Follow the money. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
These are the two oft-invoked quotes I kept thinking to myself as I read Sabrina Rubin Erdley’s piece, “The Catholic Church’s Secret Sex-Crime Files” from Rolling Stone. Find it here.
I encourage anyone to read it in its entirety, though make sure you’ve already eaten; it’s sure to put you off food and you’ll likely need a nap and perhaps a shower to wash yourself clean from the filth. Here is a sampler:
The deluge of sexual-abuse cases in America’s largest religious denomination began in 1985, when a Louisiana priest was sentenced to 20 years in prison after admitting to sexually abusing 37 boys. But it wasn’t until 2002, when civil suits in Boston revealed that Cardinal Bernard Law had shielded rapist priests, that the extent of the scandal became widely known. In Germany, the church is overwhelmed by hundreds of alleged victims, and investigations are under way in Austria and the Netherlands. In Ireland, the government recently issued a scathing report that documents how Irish clergy – with tacit approval from the Vatican – covered up the sexual abuse of children as recently as 2009.
Battered by civil suits and bad press, the church has responded with a head-spinning mix of contrition and deflection, blaming anti-Catholic bias and the church’s enemies for paying undue attention to the crisis. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops helped fund a $1.8 million study of sex-abuse cases against priests, but the results read like a mirthless joke: To lower the number of clergy classified as “pedophiles,” the report redefines “puberty” as beginning at age 10 – and then partially blames the rise in child molesting on the counterculture of the 1960s. The church also insists that any sex crimes by
priests are a thing of the past. “The abuse crisis,” the study’s lead author concluded, “is over.”
Bill Lynn understood that his mission, above all, was to preserve the reputation of the church. The unspoken rule was clear: Never call the police. Not long after his promotion, Lynn and a colleague held a meeting with Rev. Michael McCarthy, who had been accused of sexually abusing boys, informing the priest of the fate that Cardinal Bevilacqua had approved: McCarthy would be reassigned to a “distant” parish “so that the profile can be as low as possible and not attract attention from the complainant.” Lynn dutifully filed his memo of the meeting in the Secret Archives, where it would sit for the next decade.
Over the 12 years that he held the job of secretary of the clergy, Lynn mastered the art of damage control. With his fellow priests, Lynn was unfailingly sympathetic; in a meeting with one distraught pastor who had just admitted to abusing boys, Lynn comforted the clergyman by suggesting that his 11-year-old victim had “seduced” him. With victims, Lynn was smooth and reassuring, promising to take their allegations seriously while doing nothing to punish their abusers. Kathy Jordan, who told Lynn in 2002 that she had been assaulted by a priest as a student at a Catholic high school, recalls how he assured her that the offender would no longer be allowed to work as a pastor. Years later, while reading the priest’s obituary, Jordan says it became clear to her that her abuser had, in fact, remained a priest, serving Mass in Maryland. “I came to realize that by having this friendly, confiding way, Lynn had neutralized me,” she says. “He handled me brilliantly.”
This revolting but very important instance of journalism warrants as much attention as can be mustered. It is crucial that more people read about this for at least two reasons: one, these crimes are actively being covered up (there is big money behind this cult, inconceivable money) and need to be further exposed. But second and perhaps most important, it’s still seen by too many as a minor problem; the unfortunate result of the inexorable bad apples that any group large enough will produce. It needs to be understood and dealt with with clear-eyed deliberation for what it is: a systemic and institutional syndication of criminal enterprise that, astonishingly, answers to no law or due process.
Reading this latest installment of scandal made me think of this great scene from Mean Streets. It also compels me to revisit a piece I wrote a little less than two years ago. I don’t have much to add (nor do I particularly care to add more logs to this repugnant pyre). I would simply ask anyone compelled (out of fear and misguided loyalty) to deny or belittle this atrocity to consider how they would react if all of the same evidence was compiled and attributed to a more-easily marginalized cult like Scientology or better still, some third-world impoverished group we could (condescendingly, typically) dismiss as “savages”. There would be unanimous scorn and we would have public, ardent calls for justice. (More righteous indignation here).
Part One: Abandon hope all ye who enter here…
First, and appropriately, a confession.
The title is both a tribute to, and an outright plagiarism of Hunter S. Thompson’s masterful essay “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”. And if, with that piece, he could be accused of shooting some very wealthy and insular fish in a bourbon-scented barrel, somebody had to do it. The pompous and circumstance of a spectacle like the Kentucky Derby needed to be sent up. And the thing about the good doctor during his prime, when he decided to do something, it stayed done.
The Catholic church, on the other hand, has been assailed from all sides, so any new criticism will be neither original nor particularly earth shattering. So what. It remains essential to single out hypocrisy and malificence when it is condoned or perpetrated by people or places wielding power. And despite the fact that its influence has been waning, the Catholic church is still an appallingly influential and imperious organization. To put things plainly, it is frankly because so many millions of innocent (and unknowing) human beings are impacted by this institution that its self-righteous posturing be paraded as openly and often as possible. That’s all.
