The most condemning words about the Catholic Church that have been spoken in our lifetime are words of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. We shall not hear stronger. The words were spoken at the Stations of the Cross in Rome in 2005, written by Pope John Paul and spoken by his great friend Cardinal Ratzinger. A few weeks later Pope John Paul died and his friend was elected Pope Benedict XVI. Their cry was heard by the Church and by the world. The cry told us they knew of terrible corruption and had been unable to defeat it. They had failed. They knew. They had not protected the Church nor the many who had suffered because of that corruption.
Do you remember the extraordinary crowds at Pope John Paul’s funeral, the queues in the streets of Rome just to file past his coffin? The world had never seen a funeral like that. It could only happen in our time because of the ease of travel and the people came from around the world, ordinary just like you and me, to express love and gratitude for someone who had stood on the world stage, admired as a great statesman of the 20th century.
The world grieved with us. “Santo subito” – “Saint straight away” sang the people and Pope Benedict obeyed. Within a very short while, against the cautionary words of some wise Church voices, we had St John Paul. It won’t happen like that again. Details of how he had dealt with some good bishops, his arrangements with military regimes, close links with President Ronald Reagan and his support for right-wing dictatorships; and details of his private life became a scandalous story told in part by the BBC and a Catholic journalist of a collection of private letters bought by the Polish National Archives at huge costs by a conniving woman and her husband.
I remember my anger as I watched that programme, knowing the Pope would have known nothing of her money-making plans, that he could become a victim of cruel gossip if things went sour. I was angry and sad, as we all are when see people’s reputation in the power of those who can threaten to use that power.
Trolls are evil because they hide their wickedness behind the condemning of others and social media reveals that constantly. When we know and love and understand we are careful to judge and very careful to condemn – which is why those words at the Stations of the Cross in 2005 are so important. They were spoken by two popes in full knowledge the Church and world would hear them, hear the failures they had both been, their agony that they had know about the corruption and the suffering it had brought – and thus had failed the people of God.
“How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him,” wrote Pope John Paul; and in his first sermon Pope Benedict said “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves.” Pope Benedict resigned because he could take no more. Pope Francis inherited their failures. Unafraid, he seemed, but he has not succeeded. Will he, before he dies or resigns? His sister foolishly told journalists she wondered how her brother would cope at the Vatican which, she said, he called “a nest of vipers”. On the day he was elected she told journalist that! The vipers were waiting for him. Would he dare try to disturb them? It has been a fascinating battle and Synod 2023 might be his final hope. Support him with your love and interest.
God bless Pope Francis and the Church to be true,
(3rd July 2022)