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By Michael Terheyden

4/22/2010 (5 years ago)

Catholic Online (

One reason the Catholic Church is being attacked is because, in spite of the weaknesses, sins and even crimes of a few members of the clergy, the Church is still the greatest herald of truth, beauty, goodness, and unity in the world. As such, she is also the gatekeeper of morality, and there are many people in the world, often having immoral intentions, who hate the Church and what she represents.

Pope Benedict XVI as he celebrates the Chrismal Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 1, 2010. 
Credit: Reuters/Alessia Pierdomenico

Pope Benedict XVI as he celebrates the Chrismal Mass in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 1, 2010. Credit: Reuters/Alessia Pierdomenico


By Michael Terheyden

Catholic Online (

4/22/2010 (5 years ago)

Published in U.S.

KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - Since the sex abuse scandal in the Church has resurfaced, the news has been filled with attacks against our Church and Pope. Unrelenting exaggerations and distortions are being hurled at the Church via the media and governments; then there is the frenzy against Pope Benedict accusing him of a cover-up and demands for his resignation; there are also threatened legal actions against the Pope, including an effort to have him arrested under international law for crimes against humanity. None have any real legal credibility and appear intended to harass. When faced with this kind of aggression, we cannot look the other way. Instead, we need to put this scandal into perspective, try to understand the reason for these attacks and respond to them.   

The scandal seems to have resurfaced in Ireland with the release of a long awaited government report on abuse (physical, sexual and psychological) in the Church. The scandal has since spilled over into Germany, some of the other European countries and rekindled concerns in the United States. There is no denying that there is a scandal in the Church, but attempts to drag Pope Benedict into this scandal appear ludicrous and make his accusers look like opportunists and possibly liars. There is no room for abuse in the Church. Pope Benedict XVI has been very clear on his unwavering committment to root it out. Yet the problem within the Church is also a reflection of a wider problem in secular society.

Studies clearly reveal that our children are much safer in the institutions of the Church than in many secular institutions. For instance, it seems that the public school system is one of the most unsafe places for our children. According to a Department of Education report conducted by Charol Shakeshaft at Hofstra University in 2002, "nearly 9.6% of students are targets of educator sexual misconduct sometime during their school career." This represents approximately 4.5 million children. Furthermore, Dr. Shakeshaft was quoted as saying, "The physical sexual abuse of students in schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by priests."

Although one sexually abused child is too many, it is still important to notice that while there may be thousands of cases in the Church throughout Europe and the United States over a fifty year period, there are easily millions of estimated cases in the public schools during the past decade alone. So where is the outrage for the sexually abused children in the public schools from the media and government leaders, and why is this scandal being used to agitate the public and attack our Church and Pope?  The author George Weigel; Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York City; and, inadvertently, the New York Times each answer this question in their own way.

George Weigel answered the question in a single, masterful stroke. In an article, "Scoundrel Time(s)," published in First Things he wrote, "For the narrative that has been constructed is often less about the protection of the young . . . than it is about taking the Church down-and, eventually, out, both financially and as a credible voice in the public debate over public policy. For if the Church is a global criminal conspiracy of sexual abusers and their protectors, then the Catholic Church has no claim to a place at the table of public moral argument."

Ed Koch wrote in the Jerusalem Post, ". . . The reason, I believe, for the constant assaults is that there are many in the media, and some Catholics as well as many in the public, who object to and are incensed by positions the Church holds, including opposition to all abortions, opposition to gay sex and same-sex marriage, retention of celibacy rules for priests, exclusion of women from the clergy, opposition to birth control measures involving condoms and prescription drugs and opposition to civil divorce."

It appears that the reason for the attacks against our Church and Pope is inadvertently revealed in a New York Times article where the Church is described as an ancient institution struggling with modernity. The article claims that the Church and religious belief in general are seeking their place in "modern, secular society,"  but Pope Benedict, believing that modern culture is hostile, is holding the Church back from modernization. The article also points out that Pope Benedict's critics consider his approach "narrow and regressive" and believe that his goals have been threatened by the scandal and could undermine his moral authority. 

Each of the three answers above refers to morality. It would seem that one reason the Catholic Church is being attacked is because, in spite of the weaknesses, sins and even crimes of a few members of the clergy, the Church is still the greatest herald of truth, beauty, goodness, and unity in the world. As such, she is also the gatekeeper of morality, and there are many people in the world, often having immoral intentions, who hate the Church and what she represents. Some of these people are in positions of influence and power, and they will not tolerate anything or anyone standing in the way of their goal to establish a secular state, free of moral restraint of any kind. The Church and Pope Benedict are standing in their way.

Such aggression demands a response, but we first need to realize that our battle is not against human forces; it is against principalities and powers, the rulers of darkness, evil spirits (Eph 6:12). Therefore, we need to be in a state of grace and wrap ourselves in prayer. It will also be helpful if we arm ourselves with information and organize into groups. Focused groups offer the support and strength that we will all need moving forward. Now we are ready to respond to the attacks against our Church and Pope. There are many possible responses. The following are some suggestions.

For starters, we can demand that the public school system be held to the same standard as the Church, that schools be made safe for our children or shut down. We can also protest against biased, anti-Catholic reporting and lies in the media and government and against the immorality and degradation being  promoted in secular society. We might even consider getting on professional boards or running for public office. However, whatever we do, and this is important, we must do it out of love and respect not anger. No matter how bad things get, we need to remember that God is in control not us. We may be his hands and feet in this world, but Jesus said he would be the one to build the Church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Mat 16:18).


Michael Terheyden is a contributing writer for Catholic Online. He is Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. He is greatly blessed to share his faith with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.


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