Let us explore for a moment the notion that the Catholic Church is a safe haven for criminals— if not a criminal organization itself, or at least an organization whose leadership engages in criminality.
Such a topic goes beyond the comfort level of some people because it is interpreted as an attack on religion, or specifically the Catholic Church. People are entitled to their own expression of faith, to express God in the manner in which they choose, and if they do not want to acknowledge the existence of a higher power or Supreme Being. With that said, religious organizations, of which the Catholic Church is an example, are merely social constructions, entities devised by human beings to meet certain goals. No institution is sacrosanct and beyond the laws of nations. There is no mysticism involved, no divine hand sweeping down to make the rules, just people with their selfish motives. Their policies for self-preservation, including maintaining power and the status quo, may or may not coincide with the needs of their followers. In fact, the followers be damned so that the corporation can remain intact.
The recent news coming from the Catholic Church does not bode well: when he was a cardinal, the current Pope refused to defrock a Wisconsin priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys. A priest faces extradition to Ireland for raping a 15-year-old boy 40 years ago. European politicians are calling on the church to hold sex abuse inquiries in Ireland and Germany. Germans want to know what the Pope and his brother knew about the decades-long abuse in an elementary school, including a German boys choir the pope’s brother once led. And new abuse scandals also crop up in Switzerland, Austria, and Brazil. Once viewed as solely an American phenomenon, the problem is going worldwide. The Vatican tells its bishops to cover up the sex abuse cases or risk being thrown out of the church. Child victims are forced to sign statements vowing they will remain silent about the abuse they suffered. Pedophile priests are not fired or turned into the authorities, but are transferred to other parishes, where they continue to prey on children.
In a game of bait and switch, the Vatican has pushed back at the criticism, attacking the media for a “conspiracy” against the Church, for focusing on allegations of the Pope’s role in covering up the abuse. Meanwhile, those who themselves are engaged in a criminal conspiracy are in no position to blame their accusers of a conspiracy. That’s just getting to the facts.
Surely, some will point to the good deeds of the church, and good deeds exist, to be sure. A track record of charity, of helping the poor and improving society exists alongside a troubling history of participating in slavery and colonization, and an indifference towards the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. All institutions are human and therefore flawed. But to whitewash a systemic problem of child sex abuse and pretend it doesn’t exist? What is there to fear in the truth, and whose interests are protected by covering up the scandal? The children? Certainly even the most ardent parishioners cannot excuse the inexcusable, and must realize that there is no wiggle room when it comes to the rape and torture of children.
I have concluded that any nonreligious organization with such a track record of abuse would have been indicted under the RICO Act a long time ago, for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. Racketeering, pedophilia, rape, assault, and criminal conspiracy to cover up all of the above—these are the things for which prisons were made.
The Vatican and its agents are a major worldwide repository for child abusers and pedophiles. Surely, part of the reason for this is the environment of secrecy and sexual repression. Another part of it is a vow of celibacy that encourages an unhealthy attitude towards human sexuality. And it always comes back to sexuality, doesn’t it? A policy of homophobia forces gay priests to remain in the closet, in a church where a sizable proportion of priests is likely gay. The church condemns contraception, an irresponsible stance given the rampant spread of AIDS in Africa and elsewhere. And the subjugation of women allows an all-male club of crusty old dudes to dominate the Church hierarchy. Certainly, one can envision a more open atmosphere if women were allowed to become priests and provide leadership to a church badly in need of new leaders.
The Catholic Church is hemorrhaging money because of the billions of dollars in compensation to settle the sex abuse claims. And no one wants to become a priest for obvious reasons. This is an anachronistic institution that refuses to change to meet the realities of a modern world. Such institutions eventually die under the weight of their own irrelevance, intransigence and corruption. And if their top priority is saving the church rather than saving lives, protecting children or weeding out the criminals in their midst, then it is a fitting demise, indeed. Ultimately, those who truly care about the future of this or any other church should strive to change it.
This article first appeared in The Black Commentator and is republished with permission.