My wife and I were both raised in the Roman Catholic Church and left it during our early adult years. Several years ago she presented the following scenario to me. “Imagine you are the Devil and you’ve just helped dispose of the Son of Man only to watch his apostles spread The Word. What would you do to roll-back the impact of Christ in the World? You’d take over the Church.” She believed that all the evils perpetrated by the Church over the Millennia, the religious wars and Crusades, the persecution of Jews, the impoverishing of the peasantry, the Trial of Galileo – all could be explained easily if one set aside all preconceived notions of the Church, ignored the propaganda, and viewed it for what it was – an institution developed not to spread the Word of God but of Satan. The recent grand jury indictments in the Pittsburgh diocese brought that scenario back to mind.
“A pedophile priest made a nine year-old boy give him oral sex before washing his mouth out with holy water.” If true, can anything be more Satanic than that sentence? Unfortunately given the number of sex scandals uncovered over the past 25 years, no extraordinary proof is needed because the statement is no longer extraordinary. I remember the anger when singer songwriter Sinead O’Connor tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live in 1992 to protest the abuse scandals rocking Ireland. Americans weren’t ready for O’Connor’s protest. It would take another decade before the scandals erupted in the USA.
As a Catholic school student and altar boy there had always been whispers of abuse although I personally was never confronted by it. I recall hearing that one priest at my all-boys high school was a bit overly-friendly and “touchy” with boys, but I don’t know how far his behavior actually went. One of my teachers, a Jesuit novitiate, took my friends and me to see a movie that in retrospect was inappropriate: Liquid Sky – a low-budget movie about sex and drug addiction. We were interested in art films and New Wave music, and we had a good time discussing the movie afterward at a brightly-lit all-night deli. Nothing untoward happened. The priest remains one of my favorite teachers from high school and I still regard him highly. I later learned that he left the priesthood soon after we graduated which was probably a good idea in retrospect.
Although I left the faith, I’ve always felt somewhat protective of it. My late mother was a devout believer and so are many others who I respect and cherish. My atheism/agnosticism cannot be used as a weapon against any people of faith if that faith brings them comfort and solace in this extraordinarily heartless and cruel world. Faith or its lack should not be weaponized – an interesting phrase. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called the abuse in the Pittsburgh Diocese the “weaponization of faith.” He cited the following instances:
- One priest tied up a victim with rope in the confessional in a “praying position.” When the victim refused to perform sex, the angered priest used a 7-inch crucifix to sexually assault him.
- At a parish rectory, four priests made a boy strip and pose as Jesus on the cross while they took photos. “He stated that all of them giggled and stated that the pictures would be used as a reference for new religious statues for the parishes,” the grand jury wrote. Two of those priests later did jail time for sexually assaulting two altar boys.
- Priests told children they would “go to hell” if they told anyone what happened and “nobody would believe a lying child over a man of God’s word.”
- In one church, a priest told a boy who confided he had been gang-raped as a 7-year-old that he had to provide sex to get to heaven. He would then be molested for three years before the priest was transferred.
Reading these allegations I am left speechless. Maybe the Church is irredeemable and unable to provide comfort and spiritual guidance. So I put that question to the experts at the social media website, Quora.
Carl Smotric believes it is. “Irredeemable? Yes, I’d say so. They’ve wielded too much power for too long. They’re sincerely convinced that their many undeserved privileges are an entitlement, and that, in reality, they needn’t answer to any law but their own. Unable to provide comfort and spiritual guidance? Ironically, they’re able to do that. Heroin is comfort to the junkie. A stuffed toy is comfort to an abused child. And the Church’s message of salvation can be comfort to the billions of people who were told by that very same outfit that they’re broken, hell-bound and in deep trouble. The Church breaks peoples’ legs, then demands their gratitude for providing crutches. Spiritual guidance, same thing: if people are willing to buy the bullshit, then it’s spiritual guidance to them, more or less by definition.”
William Gray writes, “As long as the RC church insists on the priests’ celibacy, they are self-selecting for pervs. Of course most priests do not succumb to acting out on temptations of the flesh, but even one molested child is too many and the church’s moral authority will remain a mockery.”
Others disagreed. Ernst-Otto Onnasch, former Professor of Philosophy at Utrecht University, writes, This is not very likely. What happens within the Roman church, also happens within regular families. Is the family therefore a corrupt institution? What happened is done by individuals, although being represents of the church. The problem are these individuals and not the church as institution”.
James Hough, Catholic who teaches Catechism, RCIA, and Prayer classes, writes, “The Catholic Church was founded by Christ, as Pope Francis said, as a field hospital for sinners. And everyone in it is a sinner. One does not judge a hospital by how many wounded end up there, but by its cures, by the people who took it seriously and actually followed Christ. Thus to judge the Catholic Church, we need to look at her great saints, and see if we are following them. We need to pray and sacrifice for our Church, because it is only going to be as effective as its weakest member. If that weak member is cooperating with Christ, the Church is going to accomplish great things.”
So what do you think? Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.