Wednesday, April 12, 2006
—Song by Jimi Hendrix
There is some good news (in the non-Gospel sense) and some bad news from the Roman Catholic Church. The good news is found in the audit report prepared by the Gavin Group, Inc. for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The report finds that in 2005 the Bishops received only 783 new accusations of sexual abuse committed by priests, a significant decline from the 1,092 reported in 2004. Only 9 of the new accusations were for incidents occurring in 2004.
The decline can be attributed to a new policy adopted in 2002 known as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Among its mandates is the creation of safe environment programs for, among others, “children and youth . . .. about ways to make and maintain a safe environment for children.” 5,760,333 children received safe environment training in 2005 compared with 3,139,441 children who received that training during 2004. The total population of children entrusted to the care of the church is reportedly 6,078,759 so it is obvious that good progress is being made in teaching children how to protect themselves from the shepherds to whose care they have been entrusted.
Less cheery is the news that at about the time many Muslims were wreaking havoc around the world because of some offensive cartoons first published in Denmark, and others were urging acts of terrorism against the West because of Mr. Bush’s war, Pope Benedict decided that this was a good time to correct the historical record pertaining to the Crusades.
The Crusades have been a delicate historical subject for years. When Mr. Bush referred to his invasion of Iraq as a “crusade”, it was pointed out to him that the word suggested a religious war against Muslims and he should look in the dark recesses of what passes for a mind to find another word to describe his courageous assault on Iraq. The delicacy of the subject, however, escaped Pope Benedict and his advisors. The Vatican recently sponsored a conference that says the Crusades were wars that had the “noble aim” of recapturing the Holy Land for Christianity.
By organizing the conference now, Pope Benedict demonstrates a keen sense of timing. It also shows that even though he has helped his predecessor board the fast train for Sainthood, he didn’t know what he was talking about when it came to the Crusades.
Pope John Paul II had used the occasion of the 2000-millennium celebration to ask “pardon” for the Crusades. That act of contrition did not resonate with conservative members of the Church who look back with considerable fondness on those halcyon days. Among the conservatives on whose deaf ears the request for pardon fell, was Joe Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI.
Although Joe, or Benedict as he now prefers to be called, called for dialogue betweem Muslims and Jews at the time when he changed his name in 2005, he also said that Muslim culture is at variance with Europe’s Christian roots. He could have said that about lots of other cultures but he didn’t think of it.
At the Vatican sponsored conference, the Italian historian Roberto De Mattei said the Crusades were a “response to the Muslim invasion of Christian lands and the Muslim devastation of the Holy Places”. He described the Crusaders as “martyrs” who “sacrificed their lives for the faith”. Jonathan Riley-Smith, Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University said people who asked forgiveness for the Crusades “do not know their history”. He may have been thinking of Pope John Paul II who was probably the last public figure to comment on the Crusades since news of the Crusades has been replaced on the nightly news by news of what’s happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name just two of the places that have pushed the Crusades off the front page.
Although columnists are believed to have opinions about almost everything and in some cases do, I have no opinion at all about who were the good and the bad guys in the Crusades. The only thing of which I am sure is that there is considerable tension between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world. That tension is manifested daily in random acts of violence committed against soldier and non-soldier alike, in far off places and close to home by those espousing one religion or another. It seems a singularly peculiar time to host a conference designed to rehabilitate that, for which in 2000, Pope John Paul II apologized. To the uninformed it would seem of little moment whether the Crusades were or were not a good thing. It is a debate that could easily be saved for a quieter time. It’s too bad no one mentioned that to Joe.