Problem Picture

You are the head of a great people who have done much good in the world. Your people stand for truth, freedom, generosity, valor, heroic self-sacrifice for others and have a long and proven tradition of putting that into practice on the ground, even at the cost of their lives in places like the European and Pacific theatres of war. Indeed, just a little over a decade ago, your people were hailed as some of the principal agents in bringing a tyrannical regime to its knees. Yet, ungrateful European sophisticates routinely sneer at you and your people and seek to distance themselves from you.

Today, as has happened so often, you find you are at war again. Or perhaps, the better word is "still", for as Burke famously put it, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance." You are at war with a foe who is implacable, murderous, and not at all inclined to need a provocation from you to desire your death and take steps to make that a reality. In fact, the enemy struck early in your tenure of office and engineered an extremely painful blow to you and your people. Recovery came with time, but you have no doubt of the extremes of evil the enemy is capable of working and, even now, around the world, innocent people are being destroyed, both body and soul, because of this enemy. So you and your people are engaged in an epic global struggle with that enemy and you are trying desperately to marshal an organized response from your people to face this deadly foe before an even greater catastrophe overtakes your people when they least expect it.

But there are not just enemies without. There are also enemies within. Recently, it has come to light that some of your troops have committed grotesque abuses. It is an outrage that the abuse took place and you have called for the expulsion of those who committed the abuses, while simultaneously resisting the clamor for purges that would gut the leadership of your troops. You keep struggling to remind a public with a short attention span that we still face a deadly and implacable foe and that sacking a huge portion of your command structure is a bad idea in a time of war.

But the press seems to only want to talk, 24/7, about the grotesque sodomistic abuses committed by the relatively small number of troops while completely ignoring a) the far greater evil which your people are still struggling to oppose, and b) the many great good things your people still do for the world. Every discussion of any other topic is carefully minimized. Every old wound has its scab picked. Even troops who have been drummed out or court-martialed have their stories dredged up again so the public is continually re-reminded of the crimes they committed, while the enemy you are at war with is sometimes--outrageously--given puff piece treatments in the foreign press. When you try to form alliances to get something done, you are faulted for forming alliances with the wrong people. If you form no alliances, you are faulted for being too arrogant and trying to run the show yourself. Every failure by members of your army is emphasized as "typical". Every success is downplayed. When your generals do nothing, they are faulted for doing nothing. When they act, they are faulted for not doing enough or for doing the wrong thing. When you enunciate your principles, you are condemned as a hypocrite because your people have failed to live by them. When you try to act on your principles, you are condemned for not working miracles on finite resources. And like an annoying endless loop recording, the abuse of those in the charge of your troops is flung in your face as the sole thing that defines you and your people, over and over and over again.

What should you, the Pope, do?

*****

Now admittedly, the analogy is not perfect. The bishops who knowingly reshuffled abusive priests, lied, covered up and strong-armed victims acted with far less integrity than the military (which appears to have undertaken an investigation of its abuse problems on its own). However, my point is not about the military, nor to claim that some bishops have not been chuckleheads, criminals, and dirtbags. My point was that, often as not, the same people who are screaming that the relentless negativity of the press is making it extremely difficult for the US to do the work it needs to do in its grand campaign to bring about what David Frum calls an "End to Evil" seem to think nothing of relentlessly focusing on the negative and hampering the Church in its very real and God-ordained end to evil campaign.

In short, the reality is, there is much much more to the Church than some bad bishops and abusive priests, just as there is much more to the US than Abu Ghraib. Moreover, there are worse "evils" in the world than the US Army and the Catholic Church, but you'd never know it from the press. Let's pray we don't discover it by experience.

Copyright 2004 - Mark P. Shea