The joyful proclamation of the Easter message of hope through the risen Christ was not meant to happen this year. What was supposed to happen was an abasing apology from the leader of the Catholic Church of complicity in the scandal of paedophile priests over twenty years ago. The dream scenario would have been his immediate resignation. It didn’t happen- even so what didn’t happen became a news headline in itself. “Pope Benedict did not apologise for the paedophile priests’ scandal during his Easter message”. No, contrary to the plan, he spoke about the victory of Jesus Christ which is the true and only Easter message.
The attempt to link Pope Benedict to the shameful actions of some priests in the U.S.A., Ireland and other countries began in earnest on March 25th just before Holy Week. Starting from the New York Times who took up a story from a disgraced Roman Catholic Bishop (who used half a million dollars of Diocesan funds to bribe a male lover into silence- never mentioned of course) which was taken up by newspapers and television around the world. Other stories surfaced and were reported without careful checking of facts and showing serious misunderstandings of how the Catholic Church disciplinary system works. The common thread was the attempt to demonstrate the personal responsibility of Pope Benedict himself.
So why was this Pope singled out? Well firstly because if the man at the top is discredited then so is the whole church, and atheistic secularists want that very much. The church is seen as the main opposition to the social and sexual revolution the west has embarked upon. The Church opposes vigorously nearly all of what this involves: easy contraception and equally easy abortion; the disregard for human life when it is weakest, at its beginning or towards its end; the devaluing of marriage through easy divorce and same sex partnerships and the militant gay agenda which would have all its critics silenced by law. The opposition of the church to all this is nothing new however, so why go for Pope Benedict now?
Pope John Paul II was known to be a conservative and the liberal western elite could not be happy in that but his popularity made criticism of him difficult. He was though, getting older and older and then there could be a new dawn as a younger liberal Pope opened up more windows and give the new social and sexual order his blessing. And Pope John-Paul did die and Cardinal Ratzinger, the last man they wanted, became Pope Benedict XVI. In these priestly scandals of the past they at last had something they hoped would discredit him or force him out.
Alongside his secular opponents there are plenty of “new order” Christians within the catholic church and outside it who make no secret of their dislike for this Pope who has restored a more traditional liturgy and supported traditionalist groups in the Catholic Church,even reaching out to traditionalists in the Anglican Communion as well. Traditional church teachings have not been relaxed one bit. He has also taken firm action against priests involved in sexual scandal and lax bishops who failed to act decisively in this matter.
We traditionalist Anglicans should see in Pope Benedict’s trials at the moment something very similar to our own experience. In the Church of England we are particularly exposed to those in British society and the media who say that the established church should follow the trends of British social life so that the church remains relevant. And inside our own church we are vilified for holding biblical and apostolic teaching, both on ministry in the church and sexual ethics.
Pope Benedict needs the prayers and support of traditionalist Anglicans, not just in return for his concern for us but because the trials he is facing are our trials too and if he is brought down we will suffer as a consequence.