In his homily at Mass on Monday morning in the chapel of the Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican, Pope Francis reflected on the story of Cain and Abel in the book of Genesis. Cain had murdered Abel and God asked him, "Where is your brother?"
God, Francis noted, often asks all of us difficult, at-time embarrassing questions.
"We are accustomed,” the pope said, “to giving compromising answers in order to escape from the problem, not to see the problem, not to touch the problem."
I'm supposing that the pope was -- as preachers sometimes do -- preaching to himself and his fellow priests. For has it not been the church hierarchy that has given compromising answers, if any at all, when confronted now for decades with the scandal of priests abusing children and bishops who covered up for them?
My friend Melinda Henneberger of The Kansas City Star's editorial page staff wrote this column earlier this week about the way the church handled recently defrocked Cardinal Theodore McCarrick after the Vatican concluded that he had engaged in sexual abuse.
"Given McCarrick’s age and health — he has a pacemaker and has suffered several strokes — the risk that he’ll do further physical harm may be relatively low," she wrote. "But after all the damage already done, both to individual victims and to an institution that’s in many ways still as much in denial as he is, where he and his church go from here shouldn’t be this unclear."
Starting tomorrow, there will be a Vatican summit on the sex abuse scandal. Which may turn out to be a good thing. But it's an oh-so-late thing, and countless victims of abuse have been permanently scarred because of the church's failure to deal with this matter effectively and quickly when it first surfaced.
So when the pope asks fellow priests, "Where is your brother?" some of them must know that part of a true answer is that my brother priest is in another room abusing children and even though I know it I'm not going to say anything about it.
That's an answer that not only breaks the sacred heart of Jesus, it also destroys whatever moral authority the church still has remaining.
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WILL THE METHODISTS SPLIT?
One reason the United Methodist Church seems on the edge of schism is that millions of its members are overseas, particularly in Africa, where there seems to be strong opposition to changing the denomination's ban on ordaining LGBTQ clergy or letting clergy perform same-sex marriages. A special denominational meeting is scheduled to deal with all this later this month in St. Louis, and now African leaders are speaking out against any changes to the LGBTQ ban. The Methodists are a hardy lot and may find their way through this to remain unified, but I have my doubts.