The wider influence of religion and other institutions should always be based solely on the demonstration of active justice and morality. Those acts should be continual and ongoing, they shouldn’t be allowed to rest on the acts of other people in the past. The granting of political and social influence by mere assumption and rote stipulation is one of the worst features of organized religion through history. Religious texts from most traditions give warnings about people who put on robes and assume titles and with those the influence and, worst of all, power unwisely given on the appearance of religious sincerity. The scriptures, no less, of Buddhism and Christianity are quite explicit about phonies in religious dress, as are popular songs. The tendency to corruption among the clergy of established religion apparently isn’t entirely abandoned in countries without established religions.
Today’s Catholic hierarchy has forfeited its claims to respect and should be stripped of its general political influence. Its lackies, such as Bill Donohue, shouldn’t automatically get their ranting voices in the media. It has absolutely no credibility in the area of sexual morality, none whatsoever, its heavy hand on legislation dealing with sexuality and reproduction should be cut off as the offending one.
To a lot of Catholics and ex-Catholics, one of the minor annoyances of the gradually building scandal of clergy sexual abuse and enablement by the hierarchy is the hypocrisy of the hierarchs. The small clique of unmarried men who rule the church could be counted on to explain their stamping out any small progressive deviation from their rigid preferences with the phrase “it give scandal”. And now they, themselves, have given the church the biggest scandal since the Vatican did in WWII.
While Cardinal Ratzinger and Karol Wojtyla were doing their best to put a stop to the mild reforms of progressives begun during the papacies of John XXIII and even Paul VI* they were also continuing what we’ve found out is a long tradition of treating priests and other church employees abuse of children as a minor personnel problem, their rape and abuse of children as something to be covered up not reported to law enforcement**. I don’t think the two things, centralizing power in the Vatican and the abuse scandal are separate, they are two aspects of the same corruption. And it’s a kind of corruption that isn’t limited to religious institutions but has also arisen in purely secular situations. What it can tell us about some avoidable dangers inherent to institutions is universally important.
Apparently it wasn’t the FACT that children were being abused that was seen as the more serious problem, it was to create the illusion of chastity being maintained by the church. To some extent that was due to the perennial shortage of priests, due to the exclusion of the majority of Catholics from that vocation. When you’ve got priests carrying two or more parishes now, getting rid of the bad ones would leave the ones left stretched past the breaking point. The idea that married men and women were eligible for the priesthood, that there were no scriptural bases for their exclusion was one of the ideas Wojtyla came down hard on as soon as he became pope. No doubt his #1 henchman, Ratzinger concurred in that***.
I think it’s fairly obvious that the clique of unmarried men who run the church has done this primarily in order to maintain their absolute control of the wealth and power of the Catholic Church. I do believe that no other part of the church has had a hand in retaining pedophile priests and enabling their further crimes has been the decision of only unmarried, ordained men. I haven’t been able to find any instance in which a priest was retained or dismissed on the say so of any woman or married man. But it isn’t true that no priests were fired during the period when Ratzinger and his lackies were not only retaining and shuffling around abusive priests and other church employees, there were firings and even defrockings. Consider the case of Sr. Jeannette Normandin and Fr. George Winchester who got thrown out of their jobs at the Paulist Center in Boston.
I’ll concentrate on the case of Sr Normandin because I know people who have told me about their experience with her. They inevitably call her a saint. Sr. Jeannette had founded Ruah House, to care for women with AIDS, she had worked in prisons and among poor people for decades. Her great crime was that she baptized children of gay men who were part of the Paulist Center community. She lost her job, her home and was excluded from her community after giving 53 years to her religious vocation. The Cardinals and Pope who had a say in her dismissal obviously were more bothered by her baptizing children than they were over the rape of children by the priests they retained and reestablished, now we know more than once, so they could continue to abuse children.
It’s especially interesting to contrast how the Cardinals, up to the Pope, who threw her and others, out on these minor points are the same ones who got Cardinal Law out of Boston before he could be indicted for his part in the crimes of the pedophile clergy he enabled and supported.
The biggest scandals in the Catholic Church haven’t been from the majority of its members, it has come from the crimes of its most powerful rulers. They’ve pretty much lost their moral authority, Ratzinger’s part in the cover up was known before the CARDINALS chose to make one of the more corrupt among them pope. The same thug who cracked down on progressives over minor deviations from his preferred neo-medieval revival is now known to have been an enabler of priestly child rapists. What else he might be is yet to come out but I wouldn’t be surprised if this scandal doesn’t get much worse.
I asked one of my observant cousins why she stayed in the church, she said that the church didn’t belong to the pope, “it’s my church”, she said. While that wasn’t the way I took, I respect her and the other Catholics like the late Sr. Normandin who do good work from within the church. There is a lot of good that is done by people in the Church, though I think they owe it to us to make it explicit that their work doesn’t cover up the sins of Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, some Nuns and Brothers. It doesn’t make up for the child abuse and cover up, the coercion to silence the victims of crimes.
The use of scripture to explain things is a sometimes thing and, at times, a two edged sword. The vast variety of texts by different authors writing in various conditions and of varying experience passed down to us in copies of varying textual quality and authenticity, lends itself to contradiction. But I don’t believe the text in which Jesus said that people who corrupted children would have been better of drowned with a millstone around their neck is really ambiguous. Pope Benedict has had a hand in corrupting children. Many Cardinals such as Bernard Law have permitted the abuse of children. As seen in the recent procurement scandal within the Vatican apparatus it is a place where corruption can go on for quite a while. But this pope, who has been among the greatest proponents of the revival of confession, is stonewalling on his own, disqualifying, sins. The hypocrisy of the conservatives in control of the hierarchy doesn't seem to have a bottom.
I stopped being an active Catholic many years ago, I stopped identifying myself as even a lapsed Catholic later. While I have respect for many Catholics, who are doing good things and who are sincerely trying to be better people, the institution is hopelessly corrupt. Short of opening up the priesthood and the power structure to women and men, regardless of their marital state, the corruption flowing from the all-unmarried-male power structure will never be ended. The extent to which the power held by the Pope is absolute and that by the Cardinals and Bishops as absolute as the Pope will allow, will be the extent to which corruption and crime are incubated.
The Catholic Church in its present form is a good illustration of why non-democratic government will always devolve into criminality and corruption. I think the sincere Catholics deserve a lot better than that, they should stop giving the criminals money, they should demand that power be devolved. They should demand that the windows John XXIII tried to open be opened for good and that the all male power structure give way to something else. The People of the church could hardly do worse.
* Hard to remember how conservative he seemed at the time, isn’t it?
** Part of the early negligence was due to an unsupported faith in the ability of psychology to correct the behavior of pedophiles. The attempt to use psychology to rehabilitate priestly abusers was found, even by some of its early advocates, to be disastrously ineffective.
*** Ratzinger and Wojtyla were especially keen on trying to pin the pedophile scandal on gay men. Gay men are, of course, not automatically pedophiles anymore than straight men are. I, as most gay men I know, hold pedophilia to be an immoral violation of the rights of children, but to be disgusting. The recently revealed procurement scandal within the Vatican Choir is a good indication that the public campaign to purge seminaries of gay men was a PR stunt as well as unjust hypocrisy.