The Errors of an Inerrant Church

Time Magazine has a cover article, in the June 7, 2010 edition, on the situation that the Roman Catholic Church finds itself in with regard to the pedophilia-priest scandals. The title of the article is “Why Being Pope Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry.” It is interesting to see how the watching world perceives the weaknesses and inconsistencies of the dogma of Rome. Jeff Israely and Howard Chua Eoan draw attention to one such inconsistency when they write:

Today the Vatican appears to be advising bishops in places from India to Italy to quickly remand new cases to civilian authorities. But how can it remedy past injustices? A mea culpa — literally, an acceptance of personal guilt — would be a start, and Benedict has a draft to work from: the letter he wrote to Catholics in Ireland on March 19 in the wake of sex scandals that have debilitated the church there. “You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry,” Benedict wrote. “I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen … It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.”

The words are moving, and for some Catholics, it may be enough to hear the Pope express remorse this way. But Benedict has also talked of penance. In the language of the church, the sacrament of penance involves confession and then a priestly absolution of the sinner. But what kind of penance would a Pope with fingerprints on the controversy have to perform? There lies an intricate theological problem.

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