be the inevitable cuts and scrapes, broken bones, and other injuries that are just a part of growing up. But the idea any type of serious disease could be lurking out there waiting to attack this little person I adore is almost enough to make me look for one of those plastic bubbles you read about in the science fiction stories.

Of course, I can’t do that – and I really wouldn’t want to. I want my grandson to grow up, deal with the serious issues in his life, get over the first time someone breaks his heart, and enjoy the balance that makes life worth living.

I’m so lucky to be able to enjoy him. I am sure in the future I will have the pleasure of experiencing more grandchildren, and I will love them all just as much (even when their names aren’t William).

But I pray I have never have to face that moment of fear our friends have, the fear that must be all-consuming and life-altering. With great love comes great risk. I know I signed on for all of it, the good and the bad. It is worth it in the end, but forgive me for selfishly hoping I can skip the really hard parts.

Happy Birthday to my grandson (his name is William, in case you were wondering). I know you are the birthday boy here, but you are also one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and has a grandson named William – in case you hadn’t heard. He can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.