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THE NEW POPE’S GREATEST CHALLENGE

March 12, 2013 · 

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By Fr. Shay Cullen

There are those Church leaders that exist in the present but their mind and heart is buried in the past. There are those that live in the present but cannot see the future and have forgotten the past. There are those who combine the best of the past and the present and can lead with courage into the future.

The New Pope has to be such a leader of courage, strength and uncompromising spiritual and moral rectitude. He needs to be fearless in dealing with the intrigues of the Vatican hierarchy so that he can act forcibly to end once and for all the biggest issues facing the Church as an institution namely the clerical sexual abuse of children and the wrong doing that permitted the cover-up of the crimes against children.

In a survey last month of over a thousand readers, the Union of Catholic Asian News Agency (UCAN) found that this issue is the most urgent mission for the new Pope to tackle. He will need the full support of the truly faithful laity worldwide for this immense task. He will be battling those ultra conservative forces among the hierarchy and curia that prefer a cover-up of clerical sex crimes rather than direct action to turf them out into the deepest ocean with a stone around their neck, as Jesus of Nazareth said should be done.

It was to this fraction that our own Filipino Archbishop of Manila Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, 55, is said to have addressed in his famous remarks when he called on the Bishops of the world during the Synod in Rome last year to be humble and repentant. He was indicating that many Bishops need to step off their pedestal and come down to the level of the poor. Whether that is what he meant or not, it is the message that the New Pope needs to send out far and wide, a call for all to imitate Saint Peter, the first Pope, who betrayed Jesus at the hour of challenge but repented.

It has been the brave and courageous laity that has stood up to fight for the rights of the abused. The New Pope will be hopefully guided by the Spirit to listen to their voices and the cries of the many victims. Those of us in the priesthood, together with the faithful Catholics, have lived with the shame and censure of public opinion long enough because of the inaction of the church leaders to end the impunity.

This is where the strictest uncompromising message of Jesus has been ignored and contradicted. Jesus himself said a millstone should be tied around the necks of the abusers and they be thrown into the deepest ocean (Luke 17: 1 to 6). That was an era when women and children were of no consequence and had no status or rights in society or in Judaism. Two thousand years ago, Jesus gave them high profile and status when He said no one could enter the Kingdom of heaven unless they had the innocence of a child. When the Apostles tried to chase the children away from Jesus, He got angry with the Apostles and scolded them for not respecting the innocence of the children which he said is a model of holiness and the standard to be a member of God’s Family  (Luke 18:15-17; Mark 10: 13-16).

How indeed these lessons have been ignored? The New Pope has to revive them and renew the faith of the church in these Gospel values. It is urgently needed. This past week as the UN Conference on protecting women from violence, the Vatican representatives joined forces with Iran, Russia and other conservative countries to block efforts by the conference to eliminate tradition,religious practice and customs as  excuses for government allowing violence against women.

The wording of a final statement would oblige governments to protect women and children from violence that stems from traditional practices, misguided religious beliefs, tradition, and arcane oppressive customs that allow it.

This is the second most important area where the New Pope will be greatly challenged; women’s rights. He will not be judged on how prayerful and pious he is, but how forcefully he can act in defending the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth who gave his life to establish us as God’s children with inalienable human rights, dignity and membership of the Kingdom.

Email: shaycullen@preda.org

(Fr. Shay’s columns are published in The Manila Times, in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)

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