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Religion and Rationality



"Enough is Truly Enough"  Are We Finally Reaching the Tipping Point?

Two previous pieces on this Age of Reason website have been devoted to the scandal of pedophilia and sexual abuse of children by priests and other religious orders, especially within the Catholic Church (though far from restricted to it). Repeated expressions of revulsion and anger and a host of other justifiable emotions, whether by bloggers like myself or by commentators in the media, are natural and inevitable, but seem to have no effect. In Canada, the most recent scandal involves a Catholic bishop of the province of Nova Scotia who was caught bringing back images of child pornography into the country on his laptop computer. It was reported that he had been on a foreign excursion which involved certain countries of southeast Asia notorious as havens for child abuse and favorite destinations of pedophiles, although no evidence has been presented as to what his activities might have been in those countries.

Subsequent to the good bishop's return, reports have surfaced of earlier possession on his part of similar pornographic images of children in his home. Ironically, this bishop was instrumental in a recent settlement between the Catholic Church in Atlantic Canada and many accusers of local priests in that area who had victimized children over previous decades. When even high-ranking Church representatives charged with correcting and compensating--and commiserating--for this shocking and destructive practice are themselves found to be perpetrators of the horror, one can be forgiven for concluding that the whole system is rotten to the core.

No change seems on the horizon, nor any measures which could help to bring about such change. The two most recent Popes, both conservatives, have profusely apologized and expressed their regrets, but have taken few if any concrete measures to create the sea change required. Someone like myself will maintain that correction is impossible, simply because the system itself, the entrenched existence in society of these organizations of indoctrination to which we have given such insidious power over our lives, is so unnatural in its dogmas and dictates, so counterproductive to human wellbeing at both the individual and collective level, that it is incapable of operating in a rational, healthy manner. But when will society in general, and especially those who make up the congregations of these primitive and outdated institutions, reach the point of finally coming to the same conclusion? (And not solely on the basis of the sexual proclivities of so many of its ministers.)

In February of 2008, I reprinted an article from the Ottawa Citizen in response to the latest scandal of priestly sexual abuse of children, by a regular columnist of that newspaper who is herself a practicing Catholic. (See Forum No. 14.) It was hard-hitting to a point, and now a year and a half later she once again finds herself having to write on the same subject. There is still no fault-finding with the concept of religious belief itself, but now the disillusion with the organizational system which has been built around it is emerging and can no longer be denied. Perhaps this is a sign that the tipping point may not be too far off.
The Ottawa Citizen: Sunday, October 11, 2009
"Enough Is Enough. Really."
By Janice Kennedy

You could hear the sorrow, anger and frustration last weekend in Anthony Mancini's voice.

"Enough is enough!" said the Halifax archbishop, reading his pastoral  letter to Nova Scotia Catholics -- a statement on former Antigonish bishop Raymond Lahey and his alleged possession of child pornography. "How much more can all of us take?"

Mancini's question is a good one. And here's the answer: No more. I say this as a lifelong, if frequently critical, Catholic. True, like most liberals in the church, I am not a Catholic whose beliefs hinge on the revernece of ornate structures, opulent vestments, rigid rules, dead languages and an attribution of timelessness to things that are merely historical. But I am Catholic. And I am deeply ashamed of my church.

Yet the pool of poison seeping out of it has revealed itself to be so vast that its effects are felt by more than just Catholics. The victimization of children is not just a dirty little secret of someone else's religion.

The fact is, pedophilia is evil, criminally evil, no matter how convincingly self-serving pedophiles -- priests, as well as others -- tell themselves. "Where's the harm, really?" As millions of battered little souls could attest, the harm is nothing less than lives destroyed. That's the reason we call it a crime.

So why has this criminal abuse of children gone on for so long in the Catholic church? If you can answer that, you can figure out the solution, which is not as complex as it looks in the bureaucratic behemoth that is the Roman Catholic Church. It's actually simply: Stop excluding the non-male half of humanity. And stop demanding delibacy as a priesthood norm. Both constructions are unnatural and morally reprehensible. And they attract freaks, as well as naive people who can become freaks. A life of enforced celibacy encourages men to deny a fundamental part of their being -- with the inevitable explosive result that many end up catering to it in secret and illicit ways.

And for what? The Catholic church was not founded on an exclusionary mission of denying women and married people the opportunity serve as priests. It only began this desiccating process after some early churchmen, presumably wrestling demons of their own, decided somehow that God must have erred in creating human sexuality. In the fourth century, the church gradually began marginalizing women and turning up its nose at married men on the altar...

...Transforming its priesthood into a celibate men-only club, the Catholic church has obviously attracted a disproportionate number of pedophiles, as we discover day after depressing day. Ordinary Catholics have no idea how man (even though we find ourselves wondering, in genuine sorrow, about every single priest we ever admired in our lives), but it's clearly infinitely more than the "few bad apples" church authoritis cite so zealously as scandal after scandal erupts around the globe.

"A few bad apples" just doesn't wash any more. The freaks long ago assumed positions of power within the organization, creating and entrenching their freakish -- and criminal -- culture, one that either permits the surreptitious victimization of innocent children, or (nudge-nudge-wink-wink) turns a blind and tacitly forgiving eye to it.

Father X has been caught, again, didling little boys? Send him to a new parish. Father Y (it was reported 20 years go) has a pedilection fo child pornography and condoms in his house? Make him a bishop.

No amount of anguished frustration from Mancini, or any other Vatican representation, can whiten the blackness of that hypocrisy and what it reveals about the rot below the gilded surface. And what's truly sad is that nobody within the church hierarchy can claim complete innocence. There have been centuries of crimes and collusion, and centuries of wilful indifference.

If the Catholic church doesn't begin a deep and serious process of self-reformation, one that goes far beyond the laughable surface measures of recent years (Psychological testing? That should do the trick!), the culture of these criminal perverts will continue to eat away at the church core, which will crumble. When betrayal, indictable exploitation and cover-ups become the modus operandi of an organization supposedly founded on the solid rock of love and doing for others, the dissolution of the institution is not a question of if, but when.

Without profound change, the end is coming. And even those Catholics who held out for the longest time -- those fervent optimists who kept praying that someone somewhere in the power structure might have the moral courage to start sweeping out the accumulated filth and begin the crucial reform process -- even they will give up. Their hearts heavy, even they will be thinking, "Enough is enough. Good riddance."

Unfortunately, Catholic writers like Ms. Kennedy do not realize the significance behind these closing remarks. If Catholics pray that "someone somewhere in the power structure" needs to have "moral courage," surely this includes the figure of God himself whom the church regards as exercising the ultimate power over itself. It is that ultimate head of the church who has failed perpetrator and victim alike for not taking the responsibility for instituting the needed reform process. That is where the true callousness ought to be seen. Of course, it is a little pointless to lay such responsibility at the door of an entity which shows no sign of being home.

(For further views on this topic, including a short story I wrote several years ago,
see my Comment No. 12 in this series: "Deliver Us To Evil")