18 September 2018

The fall of an empire

The world-wide scandal over cover-ups of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is nothing new.  Revelations about the clergy in this or that country have been coming in a steady stream for over two decades, and the overall picture has long been clear -- predator priests in substantial numbers sexually molesting boys and other victims, while the hierarchy covers up for them by moving them from place to place to avoid exposure, discouraging victims from speaking out, and trying to deal with the problem internally rather than by turning suspected abusers over to the police.  It's that practice of covering up the crimes, which is so widespread and so consistent across time and around the world that it must have long been a systematic policy, that marks the Catholic Church as an evil institution, rather than just an institution that happens to have a lot of evil people working in it.

Over the last month or so a dam seems to have burst, in terms both of public perception of the problem and of the authorities' willingness to take serious action about it.  In the US the trigger was the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which revealed about 300 predator priests and 1,000 victims within just that one state -- with the understanding that even so, many further cases doubtless remain unknown.  In several other states, Attorneys General are considering investigations of their own.  There have been rumors of a possible federal RICO investigation.

Wake-up calls are sounding across the world.  Chile recently launched a new series of raids on Catholic dioceses, following up a wave of such raids earlier this year.  A study in Germany revealed 3,677 abuse cases and 1,670 predator priests between 1946 and 2014, with the proviso that this is likely only the tip of the iceberg since only cases where the victims came forward are known, and there is evidence that the Church edited or destroyed records in many cases.  In the Netherlands, too, a massive cover-up by the Church hierarchy of over a thousand cases of sexual predation by priests has been revealed.  When New Jersey set up a hotline for victims of priestly sex abuse, it was so swamped with calls that extra staff had to be brought in to answer the phones.

The Church's response to all this has itself been shocking.  In Germany, a bishop denounced the public revelation of the study there (it was leaked by the media) as "irresponsible" and "regrettable".  A US cardinal insisted that the Pope has more important things to worry about than mass child molestation and cover-ups, saying "We're not going to go down a rabbit hole on this".  Pope Francis himself declared that uncovering the hierarchy's crimes is the work of Satan.  He has returned to this theme, most recently linking those who accuse bishops with Satan, the "Great Accuser", and issuing the usual call to be "merciful" which clerical criminals so often invoke when they get caught red-handed doing something revolting.  This is hardly surprising, since there's evidence that he was actively involved in covering up abuse and silencing victims back in Argentina, before he became Pope.  My patience with those na├»ve liberals who think that Francis is some sort of "good guy" because he's made a few somewhat-tolerant remarks about gay people is totally at an end.

But sweeping the facts under the rug isn't going to work any more.  Twenty years of scandal have shattered the Church's prestige and gravitas across the world.  Governments and police in countries where deference to the Church was once deep-rooted are now openly denouncing its crimes and aggressively investigating them.  The flood of new revelations we've seen beginning in Pennsylvania, Germany, and the Netherlands will continue.

As I discussed in my previous post on this subject, some conservative Catholics have seized upon this crisis to promote an agenda of their own.  Because some of the sexual abuse revealed in Pennsylvania targeted seminarians (young adult men) who were under the authority of high-ranking predator clerics, they are trying to de-emphasize the issue of pedophilia and frame the problem as one of evil homosexuals infiltrating the Church -- their goal being to reassert and legitimize the taboo on homosexuality itself and to demonize gays in general.  They also hope the crisis will bring down Pope Francis and others whom they see as too modernist and tolerant of "sin", leaving the Church a purified bastion of the bigotry of the True Faith.

That won't work either.  For one thing, the abuse is mainly pedophilic in nature -- the German report, for example, noted that more than half the victims were under 13.  Yes, in some cases adult males have been victims too, but in Subsaharan Africa, many victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests have been adult women, including nuns.  This is not a "gay problem".  For whatever reason, a culture of sexual predation and coddling molesters has evolved within the Church, going back at least as far as the mid-twentieth century and likely much earlier, and the general pattern of abuse and cover-ups has been consistent regardless of the age and gender of the victims.  And if Francis is no less guilty of fostering this predator culture than earlier Popes, it remains true that they were no less guilty than he.  The whole institution is rotten with criminality, from top to bottom and in the depths of its twisted psyche.

