Pope Benedict is Right: We must "ask ourselves" some radical questions
According to a recent article, the Pope is calling Catholic leaders to radical self-examination in reference to the escalating abuse scandal:
We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustices that occurred... We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our message, in our entire way of configuring the Christian being, that allowed such a thing to occur. We must find a new determination in faith and goodness.
To suggest that there could be a problem in "our message" and "our entire way of configuring the Christian being" ... these are among the Pope's strongest and most searching reflections on the scandal yet. The kind of self-examination he urges is, I think, in line with the ten questions I've tried to raise in A New Kind of Christianity, questions about our understanding of God, the shape of the biblical narrative, the Bible, Jesus, the gospel, the church, sexuality, other religions, and our view of the future.
Protestants (and Eastern Orthodox) need this kind of self-examination no less than Roman Catholics. Sexual abuse certainly isn't restricted to Roman Catholics, nor are other symptoms of deep problems in "our message" and "our way of configuring the Christian being" - symptoms like:
Resistance to environmental stewardship
Misrepresentation and prejudice towards Muslims, Jews, LGBT folks, and people of other political parties.
Tolerance of torture
Hawkishness (as opposed to dove-ishness) in regards to war
Consumerism and financial indebtedness
The alienation of younger generations
Carelessness towards the poor
Injustice towards Indigenous Peoples
Lack of concern about the lasting effects of colonialism, white privilege, male privilege, etc.
Religious, racial, political, and national supremacy
It's been acceptable for some time to admit problems in our methodology, but our message was unquestionable. We had that right, no questions asked. But I think the Pope is right: there comes a time when the symptoms tell us our disease is not just cosmetic in nature, but systemic. That kind of admission makes possible a deeper level of repentance, which in turn opens the way for a new kind of Christianity.
Another Roman Catholic, Fr. Vincent Donovan, said it like this in his seminal book, Christianity Rediscovered:
Never accept and be content with unanalyzed assumptions, assumptions about the work, about the people, about the church or Christianity. Never be afraid to ask questions about the work we have inherited or the work we are doing. There is no question that should not be asked or that is outlawed. The day we are completely satisfied with what we have been doing; the day we have found the perfect, unchangeable system of work, the perfect answer, never in need of being corrected again, on that day we will know that we ar wrong, that we have made the greatest mistake of all.
With every crisis comes an opportunity - for self-examination, for learning, for change and growth, and it is indeed encouraging to see the Pope urging leaders to fully seize the opportunities presented by present crises.