Church Trouble

The recent problems in Ireland are just a small example of the deficiencies inherent in the Catholic Church

Opinion | Justin McCauley | April 2010

The Catholic Church has a problem, and it’s not just rapists in the clergy. It has become increasingly apparent in the last few decades that the Church is out of touch – an anachronism of a bygone era, which has done more harm to humanity than any good. There is plenty of evidence to support this of course: the Crusades, the Inquisition, et al. More recently though, the Church has died down the religious violence in favor of soft power.

The Church has done some good – hundreds of schools and hospitals in Africa were built under the Church’s auspices, for the meager price of one’s soul. But claiming to be God’s representative on earth carries some serious implications. One can assume two things about divinity, that it’s consistent and that it’s morally beyond reproach.

Pope John Paul II did a lot for the Church – he was widely viewed as a liberal and reformer, and desperately sought to keep the Church relevant. One can recall such images as John Paul enjoying break-dancers in the Vatican, calling such talent "a gift from God." But it turns out the Church wasn’t really progressing; John Paul was just an anomaly.

Fast-forward to Pope Benedict XVI, where we see the papacy reverting back to measures such as the old condemnations of "satanic" rock music like the Beatles and the Eagles – not to mention protecting Holocaust-denying bishops. Indeed, Benedict XVI is making sure some of the Church’s oldest traditions continue to be upheld: homophobic intolerance, passive anti-Semitism, chauvinism and opposition to all sorts of liberal, progressive and sensible concepts pertaining civil rights, equality and public health – heaven forbid let a rape victim abort the rapist’s child or let AIDS victims use condoms.

Of course, the rigid, atavistic dogma of a 2,000-year-old religion is one thing – but the Catholic Church’s worst kept, dirty little secret has always been pedophilic clergymen, a far cry from anything protected by papal infallibility. The recent controversy over sexual abuse by priests in Ireland has become too much for the papacy to ignore. The usual modus operandi of moving the offender to another dioceses – which the Church has been doing for decades – was not going to work this time.

There have been public apologies by Irish clergy leaders as well as the pope himself. In a rare public acknowledgement of this very persistent problem, Benedict XVI expressed sadness and vowed to (finally) address the problem. But will this happen? The trouble is, the pope has a penchant for putting canon law above actual law – this is problematic to say the least, and the Church’s track record for bringing these child abusers to justice is predictably poor.

Is the problem celibacy? Should priests be able to get married? Maybe, but why if they’re so sex-starved don’t they just travel a couple towns away and visit a brothel, instead of abusing a child? Sure, it’s a crime of opportunity, but maybe the problem isn’t why they’re doing it, but the fact that there are no repercussions. If you can rape a kid and keep your job as a holy man, things aren’t so bad are they?

Ultimately, the problem lies in the papacy’s preference for secrecy and loyalty to sex-offending priests over loyalty to their congregation or the moral tenants of their faith. This is not an attack on the Catholic faith – far from it. It is a judgment of those who endeavor to guard it by engaging in nepotism, cover-ups and conspiracy that are directly inimical to any code of ethics, whether ecclesiastical or secular.

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