I am having difficulty wrapping my head around the current round of extremely nasty scandals coming out of Catholic Diocese in the US and Europe. The bullet point approach works for me so here it goes in no particular order:
– Neither all priests, nor most priests, nor many priests are anything more than extremely dedicated professionals who would never improperly touch anyone, let alone young boys;
– That said, extensive impropriety did happen, systemically, and in Dioceses around the world. When word leaked out, as word always leaks out, the Church chose to cover up priests with serious mental issues who serially committed serious and major crimes over decades* rather than confront the issue at hand.
– As the world learned during Watergate, the cover-up is far worse than the original crime. Considering the crime, these attempts at cover up are magnifying what is already a horrific problem a thousand-fold.
– The response from the Church, from calling the reports “petty gossip” to dismissive sniffing to blaming it on t3h gays to hurried cover-ups feels trite, childish, and irresponsible.
– Andrew Sullivan had a fantastic post in the last week (lost in the incredible spew of his blog, unfortunately) about how gay boys turn into gay self-loathing priests living in a world where they call themselves horrible monsters in the eyes of God who finally turn into predators because they are adults with arrested early adolescent sexuality attracted to yet other adolescents.
The Church is an enormous, rigidly hierarchical organization, spanning dozens of countries with hundreds of millions of parishioners, with a history spanning two thousand years. Watching these scandals unfold, it is not pedophilia the Church cannot deal with, but modernity. A hundred years ago, or fifty years ago, or even five years ago, the Church, a highly insular organization with rigid controls, could move the offending priest form one parish to another. The problem magically disappeared. Poof! No more pedophilia in the parish! Everything taken care of! And the news reports, if there were any, faded into nothing as the giant echo chamber of the Internet had not yet, quite, reached its full power.
Today, information travels at the speed of light and every news outlet, from the biggest news organization to the tiniest blog** has a forum for commentary to keep the story going. The world does not provide shade from the light shined down on the ugliest problems swept under the rug. No one has anywhere to hide. Once Pandora’s Box is opened, it stays opened. Problem priests cannot be shuffled between parishes. Victims cannot be dismissed or hushed up. One cannot sniff and call these systemic reports “petty gossip.” They must be dealt with.
The stakes are high. One cannot claim to be the moral authority on Earth and the conduit between a parishioner and Christ while still brushing one of the greatest of all crimes under the rug. Catholicism is not the local rotary club or the school board. The Church is in the business to be better. The Church is supposed to be above laws, above governments, above all human institutions. Here it is, a human institution made up of humans who have human failings***, out on parade with its dangly bits for all to see.
The end of this road the Church is currently on is a simple one: fewer parishioners. More people turned away. More disillusioned who don’t show up or head down the street to the local Episcopalian Church — all the Catholicism, less neurotic conniption fits. Further aging and further stodgy insistence on arch-conservatism. Aging population with no hopes of fresh blood.
I am not cheering for the Demise of the Church like Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins but it doesn’t get out of this one unscathed. It’s sad that an institution that claims the moral authority of Christ doesn’t have enough courage to look at itself and ask itself how it got into this mess. I feel terrible the good people who have dedicated their lives to the Church,**** the help for the poor and the betterment of Mankind have to be lumped in with this nonsense because the Church Authority cannot put on the Big Boy pants.
And sometimes, I am just mean enough, just a tiny bit, to think that the Nazi Pope may be the Pope the Church hierarchy deserves until it decides to join the rest of us.
* And centuries.
** Like me!
*** I am not calling pedophilia a normal human failing. It is a horrific crime. Normal people who make up the hierarchy of the Church are human beings prone to human failings.
**** The nuns are awesome these days! Also, I totally love the Franciscans.