If the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is to regain secular respect, and if it is to reassure its troubled communicants that it is worthy of their devotion, it must reconcile itself to the reality that child abuse is not just a horrendous sin requiring penance and spiritual absolution, but also a vile crime that demands civil prosecution.
At the root of this problem — and many other challenges facing the Church — is a profound confusion about human sexuality. In essence, the Church holds that the only purpose of coitus is procreation. From this mistakenly narrow view springs the demand for a celibate (exclusively male) clergy, the prohibition against birth control, and the denial of the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples.
Father Hans Küng — who more than 30 years ago the Vatican stripped of his license to teach theology because he rejected the doctrine of papal infallibility — calls the Church’s views on sex “uptight.” Writing in the well-respected London-based Catholic weekly The Tablet, Küng draws a series of links between this pinched view of sexuality, celibacy, the prohibition against female priests, and the latest round of pedophile scandals that have surfaced in Germany, Ireland, and the United States.
Despite the personal conversations Pope Benedict XVI held with clergy victims during his American visit last year and the unprecedented, detailed personal apology to the Irish people issued just days ago, the Church has failed to come completely to grips with the base criminality of some of its priests and the unconscionable cover-ups orchestrated by its bishops. (Troubling questions about the pope’s own administrative conduct when he was himself a bishop have arisen.) Until the papacy dissolves the culture of secrecy that has enabled cover-ups, and turns sexual predators and their enablers over to law enforcement, the wrongs of the past will haunt Catholicism. And until doctrine is revised, past misconduct will threaten to flourish again.
The GOP’s black hole
Consider these seemingly random recent events: nine apocalyptic fundamentalist paramilitary members, known as the Hutaree militia, were indicted for sedition and planning to murder police in Michigan; a white supremacist pled guilty of plotting in 2008 to punctuate a planned killing spree of African-Americans with the assassination of then-presidential-candidate Barack Obama; the ratings of wacko Fox News hate-monger Glenn Beck climbed by 50 percent.
You don’t need a Gallup poll to know that the nation is anxious and unsettled. If you can’t find it in the workplace or the unemployment lines, then you can certainly find it on television, where no day’s coverage seems complete without something about the Tea Party. Legitimate populist outrage may have inspired the Tea Partiers, but their movement has been hijacked by Republican manipulators seeking to leverage anger for political gain. In the process, a potent and nasty strain of hate, dynamic and growing, has flourished.
In order to discredit President Obama and paralyze the popularly elected Democratic majority in Congress, the mainstream GOP has adopted the rhetoric and mindset of left-wing campus radicals of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But unlike those noisy but essentially marginal leftists, the Republican radicals operate in the mainstream. There is little or no space in their party for Republican moderates; radicals are the base, the activists, the leadership.