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Looking through you the church, the Beatles, and 'petty gossip'

This week, the Pope forgave the Beatles.

This week, the Pope forgave the Beatles. It’s been more than four decades since John Lennon quipped that the band was “bigger than Jesus”, and to judge by the front page of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper, time has finally healed that deepest of wounds.

Not content simply to forgive and forget, the authors of the papally approved article rhapsodized about the “precious jewel” that was the Beatles. In spite of all their sex, drugs, rock’n'roll, and satanic messages, the Vatican tells us, the Beatles’“beautiful melodies changed music and continue to give pleasure.”

No doubt, the surviving Beatles are greatly relieved to know that the Holy See finally wants to hold their hand. When you’re heading into your 70s, it must get tedious to be answering for something your long-deceased former friend said when you were all still wet behind the ears.

But what’s motivating the church to offer this sudden olive branch? Did Ringo kiss the ring? Does Sir Paul have pull with Opus Dei? As yet, none of the former Beatles are rushing to claim the credit for fixing this particular hole.

So maybe the Pope took this initiative on his own. It’s not hard to imagine that the Holy Father would want to encourage a spirit of forgiveness in the world today. We can all use a little forgiveness now and then.

The church has had a lot to answer for in recent months, and it’s done a terrible job of answering for it, all over the world. When Irish Catholics, reeling under the latest reports of pedophile priests and an enabling church hierarchy, looked to Pope Benedict for an apology, he cast the blame everywhere but at his own feet. Adding vile insult to cruel injury, he managed to imply that the parents of abuse victims had been negligent when he encouraged them to “play your part in ensuring the best possible care of your children.”

Allegations of sexual abuse by priests quickly grew from a trickle to a flood, pouring in from Germany, Australia, Holland, Canada, the US and Italy. We learned that boys in Munich’s Domspatzen Choir had lived subject to “an elaborate system of sadistic punishments combined with sexual lust,” while the Pope’s brother, Bishop Ratzinger, was choir master there. Ratzinger himself confesses to “slapping” the boys, but denies any knowledge of worse abuses.

There’s evidence that suggests the Pope himself may have turned a blind eye to reports of sexual abuse by priests on more than one occasion. When he was Archbishop of Munich he once “unwittingly” approved housing for a priest who had been accused of child sexual assault. The priest went on to re-offend.

Later, as the cardinal responsible for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith - the Vatican department that judges cases of sexual abuse - he either ignored or suppressed several reports by bishops concerning Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest who sexually abused about 200 boys at the St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wisconsin.

In his Palm Sunday address, in lieu of an apology, the Pope took the occasion to let the world know that God had given him the courage “not to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion.”

One of the church’s most bizarre responses to the recent rash of sex abuse scandals came from Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, who wrote in a full-page New York Times ad, “The Times continues to editorialize about the ‘pedophilia crisis,’ when all along it’s been a homosexual crisis. Eighty per cent of the victims of priestly sexual abuse are male and most of them are post-pubescent.”

So now we have seen the church try to blame its troubles on parents, homosexuality, gossip, and even the victims themselves, but the award for the strangest, and most offensive, church response to the scandals has to go to the Pope’s personal priest, Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa. Cantalamessa told the faithful at St. Peter’s Basilica that criticism of the church for its demonstrated pattern of failure to protect children from known sexual predators was akin to the Nazi Holocaust.

Jews around the world understandably took issue with certain aspects of this sermon. Many have pointed out that to be criticized, even to be publicly attacked, is not the same as to be imprisoned, enslaved, tortured and murdered by the millions. Nor did it escape notice that the pedophile priests and enabling bishops are suffering “persecution” for serious crimes, or at least the allegation thereof, not for their race or religion.

The church is going to have to walk a long and winding road back to the people’s trust, and it can’t be done by sucking up to the remnants of a once-popular pop band. They are going to have to hold an open, honest, public inquiry, identify the guilty and hand them over to police. They’re going to have to quit making excuses and blaming victims and come clean about who knew what and when. It’s going to be a bloodbath, but it’s one that’s got to come before there can be any renewal.

Don’t fight it, Your Holiness. Let it be.

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.