Yesterday concluded a three-day media communications conference at Santa Croce in Rome. Wall Street Journal reporter Stacey Meichtry has a mostly fair assessment of the challenge the Church faces in responding to the crisis.
Meichtry makes some important points — namely, that the church’s response to the crisis is bound to be decentralized. Bishops cannot meddle in each others’ dioceses, and Pope Benedict — who has formal authority — must respect the autonomy of individual bishops in deciding how to implement directives.
Moreover, the Church herself is decentralized. People live out their faith in their local communities, under the direction of the local bishops, who are meant to pastor their flocks.
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The overall consensus at the end of the conference was that the Vatican lacks a strategy, fails in telling its own bad news, has not decided on a clear message, and is constrained to defend itself. The official Vatican spokesman does at least three jobs and does not have regular contact with Pope Benedict. In short, the Church’s mode in trying to respond to the crisis is akin to plugging a hole in a dike with your thumb.
Naturally, people look for someone to blame for the crisis — usually the pope. But this is unfair. In fact, “blame” for the failure is as decentralized as the Church itself.
Certainly there is a failure on the part of the Curia. Clerics who are inculturated into the world of the Vatican are often out of touch with the reality of life for the ordinary lay faithful. Many have never worked in the world and don’t understand it. It’s simply undeniable that there’s a curial culture that has allowed for cover-ups and an overall lack of communication from the Vatican itself. This is (very slowly) changing as more lay people are brought in to work at the Vatican.
It is now widely expected that the June 9-11 conference concluding the Year for Priests in Rome will provide the occasion for Benedict to make a formal mea culpa. But even if this comes to pass, wounds caused by the crisis will not be healed immediately. Individuals within the Church have betrayed the trust of the flock they’re supposed to protect, and that won’t be soon forgotten.