Where Will the Spotlight Shine When Pope Francis Leaves?

Where Will the Spotlight Shine When Pope Francis Leaves? September 25, 2015
Storms will continue to rage (JWM Turner, The Bell Rock Lighthouse, 1819; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100).
Storms will continue to rage in American Catholicism (JWM Turner, The Bell Rock Lighthouse, 1819; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100).

It’s difficult to find the right tone for a post like this. I come as a bearer of bad news. Yet, I am convinced that the good news is that the bad news can see the light of day. When we say the light shines in darkness, are we ready to face the real implications of that saying?

hope without optimism eagleton
Hope and optimism are not the same thing.

As Americans we all secretly hope the Pope Francis wave will sweep everything away in a flood of positivity. Terry Eagleton diagnoses us this disease in his recently released Hope Without Optimism:

Nations, like political creeds, can be upbeat or downbeat. Along with North Korea, the United States is one of the few countries on earth in which optimism is almost a state ideology. For large sectors of the nation, to be bullish is to be patriotic, while negativity is a species of thought crime. Pessimism is thought to be vaguely subversive. Even in the most despondent of times, a collective fantasy of omnipotence and infinity continues to haunt the national unconscious. It would be almost as impossible to elect a US president who advised the nation that its best days were behind it as it would be to elect a chimpanzee, though as far as that goes there have been one or two near misses.

Following Czeslaw Milosz I think of myself as an ecstatic pessimist. I cannot help but take a peek into the coming American Catholic darkness. Things will not be all sunny after Philadelphia. We all shall tire of posting witty pictures of Bergoglio’s appearance in Congress with the caption “I was sick and you visited me.”

As I noted in 2 Maps Show Why Pope Francis is Out of Place in the United States, PBS Newshour is onto the geography of the coming media coverage of American Catholicism: Boston.

Have you noticed how the sex scandals have evaporated during the Francis papacy? It’s as if the storm had worn itself out battering Benedict XVI. He got so beat up that we frequently forget he did more than anyone to put in place preventative measures that make the Catholic Church the envy of the secular world when it comes to dealing with sex abuse.

But there’s much more coming around the bend than another story “critical” of the Catholic Chruch from PBS or NPR (do these post-mainline-Protestant Poster Children do any kinds of stories?). The film Spotlight, starring Michael Keaton and billed as a front-runner for Best Film, will highlight the inevitable visibility of Catholic sex scandals while tacitly acknowledging the invisibility of Protestant sex scandals.

Here’s the IMDB description of this forthcoming flick:

The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.

This is, as I have argued elsewhere, a good thing. Catholicism is an inescapably public religion and therefore shake-able to its core.

There is no place to hide in the Church. People can, and need to be, held accountable. The wonderful thing about Catholicism, with its intricate institutional ties from top to bottom, is that the buck must stop somewhere.

Catholics should be thankful for that. It will be interesting how they will handle this post-Francis punch to their core. I hope they won’t become defensive.

In the unlikely event the American Church gets a Francis-free-pass after the release of Spotlight, Catholics here should not let the sex abuse coverups pass into oblivion, because they will come back to haunt them. Catholicism is a public religion. We are saints, but more frequently, sinners.

In the end continuing to address this problem is about hope and repentance, not American optimism.

If my ecstatic pessimist perspective is something you enjoy reading, then please help us out with this month’s rent through the PayPal donation button on my homepage.


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