Fulwider, 3-18-2014

My Word: Transparency remark from pope wrong

Fulwider, Bryan(Orlando Sentinel, March 18, 2014)

By Bryan Fulwider

I’m not a Catholic. But I deeply appreciate the Catholic Church’s active care for many of the world’s most needy. I applaud Catholicism’s commitment to social justice. I find Catholic worship uplifting. I’m a student of many of Catholicism’s great spiritual teachers. And I’m a fan of Pope Francis.

The pope has been a breath of fresh air. Repeatedly he’s “spot-on” when showing how the church, society or both have erred.

He has urged us to get our priorities straight. He understands the meaning of service. He eschews opulence. He leads by example. He exudes grace. He believes in inclusion. He values all human beings, whatever their race, ethnicity, culture or religion.

So it jolted me to read his recent comments concerning the church’s handling of its priest-pedophile scandals: “The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked.”

Pope Francis is among a rarified group of world religious leaders who genuinely offers the common touch and possesses great insight into the mind-set of the rank and file. But he misread this one. Not only were his comments out of character; they were just plain wrong.

We who serve as religious leaders — whatever label we wear — have our work cut out for us. We need to re-order our values and sharpen our perspectives.

Sadly, religious entities — the Catholic Church included — aren’t noted for their transparency. Likewise, religious entities aren’t typically held up as shining examples of how to deal with in-house misbehavior. And, despite the pope’s assertion, religious entities aren’t alone in being “attacked” when they mishandle their own miscreants. Penn State comes to mind.

I’d suggest that we have three response options when someone whose judgment we’ve admired gets it wrong:

We can write off the person and refuse to ever again grant him or her any credence.

We can try to sweep the unwelcome news under the carpet and act as if it never happened.

Or we can acknowledge the mistake for the mistake it truly is while acknowledging all the good for the good that it still is.

The Rev. Bryan Fulwider is chair of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.