Horror, shock, sorrow and also determination are reasonable and appropriate reactions to the fire that nearly destroyed the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The damage was extensive and will be costly to repair. Many precious, rare and historically significant items may have been lost that can never be replaced. So, promises to rebuild this landmark along with generous pledges to fund the restoration effort came swiftly and decisively, as would be expected.
The whole world paid attention and was gripped by this catastrophic fire that many called a tragedy and even miraculous since no one was killed, though people risked their lives attempting to save valuable church relics. Inevitably, thoughts and prayers were offered to Paris, to France as a whole and to the Vatican on this loss of historic proportions.
Then came the question, why don’t the dire conditions that refugees, the poor and homeless (some who probably lived in the shadow of Notre Dame) have to live with get the same kind of attention. Despite being a significant cultural loss of historical treasures, when all is said and done, it’s just a building with some things in it. Shouldn’t living, breathing (and starving) people be society’s priority over mere stuff?
A good question, isn’t it?
But (to those with eyes to see) there is an even deeper and more insidious disparity here. The Roman Catholic Church has been exposed, on a near daily basis, as having covered up the sexual abuse of children by its clergy and employees around the world. Where is the rush to repair all the lives that have been destroyed, not by fire but by the willful disregard for the wellbeing of children they had in their care?
A cathedral doesn’t feel pain, people do. Can a child’s self-regard be restored like the facade of a building? Can a lost childhood ever be replaced, like the treasure in this iconic landmark will be? The Catholic Church did not burn down this cathedral. Their cover-ups, however, did devastate tens of thousands of lives because they placed their own reputation (and preservation of wealth) above the well-being and safety of children.
The partial destruction of an eight and a half century old building has grabbed the world’s attention and evoked powerful and emotional responses, overnight. Yet, for decades the destruction of countless children’s lives, by sexual predators placed in their midst, was enabled and hidden from discovery by the same Church that built Notre Dame Cathedral as a monument to its own power and glory.
What’s wrong with this picture?