THE POPE DRAWS A LINE: He won't say categorically that priests who are child molesters cannot be forgiven. He can forgive the man who attempted to murder him. But remarried divorcees and gays and lesbians in committed relationships are barred from absolution. What a perfect example of what the Catholic Church now stands for, and what this Pope has wrought.
First of all, Sullivan isn't playing fair with the statement. As the linked WP article outlines, This was part of a routine call of the Pope for Catholics to repent, but with a warning that absolution should not be given to "habitual" sinners who do not plan to change. Other theological experts speculated that the pope was referring to sexually active gays and remarried divorcees.
With that in mind, of course it shows what the Church stands for -- forgiveness of penitents who have repented from sin and do not plan to repeat the sin. According to Church law, those engaging in sex outside of Catholic marriage and planning to continue do not fall into that category.
Does Sullivan want the Church to start forgiving those who plan to repeat the sin? That's not Christian forgiveness. And the Church still considers sex outside of marriage to be sinful, and considers marriage to be a lifetime commitment. If Sullivan (or anyone else) finds those positions untenable, he should make the case directly, rather than comparing repentant sinners to those who plan to continue sinning.
For example, I think the Church needs to reconsider its stance toward gays. But in the meantime, someone who is having homosexual sex is putting him or herself apart from the Church. It would be wrong for the Church to pretend that such a person is reconciled with the Church when he or she truly is not.
I feel like we've reached the "piling on" portion of the scandal, which is why you may have seen my tone change recently. I am still outraged by how pedophile priests have been protected, but a lot of people are now using it as an excuse to take cheap shots at the Church like Sullivan above (even though he is Catholic). And I'm probably going to use a fair amount of blog ink debunking them.
We're going to see a lot of "How can you have a problem with this, if you don't have a problem with pedophile priests?" arguments in the next few months whenever the Church takes any kind of moral stand. (InstaPundit has already started -- I'm sure he'll continue with cloning). Perhaps dealing with these arguments will be part of our atonement for these sins, but we have to remember that that this isn't a logical argument for abortion, premarital sex, the death penalty, embryonic research, or economic injustice. It's important to remember that, and not shrink from our duty to confront injustice, and continue to proclaim the Gospel.
So, when I defend the Church's moral stands, this does not mean that I condone the actions of the bishops who covered up sexual abuse. I am saying that this does not change the moral truth and 2000 years of tradition and our call to live the Gospel.