VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI strongly defended celibacy for priests as a sign of faith in an increasingly secular world during a rally Thursday that drew some 15,000 priests from around the world to Rome.
Color me surprised. Of course the Pope defended celibacy. He has to. His legions of faith-based followers will not accept anything but the Unadulterated And Holy One True Word of the Lord™. If the pontiff were to change course in mid-stream, he’d be faced with far worse than accusations of protecting child abusers. He’d be accused of changing the unchangeable.
I like to pretend that I’m a fly on the wall of a high level closed door meeting between the pope and his cardinals:
Cardinal 1: So… why don’t we just do the logical thing and say that it’s ok for priests to have sex? That way, we stop attracting men who want to be celibate. After all, all the evidence says that men who want to be celibate for the rest of their lives are typically not normal. All the evidence says it’s unhealthy to go celibate for a lifetime.
Pope: NO! For decades — centuries — we’ve been telling the illiterate millions that the word of the Lord is forever and unchanging. They don’t know that priests haven’t always been celibate. They wouldn’t believe it because for decades — centuries — we have been telling them that regardless of the evidence, what the church says is true and what anyone outside of the church says is false.
Cardinal 2: Yes, Holy See. If we change now, we’ll either have to admit we were wrong about celibacy (we can’t possibly do that!) or that the word of the Lord has changed. But we’ve told all of our followers that the word of the Lord doesn’t change. Ever.
Cardinal 1: But what about the child molesters? Could it be that we’re committing a greater sin by covering up the sins of our own? Wouldn’t it be better to prevent this from happening in the future? Shouldn’t we just admit that God made men to desire sex, and let the priests celebrate the gift along with everyone else? After all, nearly all priests during the Middle Ages had concubines and “servants.” If we say it’s ok for priests to have sex, we’d save ourselves a lot of trouble. If a priest ever molests a child again, we can say it’s not our fault for preventing them from having normal sex. We could single them out as a deviant, kick them out of the church, and have the moral high ground. Yes, we’d have changed, but it would be a change for the better.
Pope: Somebody excommunicate that man! And cut out his tongue. Actually, just kill him. We can’t have any of that sort of nonsense spread outside of the Vatican.
(Sounds of muffled screams.)
Pope: Thank you. Now, where were we?
This is of course a little far-fetched, but the church has really backed itself into a corner. Before we knew anything about the human animal, it was reasonable enough to say that God wanted men to go without sex for their entire life. But now, it’s absurd. The church is faced with defending an absurdity or contradicting itself in a way that it can’t explain away as nuance or misunderstanding.
There had been speculation that Benedict might again refer to the scandal, following his recent comments en route to Portugal during which he acknowledged that it was born of the “sin within the church” and not from outside elements. Previously, Vatican officials, Vatican publications and cardinals had blamed the scandal on the media, the Masons and anti-Catholic lobbies, among others.
Right. Of course he did. It’s his only good choice. Unfortunately for the Holy See, it’s difficult to control the public utterances of tens of thousands of church officials in hundreds of countries. I’m sure if he could take back the ill-advised attempts to blame the scandal on the media, or non-believers, or whatever else its been blamed on, he would. By blaming this on the men within the church, he’s covering his bases and leaving himself room to wriggle out of this thing with some dignity:
- He knows better than to piss off every non-Catholic in the Western world. The church was publicly mocked and ridiculed every time a priest tried to deflect blame. When an outside group was pinned, the members of that group were nonplussed, and appropriately angry. How dare the church blame anyone but themselves for this?!
- By blaming men without the church, he is laying the foundation for a call to piety. This is not God’s fault. God’s very angry at the church for tolerating the kinds of things that lead to sin. (Get it!? It’s brilliant! He’s using the sins of the church to give himself the chance to increase church enrollment and power!) God wants a renewal, a rebirth, a new commitment to the traditional values of the Catholic Church. More celibacy. Less condoms. Less tolerance.
- Finally, by making this into an “internal issue” he’s sown the seeds of apathy. Non-Catholics the world over can rest easy now. It’s the church’s problem, and they’re going to handle it. Better not to be bothered with it. After all, we’ve got a lot to worry about.
On Thursday, he responded to preselected questions from five priests and none asked for his thoughts about the scandal. One asked him to speak instead about what he called the “beauty of celibacy,” which he said was so often criticized in the secular world.
The pope acknowledged that celibacy was itself “a great scandal” in a world where people have no need for God. But he called it “a great sign of faith, of the presence of God in the world.”
Never let it be said that the Church lacks political savvy. What an interesting (and vague) choice of words! Celibacy is a “great scandal” in a godless world, is it? So is he saying that it’s appropriate for non-Catholics to “give in to their urges” rather than attempt the “great sign of faith” that only Catholics can pull off (hehehe… I said… “pull off”) with their extra serving of God’s Grace?
Regardless of whether that’s what he meant or not, that’s how lots of people are going to take it. How very clever! He’s giving non-Catholics a pass on sex. He knows it would just piss us off if he claimed that we’re supposed to stop doing it. So he’s giving us a miss. And since we honestly don’t care about his moral pontifications, and don’t believe in his silly little Zombie Jesus and his God-Raped Mother, why would we care if he imposes celibacy on his own silly followers? (If you didn’t recognize that paragraph as tongue in cheek, take a couple of deep breaths and try to grow a sense of humor. It’ll be fun.)
The Church is very smart. This is a good speech. It’s going to placate a lot of Catholics, and it’s going to promote apathy in non-Catholics. Most of the sincere, devout Catholics of the world have been desperately waiting for a reason — any reason — to let the church off the hook. Now they can do it. The Pope has said it’s not a problem with God, or with the church itself. It’s a problem with sinful men within the church, and the Vicar of Christ is handling it. If only we can summon more faith, everything will be ok.
Do you think I’m reading too much into this? Read this:
Against the so-called scandal of such faith “there are also secondary scandals, that of our own insufficiencies and sins that hide the true scandal,” he said.
What else do you need? What do you think the “true scandal” is going to be? The secondary scandal — the institutionalized raping of children — it’s just… you know… secondary. The real scandal? What do you think? Perhaps the need for a return to true Catholic values? A re-emphasis and commitment to doing what they’ve been doing? More faith? More commitment?
Wait for it. When it comes, remember that I told you so.