The Catholic Church has covered up its priests' sexual abuse of children, just as our secular society used to sweep such crimes under the rug. Kathryn Jean Lopez merely parrots the official Vatican line--it was all the fault of the dirty hippies and gays, who brought sex out from under the authority of straight men, where it belonged. But more is expected from a New York Times columnist, and Douthat delivers.
What the American and Irish churches have endured in the last decade and what German Catholics find themselves enduring today is all part of the same grim story: the exposure, years after the fact, of an appalling period in which the Catholic hierarchy responded to an explosion of priestly sex abuse with cover-ups, evasions and criminal negligence.
You see, the real problem here is not the children who endured rape and molestation. The real victims are the churches, which "have endured" the exposure (years after the fact, mind you--years!) of their rape and molestation, and the bishops and others who protected the child rapists and molesters instead of protecting the children. They knew that priests were raping children as they were saying Mass, leading prayers, holding confessions, administering First Communion to the little kids. Every time they blessed a child, they knew another child was being bent over and raped. Beaten in institutions. Forced to give oral sex to priests. Told it was their fault, that the child was the seducer. Forced parents to stay silent for fear of excommunication. Douthat chooses to focus on the institution and ignore the child victims, which puts him on the same level as the priests who knew what was going on but excused it away. Douthat is trying to spin child molestation, a sickening and disgusting action that should be inexcusable. But in this authority-loving world where children are seen as possessions to be treated or mistreated any way the parent chooses, the powerful will always win over the powerless, until they are stopped.
Every time you don't confess a sin it adds more sins to your plate--that is what Catholic children are told. And the priests and especially the bishops and pope were able to face God as if they had innocent hearts instead of guilty ones and tell everyone else that the must confess all their sins and go forth and sin no more, or else God would cast them out to Hell. Every minute of their lives they lived a double life, a life shadowed by sin, and yet they still conducted their business as if they were a moral authority anointed by God. It was possible to do this only if the priests, bishops and popes thought their survival and good public image was more important than the rape and molestation--the torture--of children. The Church and its unquestioned authority, they quite clearly stated from their actions, is more important than the people in it.
Now the scandal has touched the pope himself. There are two charges against Benedict XVI: first, that he allowed a pedophile priest to return to ministry while archbishop of Munich in 1980; and second, that as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the 1990s, he failed to defrock a Wisconsin priest who had abused deaf children 30 years before.
The second charge seems unfair. The case was finally forwarded to the Vatican by the archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, more than 20 years after the last allegation of abuse. With the approval of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy, the statute of limitations was waived and a canonical trial ordered. It was only suspended because the priest was terminally ill; indeed, pretrial proceedings were halted just before he died.
But the first charge is more serious. The Vatican insists that the crucial decision was made without the future pope’s knowledge, but the paper trail suggests that he could have been in the loop. At best, then-Archbishop Ratzinger was negligent. At worst, he enabled further abuse.
For those of us who admire the pope, either possibility is distressing, but neither should come as a great surprise. The lesson of the American experience, now exhaustively documented, is that almost everyone was complicit in the scandal.
From diocese to diocese, the same cover-ups and gross errors of judgment repeated themselves regardless of who found themselves in charge. Neither theology nor geography mattered: the worst offenders were Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles — a conservative and a liberal, on opposite ends of the country.
This hasn’t prevented both sides in the Catholic culture war from claiming that the scandal vindicates their respective vision of the church.
And here we see what Douthat is protecting; his precious culture war, in which he can use his Jesus stick to beat everyone else over the head so they won't have teh icky sex. His career, which consists of calling women sluts and cowering in fear of the Dreaded Gay Agenda, is more important that helping raped and molested children. If the Church goes down, his career goes down too. If we stop giving authority to strange white males, he goes down as well. Make no mistake, it's also in Douthat's best interest to ignore raped children, and in the pages of the New York Times, he does his very best to wrench blame away from the child molesters and rapists and smear their sins over everyone else.
Liberal Catholics, echoed by the secular press, insist that the whole problem can be traced to clerical celibacy. Conservatives blame the moral relativism that swept the church in the upheavals of the 1970s, when the worst abuses and cover-ups took place.
In reality, the scandal implicates left and right alike. The permissive sexual culture that prevailed everywhere, seminaries included, during the silly season of the ’70s deserves a share of the blame, as does that era’s overemphasis on therapy. (Again and again, bishops relied on psychiatrists rather than common sense in deciding how to handle abusive clerics.) But it was the church’s conservative instincts — the insistence on institutional loyalty, obedience and the absolute authority of clerics — that allowed the abuse to spread unpunished.
Disgusting. Bishops covered up the priests' and their own actions instead of going to the police. You have child rapists arrested, you don't move them from parish to parish. More spin. Douthat is forced to admit that obedience is part of the problem, but his solution is more obedience, not less.
What’s more, it was a conservative hierarchy’s bunker mentality that prevented the Vatican from reckoning with the scandal. In a characteristic moment in 2002, a prominent cardinal told a Spanish audience that “I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign ... to discredit the church.”
That cardinal was Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI. Since then, he’s come to grips with the crisis in ways that his predecessor did not: after years of drift and denial under John Paul II, the Vatican has taken vigorous steps to promote zero tolerance, expedite the dismissal of abusive priests and organize investigations that should have happened long ago. Because of Benedict’s recent efforts, and the efforts of clerics and laypeople dating back to the first wave of revelations in the 1980s, Catholics can reasonably hope that the crisis of abuse is a thing of the past.
Right, blame the dead pope, not the man in charge of handling the scandals under the pope--Benedict, then cardinal.
But the crisis of authority endures.
Because that's what's in danger here, that's what really counts. Not children going to bed crying in fear and dread of the next day. Not bruised bodies. Not destroyed minds. Not the children.
There has been some accountability for the abusers, but not nearly enough for the bishops who enabled them. And now the shadow of past sins threatens to engulf this papacy.
Popes do not resign. But a pope can clean house. And a pope can show contrition, on his own behalf and on behalf of an entire generation of bishops, for what was done and left undone in one of Catholicism’s darkest eras.
This is Holy Week, when the first pope, Peter, broke faith with Christ and wept for shame. There is no better time for repentance.
Which is exactly what the priests, bishops and popes want--to control the entire situation. Substitute meaningless confession and repentance for arrest, trial, jail, and, sadly, the terrible sexual abuse that is tolerated in our prisons today. Because the important thing here is that the priests have the chance for God's forgiveness, not that children have vindication and the rapes are punished. In the eyes of the Church the children are invisible, just as they were during the crimes. And that is what the rape and molestation of thousands of children over centuries proves to us--what really matters is that the powerful maintain their power over the lives of others.
The Church is not God. The papal hierarchy is not God. The multi-million dollar Church estates are not God. The gold, jewels, Prada shoes, missals, tabernacles, vestments, abortion protests, political lobbying are not God. The children are the face of God, and if you turn your back on them, you have nothing left.
There is no more church. There are abusers and their enablers, and their victims. If the institutions are permitted to continue, the pope, priests and bishops will be just like Dick Cheney, who learned that the only sin is getting caught.
The next time they won't be so careless.