I wrote this in response to a recent times article reporting Benedict's words on the abuse scandals: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/12/world/europe/12pope.html
At a listening session at my church about the abuse scandals two weeks back I wrestled with the question, what can we (the laity) do about this. What came to me was not more watchdog groups, or focusing on one individual in the church. Instead, I imagined churches all over the country, coming together in prayer services, claiming responsibility (though not necessarily culpability.. I still have to meditate on that) for the sins of the church, and as John Paul II asked for forgiveness at the wailing wall for the sins committed against the jews throughout two millennia, we would ask forgiveness too for being part of a culture of silence, a culture of inaction and a culture that has enabled this abuse to continue. It was my thought, why wait for the bishops or the pope to enact this. We can change the church from the ground up. Wouldn't it be something if churches everywhere claimed penance, created a culture of penance and in effect shifted the world so that the bishops and the pope would follow suit. True penance does not allow a sin to continue and reparations and change are necessary. We would through our penance make change necessary. What do you think of that?
Now, this voice for penance comes from the highest (and lowest) position in the church, the pope. He isn't saying the bishops have to relearn penance, nor simply himself, nor simply the monstrous priest-abusers or the enabling bureaucracy (for its always more than just a bishop); instead, he is saying the whole church must learn penance.
In 1st corinthians 12, Paul says that if one member of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. When the body is the community, you can't simply "pluck the eye out" because it causes sin. It is easy to split the church in two right now (as Kristof does in the NY times), and identify "the bad church" of the vatican, the old boys club, and then the good church of the laity and of priests and nuns doing amazing work on the ground. If we are to change this church, we must do the counter-intuitive, and not only "take responsibility," but also claim responsibility. I believe we can do this liturgically, but it only begins there. We are responsible, not simply because we share in the sin of the church, but also because we are agents who can make a difference.