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How Did the Church Get So Corrupt?

Protesters at the National Cathedral. (Lawrence Jackson/AP)

A number of questions remain concerning the great scandal of child molesters in the Church of Rome. One question is basic: However did things get this way?

It’s helpful to remember that most priests have never laid a hand on a child.

But many, many of them did; hundreds, even thousands. Nor are priests the only offenders; nuns and monks are also guilty.

Was there a previously unknown convention way back when (1980, 1970, 1960, 1950), an Association of Child Predators and Felons, which got together and decided, “We can get away with this by the simple expedient of becoming Catholic priests”?

Or was it something in the Church itself? This does seem more likely, doesn’t it.

One can imagine a convention, or more likely a friendship network, deciding, “Let us conceal our perversions by cloaking our desires in religious garb. Fewer people will suspect us.

“While we are there, in seminaries and parishes and bishops’ palaces, we can pray if we like that God, should there be one, will take away our sins.”

Child molesters are some of the least repentant people on earth. Many of them will freely admit to what the rest of us call crimes.

“The Catholic Church is the most secretive institution on earth. It decided to be so a very long time ago because, it decided, the best way to combat heresy and wrong beliefs is by setting up a king, called a pope, and giving him absolute power. Heresy and wrong beliefs are the most dangerous opponents of the faith revealed to us by God, the apostles and (a distant third) the Bible. We must oppose wrong beliefs at all costs. A strong king, backed by religion and the sword, will protect us from the grave threat that someone, somewhere, has a different idea about God.”

Back in the dim reaches of time there were philosophers and theologians who taught that Jesus was man, but not God; or God, but not man; or created, not pre-existing; or some variation which had the effect in logic of making Jesus someone less than the God-man we believe him to be.

The Church fought every one of these movements; and one can easily imagine why a need arose for a warrior-pope. Why, souls would be lost if people believed the wrong things!

(Of course the Church couldn’t always agree about what the right thing was to believe, so it convoked great councils of bishops to hammer out what it was we would believe. These councils were of course political, and their influence has extended through time; twice a day I post on another blog religious services for Morning and Evening, which invariably contain a statement of official beliefs called the Apostles’ Creed.

(And, I must add, I believe it myself, every word of it.)

All the while, Christians were being persecuted and fed to lions for not believing the proper things. And then one day that changed; a Roman emperor named Constantine legalized Christianity. It was now okay to believe what you could not believe yesterday.

This too gave rise to the pope as warrior. For if an emperor had the power to decide what to believe, he might also have the power to change his mind.

Belief was commanded by the power of a sword; believe the wrong thing and you could easily end up dead.

The Roman Empire lasted only another couple of centuries before warlords from the north invaded, chasing the Caesars out and leaving only popes to run the country—which they cheerfully did, sometimes heroically, sometimes brutally.

Popes acquired temporal power; political, military and economic. The Papal State, now confined to the Vatican and used as an argument (sovereign power) for why popes cannot be hauled into American courts for the trying of child molesters, is officially recognized as a sort of nation by U.S. presidents starting with Ronald Reagan, who wanted very much to curry favor with Polish Catholics in Hamtramck, Michigan.

He got their votes, but you’re stuck with the results, including thousands of child molesters.

I am a Protestant; I do not follow the warrior-popes. But I have to acknowledge, and any reading of history confirms, that the Protestant Church was born in violence just like the earlier religious wars in Europe.

England, whose Church I profess some loyalty to, went to war as well over all this in the 1600s.

One needs mention Henry VIII and the Elizabethan Settlement only in passing.

Catholics were burned at the stake; then Protestants were burned at the stake. Then Catholics again. Elizabeth put an end to that by creating a compromise with which most of the English people could agree, except for those millions who didn’t.

And Columbus discovered the New World. It had always been there, but this was news to Europe.

One need not review the religious history of the United States to know that religious impulses and disputes have always been prominent here. Did God strike New Orleans because Gay guys planned to fuck at Southern Decadence?

God really has nothing to do with hurricanes, though he gets constantly accused of fomenting them. And few things bore him more than Gay guys fucking.

But the issue before us now is how the Catholic Church came to be a haven of child abusers. And whether this scandal will bring down, at long last, the last warrior-pope.

Cardinal Ratzinger, the proponent of the most severe proscriptions on human sexuality as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Inquisition, home of the torture chamber), was elected pope precisely because he was the most fiercesome warrior.

Somehow the Church became about controlling people’s sex lives, once heresy was disposed of.

I don’t think there was ever a convention of child molesters. I don’t think they decided to pick on the Roman church. I do think they recognized it was the perfect place to hide their crimes, and that their non-molesting supervisors had built up such a gigantic bureaucracy, called a Curia, that it would take years and years before anyone got punished.

His alleged Holiness Benedict 16 has now been found to have condoned delaying the defrocking of a notorious and criminal priest “for the sake of the worldwide Church.”

The priest was young (38); the People might not like his removal. Then the Vatican lost his file and asked his importunate bishop to submit the paperwork again.

How perfect for the criminal priest. He now lives in a gated community in California, even though he’s a registered sex offender.

I don’t believe the pedophiles ever had a convention. I do think they figured out exactly how to conceal themselves in the pope’s robes while trading pictures of naked children.

Episcopalians like myself have no cause for gloating; we are called by God to great humility. There are child molesters in the clergy of every church, including ours.

(Here in Indiana it seems to be Southern Baptists lately. They’re falling down right and left, it’s quite amazing.)

But one must recognize that authoritarian religious systems offer easy sanctuary to criminals. Democratic religious systems are more likely to be spared, if only because complainers are given voice to speak.

There is no organization in the Episcopal Church comparable to the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Thank God, we have no need of it. If need be, a Protestant might stand up during a sermon to accuse a priest of soul-murder.

The Elizabethan Settlement, though itself the product of great violence, told England this: “Whatever your beliefs, get along with each other in the confines of our national Church.”

It didn’t solve the problems of Quakers, Non-Jurors, Papists or Presbyterians, but it did tell people to shut the fuck up.

It didn’t help the Methodists, whose founder Fr. Wesley saw a need for bishops the Church could not provide.

It didn’t prevent the worldwide fracturing of Protesters into tens of thousands of denominations. People are going to believe what they want to believe and you cannot contol that.

We don’t kill people anymore for believing the wrong thing. Too much blood was spilled to continue that program.

But it all serves as a reminder that there is no need anymore for a warrior-pope. The classic heresies have all been defeated. His alleged Eminence is guarded by ceremonial Swiss Guards, who couldn’t fight a heresy if one dared to appear.

The next pope needs to be a penitent. Voting for the most reactionary candidate has brought the Church great harm. It is a vulnerable institution, invaded by criminals as it once was by Visigoths.

It needs to be indifferent on whether God destroys cities because homosexuals have penises. God has seen everything men do, and found it boring.

Child molesters are a different matter altogether, and the new pope needs to go to war against them, even if it means that the alleged Holy See is political and mortal.++