Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Will These Words Precede Deeds?

The latest BBC News report on the Vatican abuse scandal seems to indicate that the Pope is finally beginning to come to grips with the harsh reality of the situation:

Pope Benedict XVI says the Church's child abuse scandal shows that the greatest threat to Catholicism comes from "sin within" the Church.

He made his comments in response to a question while en route to Portugal.

Critics have previously accused the Vatican of attempting to blame the media and the Church's opponents for the escalation of the scandal.

But the Pope made clear its origin came from within the Church itself, and said forgiveness "does not replace justice".

'Need for penance'

"Today we see in a truly terrifying way that the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from outside enemies, but is born of sin within the Church," the pontiff told reporters on a plane bound for Portugal.

His comments were his most direct response to press questions, and some of his strongest words yet on the abuse scandal, says the BBC's Vatican Correspondent, who is travelling with the Pope.

Benedict said the Church has "a very deep need" to acknowledge that it must do penance for its sins and "accept purification".

However, he added that forgiveness should not be a substitute for justice.

I am comforted by the appearance of justice as a recurring theme in this text. It gives me some hope that, having grasped the magnitude of the crisis facing him, the Pope may finally realize that this is not a problem to be addressed by his usual lofty abstractions. I would further hope that, if he still needs to exercise his mind with philosophy, he would consider the following passage that the Jewish philosopher used to begin his Preface to Ten Rungs, a collection of Hassidic sayings:

They asked the "holy Yehudi": "Why is it written: 'Justice, justice, shalt thou follow' [Deut. 16:20? Why is the word 'justice' repeated?"

He answered: "We ought to follow justice with justice, and not with unrighteousness." That means: the use of unrighteousness as a means to a righteous end makes the end itself unrighteous; injustice as a means to justice renders justice unjust.

It is not enough to invoke the principle of justice. The word has no meaning without at least two necessary contextual foundations. The first concerns the grounds for justice: justice according to what precepts, whether documented in sacred or secular texts or implicit in the normative behavior of a community (as in justice by precedent)? The second concerns who dispenses the justice. If an infraction violates both civil and religious codes, which is the higher authority to rule on questions of crime and punishment? These are not simple matters; and they may well pose challenges to the sort of intellect of which the Pope seems to be so proud (if that is not a cardinal sin). The last thing the offended parties (as well as the Vatican) need is "injustice as a means to justice;" so the next step should be for the Pope to lay out a plan to prevent such an occurrence.

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