For the many who wish the Catholic Church ill, including numerous Catholics, Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec would be a welcome choice as the next Pope. It was priests like Mr. Ouellet who helped estrange the faithful in once-Catholic Quebec and there is little reason to think he would not make the same contribution to the church universal.
As Quebec church historian and priest Benoit Lacroix puts it, Cardinal Ouellet represents "a very, very conservative current of Catholicism," just as John Paul II and Benedict XVI have done. And Ouellet makes no bones about it. On women's equality, birth control, divorce, ordaining women clergy and married priests, he is a proud relic. On abortion, he takes an extreme position, opposing it even in cases of rape. His statements implying that a rape victim who gets an abortion is a murderer earned him harsh condemnation in Quebec. He considers gay marriage "a big crisis…. We don't know what it means to be human anymore." Someone should tell him it means love triumphing over cruel dogma.
And on the greatest crisis of the Church since its ambiguous relationship with Nazi Germany, Cardinal Ouellet -- like so many of his peers -- has put the antiquated institutions of the Church ahead of its shattered victims. On the issue of sexual abuse by priests, he has been silent.
The Quebec president of l'Association des victims de pretres, France Bedard, says she was violated by a Quebec priest. She has requested a meeting with Cardinal Ouellet; he has never responded, she says. She accuses him of being "responsible for the silence, the indifference, the inaction of the Catholic Church in Quebec when it comes to sexual-abuse victims."
Such accusations are commonplace. They have been leveled everywhere in the world that the Church has had a presence -- first the crime, then the cover-up. Those charged with the latter include Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, notwithstanding Benedict's apologies to victims of abuse like Canadian aboriginals. The protection of perverts and pedophiles within the Church remains the priority.
We each encounter the world though our own prisms. Pope Benedict's announced retirement came while I was teaching at the University For Peace in Costa Rica. My course is on the Rwandan genocide. I also happened to be in Rwanda eight years ago when John Paul II died.
What my class now knows is what Rwandans have known since 1994: The Catholic Church was deeply complicit in their genocide. This may seem a controversial assertion, but it is the consensus of those who have studied or suffered from the genocide. In a powerful 2004 book co-edited by Carol Rittner, Genocide in Rwanda: Complicity of the Churches? 20 mostly Catholic writers including Ms. Rittner, who is a nun, and several Rwandans overwhelmingly agreed that the Church was indeed complicit.
The evidence allows no other conclusion. Catholic priests had enormous influence in Rwanda yet consistently failed to protest against the Hutu government's overtly racist policies and practices and the final conspiracy to annihilate all Tutsi. Once the genocide began in 1994, most Catholic leaders refused to condemn the extremist government and many individual priests and nuns actively aided the genocidaires.
John Paul II was the great healer who apologized on behalf of the Church for its multiple sins and crimes, such as its unflagging 2,000-year record of fomenting anti-Semitism. Yet he steadfastly failed to apologize for, or indeed even to acknowledge, the institutional role of his Church in enabling and ultimately participating in the Rwanda genocide.
Many Rwandans, like many others, have never forgiven the Church for these betrayals. But one contributor to Genocide in Rwanda, Jerry Fowler, wrote of examples around the world where Church leaders had either openly aligned themselves with tyrants who practiced wholesale violence and unspeakable human-rights abuses, or, at best, remained passive bystanders.
Mr. Fowler, then Director of the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, argued that the Church's role in Rwanda was little more than business as usual.
Benedict's shaky years as Pope have hardly restored the Church's moral standing. Like John Paul II before him, at every opportunity he has appointed extremely conservative, rigidly sexist priests to high positions. He maligned the entire Muslim religion and then clumsily strived to undo the damage. He embraced an excommunicated bishop widely known as a raving Holocaust denier.
On his first visit to Africa, he made the wild assertion that condoms actually exacerbated the AIDS crisis, only later reversing his position. He fiercely reprimanded American nuns for spending too much time promoting social justice, like battling poverty and racism, instead of issues "of crucial importance to the life of the church and society," namely abortion and gay marriage.
If chosen the new Pope, Cardinal Ouellet would move seamlessly into the Vatican. Given his record, the Church would more and more resemble a living museum. Its anachronistic structures and codes would be zealously preserved while its soul continues to shrivel.
This article was first published in the Globe and Mail.
Photo: Dennis Jarvis/Flickr
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