In a sane world, that institution would be treated like the global mafia it is, its leaders put on trial for their crimes, its assets including the Vatican itself seized to pay compensation to the victims, its operations banned, so that it would entirely cease to function or exist as an entity at all.  In the real world, that will not happen.  But there will be an endless stream of investigations, prosecutions, lawsuits, and scandals, all over the world, destroying whatever thin rags of sanctity and deference still adhere to the Church, brushing aside the efforts by factions within it to weaponize the crisis against each other.  If the Catholic Church as an institution cannot die, it can still, perhaps appropriately, be sentenced to eternal torment.

And the Church's other victims -- the billion or so Catholic lay people, the rank-and-file believers around the world -- they will see, over and over, year after year, the utter corruption and hypocrisy of the institution in which they placed their faith, how cynically it has betrayed that faith, the complicity of the holy men in hiding vile crimes.  Not for all, but for many, the mental contortions necessary to maintain that faith in the face of all this will become untenable.  The collapse of deference which has shown itself in Ireland and is under way elsewhere will accelerate the trend toward turning away from religion entirely.

In brief, an institution built on lies is being devastated by the simple revelation of the truth about itself.  The Church thrived through the centuries of darkness when it could control what was known and said.  It cannot thrive in the light of an age of free inquiry.

11 Comments:

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18 September, 2018 08:01  
Blogger Debra She Who Seeks said...

Your last paragraph brilliantly says it all! The Catholic Church cannot fall far enough or fast enough for me.

18 September, 2018 10:17  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The institutional church will be transformed and purified, and the hierarchy certainly will be chastened, purged, and in some cases prosecuted. But the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church Herself. She will remain as a community of disciples making Christ present in the world until the end of time.

18 September, 2018 15:16  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Anon 1: Thanks!

Debra: Thanks! And get the popcorn ready.

Anon 2: I wouldn't recommend pinning your hopes on prophecy. This is real life, not a Harry Potter novel.

18 September, 2018 17:05  
Blogger Martha said...

Absolutely disgraceful. Rotten from top to bottom. I cannot imagine how many victims there have been over the decades...er...centuries. This won't collapse fast enough for me and, sadly, there will never be enough justice.

19 September, 2018 10:38  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Excellent article and analysis. The RCC has lost all moral authority and the hierachy knows this, that's why it is trying to blame homosexuality, using that as a scapegoat for the evil it has allowed and perpetuated through not just years but centuries. How anyone can set foot in a Catholic church is a mystery to me. By doing so it is supporting crimes against humanity.

19 September, 2018 14:03  
Blogger Ami said...

It makes me angry and sick and I really don't know anyone who's been affected personally. Or I may know someone and I don't KNOW that I do.
What a filthy and corrupt institution. I hang that label on religion anyway, but this is even worse.

Disgusting.

19 September, 2018 20:57  
Anonymous Arkenaten said...

I wonder if there are some within Catholic ranks who are more than a little concerned that there may be skeletons in the Pope's closet?

20 September, 2018 03:11  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Martha: With a thousand known victims in Pennsylvania alone, the number there must be across the whole predominantly-Catholic world staggers the imagination. And no, there couldn't be justice for this unless their Hell actually existed.

Shaw: They think it's still the one true church and has just been massively corrupted. One does wonder why God, if he existed, would have allowed that to happen. For those who can judge based purely on real-world factors, it's obvious that the whole institution is irredeemable.

Ami: And they're still trying to sweep it under the rug. Since I wrote this, the Pope has once again compared accusers to Satan and even seemed to be comparing the accused bishops to Jesus.

Arkenaten: Well, we already know he was involved in covering up abuses before he became Pope. As for the possibility that he might have a history of molestation himself, frankly nothing would surprise me at this point.

20 September, 2018 04:09  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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21 September, 2018 02:04  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Anon: Well, it might help to actually give an e-mail address or blog link :-)

21 September, 2018 02:28  

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