Aside from Richard Dawkins, the most vocal and coruscating critic of late has been the indefatigable Christopher Hitchens. His seminal book God Is Not Great would be required reading in a sane world; but a sane world would not require that such a book be written. Of course, Hitchens correctly does not limit himself to just the Catholic church: he sets his sights on the entire notion of a Big Guy upstairs, or more specifically, our farcical and self-serving conception of same. To be certain, Hitchens does not waste his time and energy poking holes in the fairy tales and phantasmagoria that all organized religions are predicated upon. Any half-witted college freshman with a semester of Logic or Composition 101 can handle that light work. Rather, Hitchens trains his sights on the considerable violence, repression and ignorance the various religions have instilled and propagated, spanning the last two centuries. He assails the clergy, and the historically inconsistent, often hysterical dogma that they cling to for their specious moral autonomy. Hitchens argues that, for all the good deeds religion is regularly credited for inspiring, the scales are quite heavily tilted toward the negative in terms of wars, moral terror and child rape –just to pick some of the low-hanging fruit. Speaking of fruit, it remains hilarious and more than a little pathetic that grown men dressed in fancy pajamas invoke words written centuries ago as an inviolable decree to guide the contemporary affairs of mankind. (And I understand that this simple-minded insistence of following “God’s word” is the convenient catchall acting as a kind of ecclesiastical flypaper to ensnare all troublesome inconsistencies and intrusions of logic or inconvenient Truth; suffice it to say, until I see any of these disciples actually living by the letter of the onerous and inconceivable edicts of the Old Testament, I’ll remain wary and skeptical.)
For those who aren’t inclined or don’t have the time to read books about religion, check out the heavyweight champ George Carlin, who offers the most concise (and hilarious) dissection you’re likely to come across.
Hitchens has taken on all comers, and his debates are amusing (for the lucid) and, at best, embarrassing (for the indoctrinated). Have a look:
After Hitchens, Stephen Fry gets his licks in and does with erudition, panache and elegance. If Hitchens prefers a brawl, Fry acquits himself as a true gentleman and his calm evisceration would mortify anyone with a smidgen of shame. (This is part two of three; do yourself a favor and watch the first and third installment.)
Hitchens et al. are going after the jugular, debating whether or not Catholicism is a positive force in the world. This, it seems to me, is ultimately a proposition that remains largely unprovable and not particularly relevant (prolestyzers on either side of that argument can –and will– produce what they consider immutable testimony to advance their case; and both sides have sufficient ammunition). With no choice but to (belatedly, begrudgingly) own up to some of the more colossal outrages it has perpetrated, the clergy draws a line in the sand with the following concession: for all its faults, the church does endeavor to fill more potholes than it causes.
The enduring question remains: does it?
For every pedophilic priest one can point to (and the unforgivable, institutionally sanctioned cover-up of these atrocities), you also have humble men and women making genuine and heartfelt contributions to society. The vocation, whatever manifold psychological impulses it answers (or quells), seems genuine enough to have attracted hundreds of thousands of young men, at least some of whom have remained celibate and faithful. That warrants consideration, leaving aside any understandable questions about the spiritual duress and denial such a lifestyle entails.
And yet. At the end of the analysis, while it’s easy for anyone with an IQ approaching triple digits to poke fun at the snake handling or spaceship-seeing outliers on the religious spectrum (despite the considerable damage the more extreme, and whacko, religions do to its most earnest and unenlightened parishioners), it is difficult not to suppress a special distaste for the fathomless myopia that underscores Catholicism’s sensibility. One look at The Vatican (in Vatican City) is enough to salivate at what Jesus would make of that temple. No money lenders there; these are straight up faith pimps, trading favors for forgiveness going back several centuries. What these charlatans are able to pull off, in tax exempt fashion, is the apotheosis of all Ponzi schemes. But, like the simple saps that Madof ensnared, few tithers throw their sheckles in the collection jar without a preconceived quid pro quo: it’s an ecclesiastical installment plan, and Catholic guilt –inbred from an early age– creates a collective bank account that accrues interest at unprecedented rates. The Catholic hierarchy’s ultimate legacy is successfully establishing a cadre of spiritual stockbrokers.
Part Two: The Soup Kitchen Nazis
So, with so much to mock about the self-satisfied piety of the RCC, why now?
There you go. What brings the RCC out of the cloister? War? The outrages of Wall Street? Humiliation over its involvement in generations of profligate buggery? Of course not. Only the really crucial and relevant issues prompt such expediency: abortion and gay marriage! These are the conjoined crises that impel the otherwise oblivious foxes to slink out of the holy henhouse.
To summarize for those with short-attention spans or quick gag reflexes: in recent weeks the Catholic brain trust has picked public battles with Patrick Kennedy and D.C. area homeless. In the first instance, the smug and odious Bishop Thomas J. Tobin castigated Kennedy over his support of abortion rights. It is, the robe-wearing one whined, “a deliberate an obstinate act of will…(and) unacceptable to the church and scandalous to many of our members” (emphasis mine). Scandalous? Really? That anyone in a position of authority within the Catholic Church would have the audacity to use the word scandalous tells you all you need know about how truly clueless and shameless they have become.
