Greta Christina has written an excellent article about the Catholic child rape cover-up and the seemingly inexplicable apathy by… well… nearly everyone including Catholics. Read the entire thing HERE. The general point of the post is to ask current Catholics, “Why are you still Catholic?”
It’s a good question to ask. Let’s imagine for a moment that any institution other than the church had done it:
Presumably, I don’t have to tell you about the rash of child-rape scandals in the Catholic Church. I don’t have to tell you about the cover-ups, the shielding of child rapists in the priesthood from law enforcement, the deliberate shuttling of child-raping priests from town to town to protect them from exposure — thus enabling them to continue raping children. I don’t have to tell you about the Church using remote, impoverished villages as a dumping ground for priests who raped children. I don’t have to tell you that this wasn’t a few isolated incidents: it was a widespread, institutional practice, authorized by high-level Church officials. Including Cardinal Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — who, among other actions taken to protect child raping priests, delayed the dismissal of a child rapist in the priesthood… for the “good of the universal Church.”
Suppose that the Red Cross, or IBM, or the Democratic Party, or the NFL, or the Peace Corps had done what the church has done — institutionalized, facilitated, and covered up widespread child rape. How would their revenue look after it came to light? How long would it take before public outrage demanded a complete purging of everyone involved, with hefty fines, jail sentences, and punitive renumeration to all of the victims? Entire companies have failed for far less offensive crimes.
So the question is, why are there still Catholics?
Greta lists several of the most common reasons why people aren’t abandoning the Holy Church like rats fleeing a sinking ship:
- Sincere religious faith. Presumably many people genuinely believe that they have to receive the sacraments in order to get to heaven.
- Unthinking religious faith. Lots of Catholics disagree with the church on a substantial number of issues — birth control, gay rights, condoms for AIDS prevention. But they still have inertia holding them to the general feeling that being Catholic is “good.”
- The Church does lots of charitable work.
- The social aspects of Catholicism are ubiquitous in many communities, so that leaving the church is literally the same as leaving the community.
To the clear-thinking moral mind, there’s simply no excuse for supporting the church because of their charitable work. There are hundreds of non-Catholic organizations doing charitable work, and to the best of my knowledge, they don’t support child-rape. Charity can be done without atrocity, and anyone who cites this reason is either being dishonest, or their moral compass is horrifyingly skewed.
I have some sympathy for people who live in completely Catholic communities. But not that much. All it takes to remedy the situation is to get the whole community together, sit down with the local bishop, and explain that there will not be a single dime coming out of the flock’s pocket until justice is done. Imagine the effect if thousands of bishops all over the world reported this situation to the Vatican. Would it be hours or days before there were a couple hundred heads lined up on platters, and a new pope in office?
How hard is it to look your neighbor in the eye and say, “Neighbor, do you support child rape?” How many times in history have tight knit communities come together to boycott leaders who were perpetrating gross abuses?
This is all pretty clear, but what I want to talk about is the influence of faith on the perpetuation of atrocity. There are those (who shall remain nameless) who seem to believe that religious faith, in and of itself, doesn’t really cause much of anything. They believe that people will do what they will do, and faith is just a convenient justification for it. If there was no faith, they’d find some other justification.
I think the Catholic child-abuse scandal belies this notion. Are there people whose faith in the sacraments skews their moral compass so much that they are willing to continue to support the church for fear of their own mortal soul? We’d be naive to suggest that there aren’t. Part of the dogma that characterizes traditional conservative Catholicism is that the sacraments are literally the way to get to heaven. Only a Catholic priest is sanctioned by God to administer them. Without going to church, there is no way to get to heaven. Especially in poor regions with under-educated populations, this form of Catholicism is prevalent.
Just this example ought to convince us that religious faith can and does skew individual moral compasses. Let’s go back to my initial question. Can we think of anything worse than systematic protection of child rapists? Is there anyone with a well-functioning moral sense who would allow child rapists to continue raping children if they had any control over it?
I’m also concerned with the moderates who haven’t abandoned the church. If anything, I’m more concerned with them than with the hardliners. It’s one thing to exonerate someone who genuinely, deeply believes that his own eternal fate hangs in the balance. But how can we do the same for moderates who believe in the divinity of Jesus but not the exclusive truth of Catholicism? Assuming that Jesus also loves Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans, what possible excuse can we give for the religious believers who stick with the Church?
Are we really suggesting that there are moderate Catholics out there who are afraid of telling their neighbors, “I’m sorry, Neighbor. I’m not going to St. Mark’s anymore. I’ve decided to go to the Lutheran Church because they don’t have a Pope who protects child molesters, and I think Jesus would prefer that I not support child molesters”?
In fairness, I don’t want to just assume that this is the only possible situation in which large numbers of people would sit by while an international organization protected child rapists. I suppose I can imagine other pressures which could do the same thing, but that’s not really the point. I’m just trying to demonstrate that religious faith is one way to do it, and that it’s a significant effect.
Could it be something else entirely? The “Not My Child” syndrome? Are most Catholics rationalizing this away by thinking that it doesn’t apply to them, or that their tithes aren’t somehow fueling the whole system? I have a hard time believing that. This is children being fucked in the ass by priests. How can we suggest that apathy is a normal moral response? How can we even think it? Can we think of another organization that we would be proud to identify with when they’d done these things? I’m sorry. I just can’t buy it.
How can a normal, rational, moral person look at Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and call them immoral opportunists for getting behind an effort to bring child rapists to justice? This is what many Catholics have said. Can we suggest that religious faith has somehow not influenced this kind of thinking? What if this was Republicans and Democrats? As viciously divided as these two camps are, I can’t imagine a situation in which either side would vilify the other for demanding justice for child rape victims.
So in the end, we’re left with two groups of people — those who fear for their mortal soul if they leave, and those who don’t. For the group that fears for their soul, how can we deny the causal effect of religious faith on the skewing of their moral compasses? For the group that doesn’t… how can we deny the causal effect of religious faith on the skewing of their moral compasses? How can anyone be a Catholic today? How are there any Catholics left in the world?
I think we have to blame faith. It’s clear for true believers, but for social Catholics there are plenty of socially acceptable ways of saying, “I still believe in Jesus, but I’m not going to support child rapists.” But that’s not what’s happening. The pope is still touring, and crowds are still cheering for him. And I just can’t imagine any other way of justifying this except for the exchange of ideology (faith) with innate human compassion.
Greta summed it up very well:
As long as Catholics stay Catholics, no matter how repulsively evil the Church’s behavior becomes, no matter how many children get raped as a result of its institutional practices, then the Church is not going to change. It will have no reason to change. As long as Catholics continue to attend church, to donate money, to be counted in Church rolls, to send their children — their children! — to church and Catholic school for religious education and the perpetuation of Catholicism, then the Church will assume that it can do anything at all, with impunity.
Or, as I said it a couple of weeks ago:
Let me put this succinctly. If you are a Catholic, and you’ve put a dollar in the offering plate since this scandal hit the news, then you are responsible for facilitating child rape. If you are a sentient, adult person, and have not called for justice against the people who have perpetrated this evil, you have helped to allow it to continue. This is not about religion. It’s about child rapists using the cover of religion to perpetrate evil. If there is a God, he will not be happy with members of the flock who have protected the “Holy Church” when it has systematically raped children.
Am I missing something? Is there a moral justification for allowing this to continue? Any justification at all? If there is not, how do we say that any currently practicing Catholic is being a good person?
Seriously. Somebody help me out here. I’m trying to think of a way to NOT say that all practicing Catholics are morally wrong, but I can’t think of it.