April 5, 2010

The Church

Over the past several years all of us have gotten used to reports of child sexual abuse at the hands of priests within the Catholic Church. We've read about stories of cover-ups, lawsuits filed years later, and of monies awarded that required the sale of Church property. And for years the rest of the world sort of hung back, sure that the abuse was simply a "U.S. problem." We've shaken our heads, gotten angry, then forgot about it until the next cycle.

And then...and then reports began to surface about similar abuse throughout Europe. As reports began to multiply, the Church began to lash back at the media reporting the abuse. Last week things came to a head when a spokesman at the Vatican compared all the negative reporting to the persecution endured by Jews during the Holocaust.

As a student of organizational behavior, this tone deafness didn't surprise me. As organizations age, they become insular and concerned with protecting the status quo. Even though the Catholic Church is a religious organization, it is also close to two thousand years old. Then too, one gets the sneaking suspicion that for some in the hierarchy, this sort of abuse is undoubtedly built in; it's happened for so long that it may not be considered sex...or abuse, but something boys experience as they grow up. About that last I have no proof, but it seems a reasonable proposition, so I'm stating it.

The reason I'm writing about this today? Another in a series of articles, this one about a priest who'd served in an American diocese, been accused of sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl, who'd returned to his native India where he's effectually been given sanctuary against the charges. What struck me about this particular article was a set of comments made by the area's bishop. Though the Vatican has known about the accusations for at least three years, the bishop's response is simple: "We cannot simply throw out the priest...he says he is innocent. What else can we do?" Not "Whether the priest is innocent or guilty, we believe in the rule of law and have sent him back to face the charges against him."

The Vatican's fall-back position seems to be that nothing in Church directives prevents bishops from heeding local authorities, but because the Pope hasn't issued any guidelines requiring them to do so, they can use that lack as a loophole, throw up their hands, and declare, "What can we do?"

Nowhere in this are the thousands of abused children taken into account, just protection of the priests and their higher-ups. Now that this corruption has reached the highest levels - the Pope himself - and is not simply an American problem, the shit is really hitting the fan. And yet all we've heard is more of the same shifting of blame onto the media. One report I read yesterday blamed the "New York Jewish lobby" (aka The New York Times) for smearing the Pope.

One wonders where it will all end now that the scandal has gone global. The circle the wagons mentality, the tone deaf attitude continues to grow. If Jesus threw out the money lenders, what do you suppose he would do here?



JP said...

Il Papa has told the Irish priests that they should face the music... so why not make it a global edict.

I think for far too long the Church has been taking this as "this is an isolated problem that will work itself out" and not as a systemic problem.

IMNSHO, a lot of the problems derive from the fact that the Church requires priests to be celibate... uhh... yeah right... priests are humans, not automatons. Ever wonder why there's isn't this wide-spread abuse in other denominations? The Anglican Church is almost identical doctrinally to the Roman Catholic Church, yet you don't see these kinds of abuses (or they aren't being reported)... Is it because priests are allowed to marry in the Anglican Church?

Laurie G said...

I didn't get into possible causes in my blog for a couple of reasons, one being that if the abuse is the result of pedophilia, celibacy/marriage has nothing to do with it. OTOH, I know that the Catholic Church has been troubled by sexuality for almost its entire existence. While several popes were married, and the earliest Christian leaders were married, as far back as the fourth century the idea took hold that they could only properly serve God if there was not a wife in the mix. Priests who were married were to refrain from sex.

I think "pie in the sky thinking" - that one can serve God best without other relationships interfering - may be fine in theory. But it does tend to separate priests from the rest of humanity. It's hard to imagine how somebody can counsel other human beings when they themselves aren't part of the messiness that is humanity. And that's where the trouble comes from, I imagine, that and that by separating priests from the remainder of us, they are put on a pedestal, a step above others, and ripe for corruption.