This grandstanding, naturally, recalls memories of certain priests getting involved in the ’04 election, reminding their parishioners that voting for a man (Kerry) who did not have the appropriate pro-life bona fides was tantamount to heresy. This while the incumbent was actively waging preemptive war and shrinking the middle class to levels not seen since, well, the Great Depression. We all know how that one played out.
But you almost expect that type of intransigence, that level of obliviousness, from the men who have evolved from the bad old days when they burned scientists at the stake. What inspires the ongoing outrage is the fact that the Catholic church –this tone-deaf, intellectually devoid, bullying organization– ceaselessly finds ways to outdo itself. Take, for instance, the real and present outrage playing itself out, right now, in Washington D.C.
To recap: the (ultra conservative) Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has recently made ugly noise about withholding support for the homeless (about 70,000 individuals) due to its “principled” opposition to D.C.’s same-sex marriage bill. Let that one sink in for a moment. The church, ostensibly doing the work Christ instructed, is grandstanding said work over an issue that Christ never made a single mention of in the scriptures (go ahead and look it up; we’ll wait for you). Welcome to the Catholic sensibility! This is bigotry disguised as rectitude, but what else is new? Aside from the sickening hypocrisy (that word again, it’s unavoidable), this jumps so many sacred sharks it is difficult to keep track. For starters, these same churches that continue to enjoy tax exempt status are sticking their nose into the affairs of the government. Really? These same churches that are more than happy to accept government funding think it’s acceptable (legal?) to ignore said government’s laws, should they pass? The Catholic lemmings, following their Prada-wearing pontiff, have descended to the level of being soup (kitchen) nazis.
As ever, to fully grasp the illimitable duplicity of the church, one must inevitably turn to the costume-clad church elders. (Not for nothing, and with an irony that no objective reader of biblical scripture can avoid noting with a particular pang of nausea, it is the same well-fed and unreflective old men that Jesus had a special disdain for.) Look, let’s not sugarcoat the underlying issue at hand: with the world moving ever further away from biblical flights of fancy and despotic mind games, this is the sign of a desperate institution indeed. You only see this in politics and religion: when things start to spiral out of control, double down. In this instance, the decaying infrastructure and waning sway the church holds over humanity at large, makes its actions resemble those of a cult. Isn’t it funny how people (understandably) feel no compunction poking fun at the ludicrous precepts of Scientology, but bristle if anyone snickers at the apparent seriousness with which Catholics (and many other cults) regard that virgin birth thing or the notion that the Pope speaks infallibly (no, really). Farcical, sure, but also insulting, considering the man Catholics look to as an arbiter of morality, Thomas Aquinas, was last seen levitating in that cathedral (no, really).
In closing, allow me to directly address anyone (Catholic or otherwise) who applauds (or remains merely unmoved by) the appalling positions the church is clinging to. The abortion issue is, at least, a tangible (if complicated) dilemma that people can wrestle with for spiritual and secular reasons. The open hostility toward and discrimination against homosexuals, on the other hand, is something that simply cannot be tolerated by anyone pretending to endorse the Declaration of Independence as well as the New Testament (you know, What Would Jesus Do?).
The prayerful prejudiced can hide behind the bogus claim of faith and fidelity, but in the final analysis, a bigot is a bigot. Congratulations on being, once again, on the wrong side of history and the righteous shift of love over fear.
And for the Catholic-Lite weekend warriors who don’t have the guts or the brains to, at long last, cut the cord, understand that you continue to associate with –-and, to a certain extent, intellectually and spiritually prostrate yourself to— an organized religion that goes several steps farther than these ignorant, opportunistic politicians who use pro-life positions to garner votes. The Catholic Church, despite any real evidence in the bible (!) abominates not only the practice but existence of homosexuality. Despite the much-discussed (but ever astonishing) fact that it harbors more than a fair share of closeted, (and not-so-closeted) in its cloister. Despite the fact that this obsessive and intolerant dogma is the fulcrum upon which these political types fortify their indefensible positions. Despite the fact that, even knowing —if failing to come to grips with— the considerable hypocrisy and mendacity that exists in its own sullied garden, this craven institution uses its brute force and reliably backwards (see: women, blacks, gays just to name the unholy trinity) clerical acumen to tyrannize anyone susceptible to its influence. The world that includes the powerless and dispossessed who cower, and especially the useful insects who apprehend and acknowledge this moral fascism (yes, fascism), and either choose to whistle blithely past the truth or —in inimitably Catholic fashion— obey the rules that fit and overlook or rationalize the ones that cause discomfort. Avoiding that discomfort at the expense of your innocent brothers and sisters is an abomination. It is also the essence of Catholicism.
But hey, who knows, maybe one day you’ll stand before your white, Republican Jesus and explain to him that you were only doing what he instructed you to do. Good luck with that.