The Other I

April 4, 2010

Easter follow-up

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion — theotheri @ 2:38 pm
During the Vietnam war, many of us who were protesting it felt a certain moral superiority in relation to the generations preceeding us.  We were, we thought, creating a new world, a new utopia.  We weren’t just against the Vietnam war.  We were against all war.  We were against racial and sexual discrimination.  We were against bigotry and hypocrisy.  We were the flower children.

But even then I was disturbed by some things I saw happening.  I remember a fellow worker who was taking welfare checks along with his pay check.  Several others routinely “liberated” food from the local grocery store.  “Liberated” food, presumably was not actually stolen.  And the sexual liberation masquerading under the guise of free love was more often abusive, disregarding, and uncaring.

It is with this in mind that I am not happy to see the authority of the Roman Catholic Church totally derided and undermined by the scandal in relation to sexually abusive priests.  I am concerned that there are too many people who have no other moral compass than the RC Church who may become rudderless if they no longer respect the moral principles they were taught.

But I cannot hope that the Church can continue to deny its culpability in order to maintain a moral authority which it preaches but does not itself practice in an area as significant as the issue currently confronting it.  If people are leaving the Church en masse, it is because the hypocrisy is untenable.   Although I might be concerned about an over-reaction, I am grateful for their refusal to sanction the cover-up.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury has expressed his sorrow for any difficulties his comments caused in Ireland and  several Irish Anglican prelates have expressed their support for the RC church.  Additional comments by Rowan Williams this morning, however, make it clear that he was apologizing if he made things more difficult for those in the RC Church who are sincerely trying to deal with this situation with integrity.  But he says in words of one syllable that he believes a Church that preaches repentance must itself be seen to practice it.  He seems to agree that the Pope’s recent letter seems to express greater concern for the reputation of the Church than for the suffering of the abused.

It may also be noteworthy that none of either the Anglican or Roman Catholic prelates in England have thus far distanced themselves from the archbishop’s initial remarks.  The RC bishops in England in the last ten years have taken a far more robust and effective stand against abusing priests than they have in Ireland.

Whether Rowan Williams lacks some diplomatic skills (I think he does), or not, I find it difficult to understand the statements coming out of the Vatican this morning equating the attacks on the Church with “petty gossip.”  One cardinal is also saying that the cover-ups were really the decisions of Pope John Paul II, not of the present pope.

I know from personal experience that the cover-ups have been going on since I was a child when our pastor was spirited away to another parish.  At the age of eleven, I thought he had a drinking problem, but learned later that it was far more serious.  I personally know of scores of incidents of sexual abuse by priests, either because I myself have been propositioned, or from students and friends who have come to me for advice.

The problems are deep, endemic, and have been going on for a very long time.  How many priests are abusive is impossible to know.  I suspect it is a minority (although possibly quite a large minority).  But a minority can create immense damage, especially when the problem is covered up instead of dealt with openly.

Although it is clear from comments coming from the Vatican this morning that there is still a strong impulse to avoid facing this issue head on, a veteran Vatican reporter says that it has, to his amazement, opened up the discussion of a married clergy in a way that it has never been discussed in in recent times.

A married clergy would not be the total solution.  Marriage does not miraculously cure paedophiles or turn abuse into respect.  But it might help.  For all their philandering, some of the most sexually ignorant people I have ever met are Catholic priests.


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