The Church and the World

Via John Schwenkler and Commonweal, it's nice to see somebody in the Vatican finally saying the right things - the Christian things, if you will - about the horrible case of the nine-year-old Brazilian girl who had an abortion after being impregnated by her stepfather, and whose mother and doctor were publicly excommunicated by the local archbishop shortly thereafter. It was also a pleasure, in a related vein, to read the Pope's impressive letter offering clarifications, regrets, and some pushback to his critics regarding his handling of the SSPX affair. (It included this much-quoted line, almost touching in its innocence of the contemporary media: "I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news.") In both cases, you can see Rome taking baby steps toward a new and necessary approach to its engagement with the media, and with contemporary society in general.

That's the good news. The bad news is that in both cases - but especially in the case of the Brazilian abortion, where the absence of charity was palpable and ugly - the damage has already been done, and can't be undone by having a spokesman or a bishop or even the Pope saying the right things weeks after the fact. This will always be a problem, to some extent, since while the institutional Church is not a democracy, neither is it a monolith: Save on rare occasions, it will always speak with a multiplicity of voices, some of them wise and loving and some of them ignorant, or tone-deaf, or legalistic, or cruel. But for the Church to carry out its mission, and turn outward to the world rather than inward on itself, the latter sort of voices can't always be the ones that speak up first and loudest, and have their words carried halfway around the world before wisdom and charity have even gotten out of bed.

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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