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Let's put this in perspective. What good is a church if not to be a beacon of morality? Moreover, in sexual matters, the Catholic Church not only has decreed its authority over its own congregations, but it has sought to impose its version of morality on non-adherents. The term "banned in Boston" is a distinctly Catholic allusion. The church has sought to enforce on society its views on how and with whom we should copulate; and upon whether we should have information (much less entertainment!) relating to that copulation.
Yet, the pope is forced to call his lieutenants to Rome to tell them that it's really, really not acceptable for priests to be diddling the altar boys or groping the girls in confessional booths. Was his concern over the vile sins being committed by guys in clerical collars -- or did the pontiff get into a lather because of the public relations problems? More to the point: What the hell kind of church is this?
Before you type the e-mail or make that call to me fuming over my disrespect, consider: Last week, on the same day a notorious pedophile, the un-Rev. Paul Shanley (he'd even helped found a group that praised the virtues of "man-boy" sex) was arrested in California, the Vatican enunciated its opinion that some sins were beyond redemption. Were the sins in question the serial sexual abuse committed by scum such as Shanley? No way. Instead, the pope was eternally damning such sinners as those who have been divorced and remarried without the benefit of a church annulment.
In other words, a priest who has repeatedly sodomized and raped children is not damned. But two loving people, gay or straight, who lead upright productive lives are heading straight for hell because in the church's eyes they aren't married. Sorry, but I don't get it.
The pope, an increasingly sad and irrelevant man to American Catholics, should have stripped the cardinals -- especially Law -- of their riches and privileges. He should have turned them out of the Vatican dressed in rags and ordered them to crawl home, scourging each other and begging forgiveness of the flocks they betrayed.
The cardinals are infected by a disease common to all bureaucrats. With their humility meter showing dead zero, they believe that they, not their millions of parishioners, are The Church. Thus, only two of the American church princes bothered to attend a public session after their meeting with the pope. With a huge "ho-hum, so what," the cardinals refused to adopt a zero-tolerance or one-strike-and-you're-out policy with sexual predators.
Rather, some of the church rulers have tried to shift the blame to gays, a blood libel if there ever was one. All studies show pedophilia equally infects heterosexuals and homosexuals. To create a pogrom against gays in the priesthood might serve the purpose of scapegoating, but it would hardly address the real issues.
A few words about celibacy. Jesus, whether God or man, didn't comment on the subject -- just as he had not a single word to say about homosexuality. The priesthood wasn't celibate for centuries after Christ, and it wasn't until 1139, when Pope Innocent II declared clerical marriages void and made bastards of the children of priests, that mandatory celibacy was firmly established.
Despite all of the blather about celibacy being a gift to God, its origins had nothing to do with piety. The medieval church was greedy and its hunger for power was gluttonous. Bishops happily burnt as heretics those who declared that Christ taught poverty was virtuous (which, of course, is exactly what he did preach).
To stop priests from passing on their wealth and land to children, celibacy was installed to ensure that the church got it all. As historian Martin Marty wrote 40 years ago, celibacy spurred the vast accumulation of wealth by the church, but that, in turn, "weakened the spiritual vitality and potential for holiness in the institution ... Perverted power repeatedly led to scandal and fall."
Sort of sounds like foreshadowing of Cardinal Law's behavior.
A.W. "Richard" Swipe, a former priest turned therapist, has studied his former colleagues' sexuality for four decades. He estimates that half of all priests have been sexually active. Moreover, he has found that priests -- upon whom 61 million American Catholics rely for the most intimate advice -- have stunted emotional and sexual maturity. That, he argues, explains priests' obsession with children and youths -- emotional peers.
Where, then, is the benefit of celibacy? It's a question that stumps Swipe, not to mention most American Catholics.
Poll after poll shows that Catholics are disillusioned with their leaders. A New York Times survey released last week reported that 80 percent of Catholics feel sexual abusers should be barred from parish life. About 62 percent said the hierarchy had done a poor job handling the scandal.
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