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.