I’m not very much of a catholic, in fact I don’t remember anymore the last time I went to church, sat in one of those wood benches and listen to a priest’s sermon. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to church, mainly to visit the magnificent and rich architecture and decoration or listen to some music concert, but that’s about it. I went to a catholic school for six years (maybe that is why I am not a catholic anymore), from age 8 to 14, great school, great friends, great memories, great professors, not so great moral teachings. Besides a couple of nuns I do hold dearly, most of my memories from them are scattered, non important.
They did tried their best, they used to have this moral codes for our behavior, they had a rigorous dress code too hated mostly by rebellious teenage girls who wanted to have a little more than a finger of skirt above her knees. They made us pray too, at least once a week and since it was private school, well, some prayer in English was included in the package, I never questioned any of that until I was 14, and I crossed one of the nuns. She was old and she was well respected, she was held the dearest by past generations, she was well read and well traveled, she had done evangelical missions in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua, she was all and all a role model for many.
It was after our half an hour brake that my friend Aldo told me to hide in the closet behind the entrance door in the classroom, the timing was perfect, everyone would be coming back from the school yard and I would come out, jumping and screaming to scare a couple of unlucky girls at Aldo’s signal. But that never happened, after a few minutes I didn’t hear a noise anymore, still I went out, jumping and screaming although the unlucky girls were already seating in their chairs and it was my literature teacher who got scared. That was it, I’ve done enough to earn myself a trip to the principal’s office, a nun which I had had little or non contact with, she greeted me and listened to my teacher, oh was I in trouble! The principal sent me to the old nun’s personal library to do some research work, so I did.
After arriving there, the old nun began talking about some big punishments awaiting for those who misbehave, I was to old to buy it. She made me make some resumes from St. Augustine’s Christian Doctrine, I did them. After all the work was done and the clock was signaling 6 PM (I usually finished school at 2:30), I began reading a couple of political magazines, the nun watched me and began pointing out to some pictures, we had a pretty nice discussion for some twenty minutes then she let me go. I was thrilled, she was really brilliant and her words so clear, I trusted her judgment and her analysis… almost blindly.
By the end of the month I began reading new stuff, politics mostly, diverse authors from diverse ideologies. After my punishment was done I kept coming back at least once a week for new stuff to read, she gave me the classics; Thucydides, Homer, Virgil and Plautus. After some months she told me she had an idea, a reading and debate group, yes I know, really nerdy but still it sounded awesome. Few people came but those who did enjoyed themselves and it changed our lives, most of us ended up studying politics or journalism, only a few of us don’t remember where it all began.
After so much ink and words have been used to talk about the Vatican and its scandals, I could not stop myself in thinking of that one nun, of those defining moments on such crucial days. The Vatican has been a shame, an embarrassment, an insult, a misleading voice, a cynical machine of idiotic arguments, and everyday that passes and new abuse cases reach the surface its face shatters and there are no clear signs of regret, of punishment… of so much desired justice.
Apologies will not suffice anymore, the damage has been done and the point of no return was passed long ago. The main victims are the people who suffer abuses of course but, there are other victims there, without a guilt, people like the old library nun who changed my life. The church is a vast, worldwide, complex machine and generalizing it in a few words of shame will be wrong, many people have faithfully dedicated their lives to the poor people, needing people, lonely people, sick people, homeless people, any kind of people. They are the real backbone of the church, not the foolish decision-makers who sit in their ivory towers in Rome, they are the ones who have looked poverty and illness in the eye and still committed themselves to fight them.
In Latin America the respect for the church is immense in most countries, colonization brought to things, the sword and the cross. It was the missionaries who baptized and taught the Bible to the natives, it was them who defended them from arbitrary abuse and it was them who gave the continent a common language. In the XX century after Pope’s John XXIII reforms, transforming the church into a house for the poor and oppressed, some theologists in Latin America interpreted that message as a duty to free the people from their oppressors, meaning in this continent the government itself. Thus churches became a refuge for guerillas, literally, and priests joined them in many cases. It is hard to understand the guerrilla movements and revolutions in Latin America without the that sector of the church, the one close to the people.
So, after so much talk I think Benedict XVI has been fool, that’s it, the Catholic church insensitive, that’s it. But all the insensitiveness and foolishness added up shows us a criminal mismanagement that need justice now. The victims are waiting and they will not take a lame apology as an end to their claims, that is why an apology will not suffice for them . But also, those members of the church who have dedicated their lives to real change and people will be waiting for something, anything, am explanation perhaps… and for them an apology will never suffice too.