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Why Cardinal Mahony and others are participating in conclave despite scandal

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 28th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

As Pope Benedict XVI transitions to being Pope Emeritus, the conclave of cardinals due to elect his successor gathers in Rome. Unfortunately, the events of the past several years have cast a dark pall over the conclave and several of the cardinals.

VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - The world is now quite aware of the scandal brought about by the shocking accusations against Cardinal Keith O'Brien, and the uproar over the attendance of Cardinal Mahony at the conclave. However, fewer people are aware that the scandal is much more widespread.

Multiple cardinals participating in the conclave are facing allegations of various sorts in their home countries. They include other cardinals from the United States as well as Belgium, Canada, Chile, Ireland, Italy, and Spain, and likely others.

This insight helps explain why cardinals such as Mahony, chose to attend the conclave in spite of his current involvement in scandal. Several fellow cardinals are in the same situation.

This does not mean that the cardinals are fundamentally evil or corrupt. The cardinals currently gathering in Rome have not been accused of sexual misconduct themselves. Cardinal O'Brien, who was accused, elected to refrain from attending. The epidemic of child abuse and scandal in the church is the product of other environmental factors which were never developed to cope with such cases.

The Church is an ancient institution, with many of its practices being codified during the medieval period of European history. These practices include a tradition of protecting both the Church's reputation and clergy against civil authorities, which have at times been quite hostile to the Church.

This is not to say the current epidemic of sweeping scandal under the rug is appropriate, it simply helps to explain why it's happened. It's part of the culture of the Church, developed over centuries to protect the Church from genuine enemies.

Unfortunately, that same protective instinct has permitted the rise of enemies, such as predator priests, to flourish within the Church itself.

The cardinals are painfully aware of this fact. They know their own house needs to be cleaned. Many have taken steps to address the myriad crises and made apologies for failing to handle things properly in the first case. This includes Cardinal Mahony.

While we cannot rewrite the past or erase the errors and wrongs committed by some Church leaders amid a culture of secrecy, we can move forward with a new understanding and hope.

It is broadly hoped that the next pontiff will be a strict disciplinarian who will take to task the job of creating a church that is safe for everybody, including its most innocent and vulnerable charges - children.

The process begins with selecting a pope who will address the issue of sexual immorality within the clergy itself. This includes the removal of those acting out on sexual urges against church and civil law, and those who have otherwise broken just laws in other countries. It includes immediate, full disclosure to the authorities of crimes both past and future. It includes acknowledgement of the problem, restitution to the victims, and accountability to ensure such problems do not persist.

In short, the next pope will need to "put his house in order" as Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor suggested earlier this week.

Hopefully the cardinals will listen to Murphy-O'Connor and appoint just such a man. The time is right, and for so many faithful, the stakes have never been higher.

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