Praise the Lord

1194886618By now, you’ve surely heard: Pope Benedict XVI is skipping Boston. His first U.S. visit will feature just two “command performances” — one in Washington, D.C., and one in New York.

Naturally, lots of people are all worked up about the pontiff’s decision. They see it as a slap at our fair city. It’s an understandable opinion given the current climate here — lately, Bostonians have come to believe that the Hub really is the center of the universe. How could the pope ignore us like that?

Trust me, though: We lucked out on this one.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley and former mayor Ray Flynn, who also served as the Vatican Ambassador for a time, both desperately wanted the Holy Father to make a pit stop in Boston.

Flynn visited the Vatican last month and lobbied for a papal appearance, partly to celebrate the Archdiocese of Boston’s bicentennial.

Flynn pitched a Boston visit as a chance for the pope to help the archdiocese heal wounds left by the sexual abuse crisis.

“It certainly would have been an opportunity to reach out to victims and their families and address that issue,” Flynn said.

The former Boston mayor, stopping short of calling the pope’s pass a mistake, said he also told top officials at the Holy See that “only the pope could really effectively begin the healing process.”

It’s an admirable thought, one that’s been echoed around town over the last few days. It’s also woefully misguided. Having the pope make a quick pop-in isn’t going to undo the evil that lingered here for so long, and it isn’t going to wash away our shame. You can pretend that it will, but no man — whether he has a direct line to Him or not — is capable of making the victims feel better about what happened, and no man can absolve Boston or the archdiocese of its culpability. Only time (and maybe not even that) can heal those wounds.

On the contrary, not only wouldn’t a visit by the pope help Boston, it would actually hurt. Politically, it would be a terrible move — for the pontiff, for the Catholic Church, and especially for Boston. All involved would be forced to relive the scandal because it would once more be international news. Television, radio and print journalists from around the globe would flock to Boston, all of whom would repeatedly ask a variation of the same painful question.

“If he goes to Boston, the story is the abuse crisis,” Benedict biographer John L. Allen Jr. told the Globe. “I don’t think the people around the pope want that to be the story of this trip.”

No one in Boston should want to be part of that story again, either. Feel slighted if you like, think of it as a collective excommunication if you must, but it’s for the best.

Besides, as a Catholic, I can’t imagine attending mass at Fenway. It’s hard enough to sit in those seats; what would happen when the Holy Father asked us to kneel?