By Elizabeth Bruenig
In ancient Rome, the gates of hell were always open — a wise rendering of the inferno. “The gates of hell are open night and day; smooth the descent, and easy is the way,” the poet Virgil’s oracle tells his hero Aeneas, “But to return, and view the cheerful skies — in this the task and mighty labor lies.” For most, the effort of escape was too extreme — though an exemplary soul, such as Aeneas, could sometimes make it back to the land of the living if they possessed appropriate courage and willpower.
How little the Eternal City changes. Contemporary Rome now finds itself embroiled in a hell much of its own making, and its gates are wide-open — if anyone has the moral fortitude to simply walk out.
The events at this week’s meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore haven’t given much cause for confidence. The main subject of the convention was set to be the sex abuse crisis, which has roiled the church anew since this summer’s revelations concerning Pennsylvania and disgraced Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The bishops had planned to vote on “concrete measures to respond to the abuse crisis,” but Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the conference president, was informed the night before the meeting that the Vatican had decreed there would be no such vote.
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