14 Dec 2010

New rules on clergy sex abuse shows there is still no moral awakening in the Catholic church

New York Times - July 16, 2010

Rome Fiddles, We Burn

By MAUREEN DOWD | Op-Ed Columnist

If the Vatican is trying to restore the impression that its moral sense is intact, issuing a document that equates pedophilia with the ordination of women doesn’t really do that.

The Catholic Church continued to heap insult upon injury when it revealed its long-awaited new rules on clergy sex abuse, rules that the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said signaled a commitment to grasp the nettle with “rigor and transparency.”

The church still believes in its own intrinsic holiness despite all evidence to the contrary. It thinks it’s making huge concessions on the unstoppable abuse scandal when it’s taking baby steps.

The casuistic document did not issue a zero-tolerance policy to defrock priests after they are found guilty of pedophilia; it did not order bishops to report every instance of abuse to the police; it did not set up sanctions on bishops who sweep abuse under the rectory rug; it did not eliminate the statute of limitations for abused children; it did not tell bishops to stop lobbying legislatures to prevent child-abuse laws from being toughened.

There is no moral awakening here. The cruelty and indecency of child abuse once more inspires tactical contrition. All the penitence of the church is grudging and reactive. Church leaders are merely as penitent as they need to be to protect the institution.

Can you imagine such a scene in the confessional?

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I am as sorry as my job or school requires me to be.”

“But my daughter, that is not true penitence. That’s situational penitence.”

After the Belgian police bracingly conducted raids on the church hierarchy, inspired in part by the horrifying case of a boy molested for years by his uncle, the bishop of Bruges, a case that the church ignored and covered up for 25 years, the pope did not applaud the more aggressive tack. He condemned it.

In a remarkable Times story recently, Laurie Goodstein and David Halbfinger debunked the spin that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been one of the more alert officials on the issue of sexual abuse:

“The future pope, it is now clear, was also part of a culture of nonresponsibility, denial, legalistic foot-dragging and outright obstruction. More than any top Vatican official other than John Paul, it was Cardinal Ratzinger who might have taken decisive action in the 1990s to prevent the scandal from metastasizing in country after country, growing to such proportions that it now threatens to consume his own papacy.”

If Roman Polanski were a priest, he’d still be working here.

Stupefyingly, the new Vatican document also links raping children with ordaining women as priests, deeming both “graviora delicta,” or grave offenses. Clerics who attempt to ordain women can now be defrocked.

On Beliefnet, Mark Silk, a professor of religion at Connecticut’s Trinity College, suggested that the stronger threat against women’s ordination is not “a maladroit add-on” but the medieval Vatican’s “main business.”

After the Vatican launched two inquisitions of American nuns, it didn’t seem possible that the archconservative Il Papa and his paternalistic redoubt could get more unenlightened, but they have somehow managed it.

Letting women be priests — which should be seen as a way to help cleanse the church and move it beyond its infantilized and defensive state — is now on the list of awful sins right next to pedophilia, heresy, apostasy and schism.

Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, the chairman of the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, asserted, “The Catholic Church, through its long and constant teaching, holds that ordination has been, from the beginning, reserved to men, a fact which cannot be changed despite changing times.”

But if it was reserved to celibate men centuries ago simply as a way for the church to keep land, why can’t it be changed? If a society makes strides in not subordinating women, why can’t the church reflect that? If men prove that all-male hierarchies can get shamefully warped, why can’t they embrace the normality of equality? The Vatican’s insistence on male prerogative is misogynistic poppycock — enhancing American Catholics’ disenchantment with Rome.

In The New Republic, Garry Wills wrote about his struggle to come to terms with the sins of his church: Jesus “is the one who said, ‘Whatever you did to any of my brothers, even the lowliest, you did to me.’ That means that the priests abusing the vulnerable young were doing that to Jesus, raping Jesus. Any clerical functionary who shows more sympathy for the predator priests than for their victims instantly disqualified himself as a follower of Jesus. The cardinals said they must care for their own, going to jail if necessary to protect a priest. We say the same thing, but the ‘our own’ we care for are the victimized, the poor, the violated. They are Jesus.”

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