Oh Holy Father, I am going to tell you exactly what I told Hillary Clinton -- not that she wanted to hear it any more than you do.
Because you were busy receiving mail from a monster named Father Lawrence Murphy in January 1998, you may or may not recall our then-first lady telling the "Today" show's Matt Lauer that her husband had not been carrying on with a White House intern. Nope, that was just another story being peddled by his enemies, as part of their unrelenting efforts to destroy him by any means necessary.
"I do believe that this is a battle," she said. "I mean, look at the very people who are involved in this -- they have popped up in other settings. This is -- the great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president."
That Bill Clinton did have determined and declared enemies is a matter of record -- so why did he have to make their project such a gimme? Knowing they were out to get him doesn't seem to have shaped him up any. By blaming his detractors, Hillary Clinton, too, played right into their hands. And that Bill Clinton to this day seems to consider himself their victim has not been the least bit helpful. On the contrary, his protracted and unseemly poor-me posture damaged his wife's presidential chances and his own legacy.
Yet for reasons that surpasseth understanding, the Vatican sticks to the Clinton playbook: deny, cover up, and when busted, apologize but also make things worse by pointing fingers at enemies who do exist, but are not remotely to blame. (Of course the whole secular culture would love to see Benedict step down to spend more time with his family, if only he had one, hahaha -- but why doesn't knowing they're taunting him like that, and would revel in his downfall, strengthen his resolve to deprive them of ammo? Instead, his team keeps them fully supplied with targets any fool could hit without so much as stepping off his porch.)
Undeterred, Benedict and his top deputies refer to reports on the mishandling of Father Murphy's stomach-turning (and undisputed) sexual attacks on hundreds of deaf boys as "petty gossip." The Vatican's Father Raniero Cantalamessa even had the chutzpah to deliver a Good Friday homily in which he compared media coverage of the revelations of abuse to . . . yes, the persecution of Jews. Though nothing should ever be compared to that, period, those of us whose spiritual predecessors were responsible for that persecution should need no reminders to steer clear.
Like the former president, however, Vatican officials can't seem to help themselves, and Sunday's edition of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano again denounced accusations against the pope as a "vile defamation operation." Like Clinton, too, Benedict and his defenders so fully see themselves as the wronged party that they're unable to learn from their mistakes. If church officials are any humbler since the American clerical sex scandals that so damaged the church when I was covering the Vatican for The New York Times in 2002, I can't tell it.
Back then, more than one Vatican official tried to convince me that their self-inflicted wounds were the work of the "Jewish-controlled" American media. And according to reports in Italian papers, they're pushing that storyline still.
For most of my life, the Catholic Church has been a source of solace rather than tsuris. Yet when I got back from Rome, I needed some time off to recover from all I had seen there, even at a time when I frankly could have used the spiritual support, because I was also recovering from breast cancer. (When I did go back to Mass, and told our pastor that I'd been on an extended mental health holiday, he said if he hadn't been running the joint, he might have taken one, too; thank God for the Jesuits.)
Though Benedict has his admirers, I've not led any parades for him, and this is not my first or second rodeo with the rest of these cowboys, either. So when I'm asked how I could stay in a church whose leaders are so obtuse, it's not as if I don't understand where they're coming from. A few weeks ago, Bill Maher asked me on his HBO show why in the world I hang in there. On Good Friday, our Politics Daily colleague Bonnie Erbé asked me on her PBS show, "To the Contrary," whether I thought attendance at Easter Masses would suffer on Sunday as a result of the current crisis.
Well, not only was our church packed, but a diverse group of 16 adults were baptized and confirmed at our Easter Vigil on Saturday night. One woman in particular among them looked as though she had just won an Oscar, and another wept for joy. (My own Easter metaphor for the chilly wind I felt from Rome: inexplicably, someone had cranked up the air conditioning, which was blowing right on me throughout a freezing 2-hour-40 minute service that my 14-year-old son likened to "Lord of the Rings" 3: "It could have ended so many times, but didn't.")
Nevertheless, there I am and there I will stay. Why? Well, to return to the world of politics for a comparison, say you were a lifelong Democrat who had learned that those running the DNC had betrayed your trust in just about every way you could think of. You'd be angry, yes, and I wouldn't want to be the poor guy trying to get you to open your wallet for the next cycle. But would their perfidy turn you into a Republican? No, you'd keep right on living life as a Democrat because that's who you are. In the end, it is not about them.
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