Over the last few years, it’s become increasingly clear that there’s no longer any place in Roman Catholicism for any but the most conservative and doctrinaire members. The signs of a top-down ideological cleansing are too obvious to ignore, including the Vatican hierarchy’s using the Eucharist as a bludgeon against politicians who show too much independence and cracking down on nuns for being suspiciously feminist. People, especially young people, are leaving in droves, and the FFRF has been helping them along with billboards and ads urging progressive Catholics to quit the church (I can’t tell you how much I love “Put Women’s Rights Over Bishops’ Wrongs”). Even the executive editor of the New York Times, hardly a voice of radicalism, is in agreement that liberals can do more good outside the church than in. And liberal Catholics who aren’t leaving feel compelled to articulate why not, a clear sign that they’re feeling the pressure as well.
But you can never have too many reasons on offer to quit the Catholic church. Today, I’d like to toss four more on the pile. Some of these are older stories I meant to write about earlier, but others are brand-new (the Catholic church being a veritable wellspring of self-embarrassment these past few years).
First: You’ve probably heard that the church has been offering generous severance packages – as much as $20,000 – to known pedophile priests, despite a specific earlier denial that they were doing this. The Vatican’s lame and belated excuse has been that laicizing a priest is an unavoidably slow and bureaucratic process, especially if the priest resists; that the church is bound to provide for the priest’s needs in the meantime; and that offering lump-sum payouts to the pedophiles so that they’d go quietly was the easiest way to get the process over with. This explanation is thrown into doubt by the case of a rogue archbishop, Emmanuel Milingo, who ordained married men as priests in a public show of defiance and was officially laicized all of six days later.
Clearly, this process can go much faster when the Vatican wants it to. The fact that it didn’t go faster with known pedophiles, even ones who admitted their guilt and asked to be defrocked, can only mean they didn’t want it to. (Hey, I have an idea: Why not turn the pedophiles over to the justice system and let the state provide for their needs while they’re in prison awaiting trial? It speaks volumes that this idea clearly didn’t even occur to any church official handling these cases.) Regardless of the church’s reasoning, I wonder how its parishioners feel knowing that some of the money they put in the collection plate might end up being used in a payout to a child molester.
Second: From the “holy shit, are you kidding me” department, the Dutch Catholic church (which was in the news last year when an archbishop offered the same excuse as Nazi soldiers) in March was accused of forcibly castrating at least 10 young men who lived in Catholic institutions after they complained to the police about sexual abuse. The possible motivations for this are unclear, though I’d guess it was partly an act of purely malicious retaliation, and partly out of a delusional belief that any sexual abuse of boys happened because they were evil tempters who were seducing poor innocent priests, and that this was a way to “treat” them. Either way, if this story is true, the Catholic church will have touched a new low in the moral abyss of institutionalized child rape – and after the scandal has been unfolding this long, that’s a remarkable achievement.
Next, there’s the story of Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association. Until now, he was best known for inviting a tantrik, a kind of Indian voodoo doctor, to try to kill him with black magic on live television. But he made headlines in recent weeks when a local Catholic church claimed that a religious icon in their possession was miraculously weeping. Edamaruku came to investigate, and determined that the “tears” were water from a leaky pipe that had been drawn up by capillary action. Did the church shrug its shoulders and say, “Oh well, I guess we were wrong”? Nope. Instead, they had Edamaruku charged with blasphemy under India’s vaguely worded and easily abused laws protecting religious people’s feelings. Facing the threat of arrest, he went abroad and is fighting the warrant from there. In short, for offering an accurate scientific explanation of something that some people thought was a miracle, India’s Catholics want to see Sanal Edamaruku arrested and imprisoned! But don’t forget, the church is a benevolent institution that’s learned from its regrettable past errors and now respects the right of free speech.
Last, but certainly not least: Last week in Philadelphia, Monsignor William Lynn was convicted by a jury on one count of child endangerment. This is the first case, to my knowledge, in which a church official was convicted not for molesting a child himself but for covering up for others who were molesting children. And it probably won’t be the last: a bishop in Kansas has been indicted for allegedly finding out about another child-molesting priest in his diocese and not informing the police for six months, violating an earlier agreement that he would tell the police immediately about any new cases of sex abuse that came to his attention.
What’s especially noteworthy is the defense employed by Lynn’s lawyers. They argued that their client was a blameless middle-management bureaucrat with no power to move priests around, and that the real culprit was his boss at the time: a cardinal in the church, now deceased. This is of course convenient for them, in that it places the blame on a dead man who can’t be charged, but it also means that even the defense in this case admits that the pedophilia coverup reaches into the highest levels of the church hierarchy.
Consider the picture painted by all these stories taken together. The Catholic church admits that its most powerful officials have participated in the cover-up of child molestation; it pays off the child molesters and castrates their victims; and wherever the laws permit it, it tries to have its critics arrested and imprisoned. Is this arrogant, corrupt, medievally minded institution the kind of religion you want to belong to? If you haven’t left the church yet, what are you waiting for?
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