The Inquisition Isn’t Over, It Just Changed Clothes

RNS has a story today about the Vatican’s policy of “pontifical secrecy.” Read the story. The approach Rome is taking toward the problem of sex abuse by priests reminds one of the policies followed in the inquisition. What was established for the preservation of truth (and abused especially by Spain) has become a vehicle for what looks like a corporate cover-up.

Rome claims to be “the” holy, apostolic church. We don’t have to guess, however, how the actual apostolic church handled immorality in the church. Read 1 Cor. Paul mentions people by name who’ve erred and gone astray as did Jude.  They didn’t cover-up. They protected the church by practicing church discipline.

There’s another point to be made here, beside the prima facie implausibility of Rome’s claim to be apostolic or even genuinely catholic and that is the lesson that we can all take from the horrible way Rome has handled this scandal.

We Christians and the visible church have a story to tell. As those with a story, a true story, our credibility is essential. We have to guard our credibility. We can’t tell the world, “Here’s the truth about the resurrection” and then lie and cover-up about our institutional failings. We have to say, “Look, we’re sinners, we’re among those for whom Jesus died. He’s the sinless one!” We have to be honest about who and what we are and who and what Jesus is.

This is also another reason we have to check ourselves for the lingering remnants of Wesleyan perfectionism. It lurks amongst us and it works against Reformation piety and spirituality. It works against real truth telling. We’re not the perfected, not on this earth but Jesus was and is perfect. He was and is as sinless and righteous as we are sinful and unrighteous—no! He was much more righteous and holy! “Where sin abounded, grace abounded more.” That grace is premised on his perfect, glorious, immutable righteousness which substitutes for all those who trust him.

We don’t have an earthly pontif nor a pope, but we do have a true human (and true God) Savior in heaven. He is our high priest (see the book of Hebrews). All earthly priests die and must be replaced. Benedict XVI will die and he’ll be replaced by another religious CEO who will huddle in the Vatican to figure out how to manage the crisis but Jesus isn’t hiding anything from anyone and those who are united to him by grace alone, through faith alone, have nothing to hide.

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  1. Thanks for these important reminders, Dr. Clark. The people of God must be faithful in following our Saviour who is the Truth — we must be known for loving and speaking the truth both individually and institutionally.

    – Vaughn R. Hamilton

    P.s. Note that the word ‘priest’ is missing in the last paragraph, second sentence.

  2. The Pope is legally in a unique position. As the supreme leader of the Church he cannot be questioned or challenged by any authority within the church – he’s IT. As the leader of a sovereign state (The Vatican) he cannot be questioned or challenged by the authorities of any other country. He is, quite simply, beyond the reach of any authority.

    • And not above whining when he can’t get his way…

      Vatican resists others’ inquisition:

      {Nobody expected a Flemish inquisition? …sorry.}


      ‘The Vatican has expressed shock at raids, including the “violation” of a cathedral crypt, by Belgian police investigating alleged child sex abuse.

      ‘As well as searching a couple of main Church offices and a cardinal’s home, police had drilled holes in two archbishops’ tombs, said the Church.

      ‘Prosecutors said the raids were over alleged “abuse of minors committed by a certain number of Church figures”.

      ‘Belgium is one of many countries where the Church has been hit by sex scandal.

      ‘The Vatican said the raids had led to the “violation of confidentiality of precisely those victims for whom the raids were carried out”.

      ‘The Catholic Church in Belgium has apologised for its silence on abuse cases in the past and Archbishop Leonard has promised a policy of zero tolerance.’

  3. Priests/bishops are allowed to lie where certain conditions present, to protect the rc church,.This happened recently in Ireland with the Roman catholic child sex abuse scandal.Cant rem what name they have for it

  4. “All earthly priests die and must be replaced. Benedict XVI will die and he’ll be replaced by another religious CEO who will huddle in the Vatican to figure out how to manage the crisis but Jesus isn’t hiding anything from anyone and those who are united to him by grace alone, through faith alone, have nothing to hide.”

    Amen, Dr. Clark.

  5. Dr. Clark,

    Have you seen the movie Deliver Us from Evil? It’s an interesting and sad documentary about people who’ve been abused by priests. It chronicles how certain priests who were charged with molestation were simply moved to different parishes. Some of the abuse even made a trip to the Vatican, but of course were not able to get in to see anyone.

  6. Would it not be appropriate, as someone who typically models Christian scholarly practices and charity, to mention the multiple times where the pope has apologized and exposed the sinfulness and corruption of the clergy over the past several months?

      • Confessing wrong-doing does seem to be at odds–don’t you think?–with a cover-up. That is how my point was “relevant”. Demanding that clerics comply entirely with secular guidelines also seems to be at odds with a cover-up. The list could continue a bit further, but why waste each other’s time.

        Consolidating policies instituted in the recent past which have shown themselves to be much more effective than the state of things before 2001 or so (as John Allen and other pretty well-informed commentators have argued) is certainly a sign of change. I’m not sure exactly what you are looking for, though, as it pertains to this particular issue:

        And the analogy to the Inquisition, it should be noted, is rather tendentious. Policies of secrecy aren’t what give your reference to the medieval institution rhetorical punch. It is the conviction that heretics are worthy of death, which led to handing them over to the secular arm to be burned at the stake. I haven’t noticed that happening of late.

        • The papal apologies ring hollow. Murderers say “I’m sorry” all the time.

          Where is the discipline of bishops who knew and covered up? There are even accusations that Benedict himself knew about what was happening in Germany.

          Rome is engaged in damage control and spin, not repentance.

  7. OK. Well, I won’t continue this further. As parting words, I’ll just say that I’m not sure what criteria make for an apology ringing hollow or not. It seems more like a “hermeneutic of suspicion” to me, but one possibly that is not unmerited based on certain past actions of elements in the hierarchy. I will acknowledge that.

    Consider the following:

    I’m sorry that I have found this kind of response from a fellow confessor in the Triune God, but I will, with a heavy heart, share in the blame that is fittingly attributed to Catholics in creating such a situation. Alas.

    Vale. John 17:11.

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