At the beginning of the week the World Health Organisation told us that half the population of the world has been vaccinated but that only 7% of the peoples of Africa have been. The following day India announced it would be producing one billion vaccines for Africa. That was wonderful to hear. No mention of who would bear the cost of production, distribution, nurses, health care workers and doctors who would administer the vaccinations, but the news and offer stood: Africa, for India, was of first importance.
As the week developed so other news replaced that inspiring beginning. Relaxation of Covid-19 protection measures in England, a sudden understanding that we had become too cautious, people needed to feel more free – and behold, it came true. The government had wished away some of the precautions that it had been insisting on. I saw the figures that evening: 108,000 new cases, 398 deaths – those figures were actually worse. What should I believe?
Mr Drakeford, the quiet Welsh first minister, was asked the same question and drily replied he thought the relaxed measures had more to do with the English prime minister’s desperate holding on to power than with the science. Could that be true, I wondered in my Welsh way? Would a prime minister put people’s lives at risk, pander to loud public opinion, for a brief extension of his time in power? Perish the thought, says St Matthew’s Gospel: “Do not judge and you will not be judged.”
On Thursday we had the headlines of Pope Benedict XVII’s failure to deal justly with sex abuse cases when he was an archbishop. More covers up shouted the TV and radio, and printed the newspapers. Not really: simply news of some cases recently opened up. We already knew of Pope Benedict’s failure and that of Pope John Paul II to deal with abuse. I’ve mentioned in the parish newsletter with disappointment and anger that the failure for our abused children and women to receive justice goes to the top of the Church. I have told you of the terrible cry at the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome in 2005, when Cardinal Ratzinger cried out the words “How much filth there is in the Church and even in the priesthood which ought to belong entirely to God” – words written by Pope John Paul II now too weak to lead the Stations. They both knew of the horror of abuse.
Benedict admitted in the book “Light of the World” that he knew of the corruption, especially sexual corruption, and that he did not know what to do. He resigned to leave the dreadful task to a younger and stronger man.
Then came Pope Francis. He knows: the frightening numbers, the awful suffering, the denial of justice, the hiding of the truth and he knows the Vatican that plays the game that all-powerful men play – self-protection. “A nest of vipers”, Pope Francis’ sister foolishly told reporters her brother called the Vatican, on the day her brother was elected, and she so proud of him – but creating enemies by quoting what she knew he thought of the government officials with which he have to deal in Rome.
He has tried. You know that. He can’t do it. You see that. So he has appealed to the people of the Church for help, asking us to be involved in a synod, a public consultation. He wants us to help create a spirit of justice, healing, mercy – to bring alive Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel at mass.
“Good news to the poor, set downtrodden free, liberty to captives.”
We have been invited. Are you coming?
(23rd Jan 2022)