Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On the Catholic Church, Pedophilia and Other Sundry Observations. . .

Before I get too far into this post, let me first start by saying that this post has absolutely nothing to do with Catholicism the religion. I like the rituals, the legalism, salvation by way of works, and the deeply thought out logic. But I dislike the mechanisms of the Church, and its constant need to excuse its horrific behaviors. The Inquisition, the Catholic-Protestant wars of the Counter-Reformation, and the Crusades are all examples of this.

Unfortunately, the sexual abuse of children appears to be another example of where the Church goes off the rails. For years the Catholic Church has hidden or protected priests that raped hundreds, if not thousands of children, in both the United States and in Europe. The latest scandals have even reached as high as the Pope, who, during his stint as an Archbishop, oversaw the transfer of a priest to another parish after the priest forced a ten-year old boy to service him (that's as far as I'm going to go with my explanation).

Even Ireland is furious with the Catholic Church over the scandals there. Ireland, whose native sons reconverted much of Northern Europe after the fall of the (Western) Roman Empire. Ireland, which held onto Catholicism despite centuries of oppression at the hands of the British for being Catholic. So, if the Irish have a problem, there's a problem.

At the heart of this problem is that priests are increasingly hard to come by. Parishes that used to have 5 or 6 priests now have 1 or 2, if that. So, the Church, when facing a pedophile priest, would rather let that priest continue to molest children than defrock him because priests are so valuable and rare. In comparison, the Episcopal Church turns priests away because they have too many.

So why are priests so hard to come by? Well, the answer, of course, is sex. The vow of celibacy keeps a lot of people away, and the problem is exacerbated by two factors: 1) life expectancy has doubled in the past century (thereby increasing the amount of time a priest has to live in celibacy); and 2) gay men can live openly as gay men and so they don't have to be "celibate" to live relatively normal lives. Unfortunately, these trends are going to continue, and the Church is going to continue to have a harder and harder time recruiting priests. Oh, and the perception that priests are pedophiles isn't going to help matters either.

If the Catholic Church wasn't so wrapped up in defending itself, there is a lot it can do to reverse these trends. First of all, celibacy among priests is NOT doctrinal. For the first 1000 years of the Church's existence, priests, bishops and popes could marry and have children. The Eastern Orthodox Church, which differs from the Catholic Church doctrine in just two ways (the Supremecy of the Pope, and the whether or not the Holy Spirit is descended from the Father and the Son, or just the Father), has always allowed priests to marry. Simply put, there is no reason Pope Benedict cannot end the celibacy vow today.

Second, the Church needs to realize the pedophilia scandals are much, much bigger than it thinks. To this, I think the Church can use its institutional power to its advantage. The Pope can issue a rule that requires any priest who molests a child cannot receive absolution unless he confesses to the local police. He can also direct Catholic hospitals and psychiatrists to treat all victims of molestation free of charge. He can express outrage and sympathy for the victims, and he can beg forgiveness for his part in the matter (before he became Pope, and thus, infallible).

Will the Church do this? Probably not, and that's a real shame.

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