Tuesday, July 20, 2010

WASHINGTON POST Child sex abuse and women's ordination: the Vatican's immoral equivalency

Child sex abuse and women's ordination: the Vatican's immoral equivalency

Washington Post

Susan Jacoby

Open mouth and insert foot--again and again and again. That must be the Vatican motto under Pope Benedict XVI. How else to explain the Vatican's recent statement placing priestly pedophilia and attempts to ordain women as priests on the same list of "grave delicts" to be punished by the Roman Catholic Church. Oh yes. Heresy, apostasy, and schism also made the list. In case you haven't heard the word "delict" used lately, it is a legal term meaning--naturally--an offense against the law. In this case, the target of the delict is church law. This term is itself revealing, because it locates both priestly pedophilia and women's ordination in the realm of violations of church rules rather than in the realm of sin or crime. The Vatican is certainly right about half of this equation. Ordaining women as priests is neither a sin nor a crime, but an offense--a delict--against these men in their black, red, and white frocks. You can now be defrocked for raping a child or for conferring Holy Orders on a woman.

In a statement that disappointed Catholic advocates for victims, the Vatican ordered speeded up in-house procedures to investigate allegations of abuse by priests. But the church will not hold bishops accountable for abuse that occurred under their jurisdiction, and bishops are not required, though they are permitted, to report the crime to civil authorities. Priests who are found guilty of child abuse can now be defrocked (unless the church's 20-year statute of limitations has expired)--and so can priests who attempt to ordain women. How is it possible that the Vatican could make such a perverse equation?

Mosignor Charles J. Scicluna, the Vatican prosecutor in charge of sex abuse cases, explained (sort of): "Sexual abuse and pornography are more grave delicts, they are an egregious violation of moral law. Attempted ordination of women is grave, but on another level, it is a wound that is an attempt against the Catholic faith on the sacramental orders." If I may make a stab at translating this passage from the Vaticanese, it seems to recognize that any sane person outside the Vatican considers child abuse to belong to quite a different moral universe than church quibbles about who gets to wear long robes and speak for God. However--as far as the church itself is concerned--any threat to a male-dominated church order is equally serious because it strikes at the hear of the church's from-the-top-down claim to moral authority.

The reason why the church coupled its slightly strengthened procedures for investigating sexual abuse cases with a blast at those who want women priests (the majority of American and European lay Catholics) is perfectly clear if you understand that the church hierarchy has a huge stake in denying any connection between the requirement for priestly celibacy and pedophilia within the clergy. Of course there is such a connection--and not, I emphasize, because a vow of celibacy causes ordinary men to become pedophiles. By demanding celibacy of its priests, what the church does is greatly narrow the pool of applicants for the priesthood. No heterosexual or homosexual man who wants to serve God and maintain a sexually intimate relationship with an adult partner can become a priest. And no woman, celibate or not, can become a priest. The celibacy requirement, which runs counter to the normal human desire for sexual love, by definition must rule out a great many emotionally healthy individuals and inevitably increase the proportion of applicants who have not come to terms with their own sexual desires and the difference between a normal and natural need for physical intimacy and exploitation of the vulnerable. Admit women to the priesthood, and allow priests of both sexes to marry, and you automatically provide a much larger group of candidates for the clergy. Weeding out the unfit is much easier when you don't already have a severe priest shortage. The men in the Vatican know perfectly well that a majority of lay Catholics in the western world view a married priesthood and a female priesthood in a positive light, but the church hierarchy is determined to fights for its exclusive and exclusionary privilege to the end. That Jesus had only male apostles (if that is true) is hardly a compelling argument; Jesus also had no access to indoor plumbing, but the Vatican presumably is stocked with modern faucets and toilets.

Difficult as it is for a sane outsider to understand this deluded thinking, I suppose it is not surprising that men who have been told that they are God's best channel for communicating with poor, ordinary humanity are loathe to give up their status. What is extraordinary, though, is that with every refusal to allow others equality in what Catholics consider the Body of Christ, the vain old men in Rome drive away more and more educated lay men and women for whom papal infallibility and the teaching authority of the church no longer have any force. As an atheist, I view the decline of the church's authority as a positive development. But if I were a believing Catholic (even if I didn't believe every last doctrine promulgated by the church), I would be saddened and disgusted at seeing my church run by men whose short-sightedness and selfishness seems to rival that of heads of oil companies and hedge funds.

There are only two outcomes in this scenario created by the Vatican. More and more people brought up as Catholics will continue to leave the church (as one in four American-born Catholics has done during the past 25 years, according to surveys by the Pew Forum) or there will be an outright schism--another one of those "delicts" on the Vatican list. No educated Catholic with an independent mind is going to listen to men whose chief mission in life seems to be to keep women out of the sanctuary that the bad old boys have befouled by their indifference to basic human rights.

The Vatican might as well issue a special new version of the old Act of Contrition, especially for pedophile priests and those members of the clergy who have tried to ordain women: "Oh my Church, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee, and I detest all my delicts because I dread the loss of my frock more than I do the loss of heaven and the pains of hell...."

By Susan Jacoby | July 16, 2010

Needless to say, I am interested in, and concerned with the Catholic Church.

But I do not think that I am a an anti-Catholic bigotted Catholic-basher.

To me, the Catholic Church is a little like the Middle East; when I think about it, my head hurts, I breathe heavy, and I sweat; not because I am afraid of it, but because it is so tortured and twisted and contorted in pain, like an animal in the road, hit by a car, but has not died yet.

Posted by: DanielintheLionsDen | July 20, 2010


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