What the Vatican could learn from Rupert Murdoch

The Catholic Church has become the religion of sexual regulations. Its only competitor for this distinction is of course Islam. While Islam has attempted to maintain a relatively consistent world-view and separateness from other religions, however, the Catholic Church has made considerable efforts to “modernize”—to concede on beliefs, customs and rituals where concessions were necessary to prevent a wholesale abandonment by its flock. But the one area they will not bend on, in fact the one area that seems to define the essence of the Vatican worldview, its very reason for existence, is its view of the role sexuality plays in human conduct. And that view is more subtle than you might think. The subtlety depends on the principle of “whose ox is being gored.”

The two “crises” of the past couple of weeks illustrate what that world view is. One we treated in our last post. In that case the Bishop of Toledo, Ohio, has ordered Catholic Schools to stop collecting money and donating it to a foundation that sponsors research into the cause and cure of breast cancer. The reason was not that the foundation does anything that is proscribed by Catholic teaching, but rather because some day it might fund stem cell research that uses fetal tissue. We needn’t go into the dizzying thinking behind the Catholic Church’s hysteria over stem cell research. Let’s just say that it involves a dread that refrigerators are filling up all over the world with dead fetuses. This fear has led one Catholic moral philosopher who supposedly specializes in bioethics (an official one, not some free lancer at a University or in the press) to condemn in vitro fertilization. In the world of Catholic “ethics” being against something requires almost no thought, and clearly no rational thought.

The Toledo diocese’s conduct in that case can be explained this way: There are some evils that are so great that doing anything that makes them more likely is prohibited. And that is so, even when the thing being done doesn’t necessarily lead to that evil and also in itself is something good. I suppose you would have to balance the good (a possible cure for breast cancer) against the evil (the use of fetal stem cells), but Bishop Leonard Blair did not spell it out in his letter to his Friends in Christ. Since he balanced a remote possibility against a current scourge on very many women, we have to assume that he believes the evil he is worried about is very considerably greater than the good of doing something against breast cancer, because in the balance you have to discount the evil by the probability of its future occurence. Of course, predicting how an institution will behave in the future is always tricky. There was a time that the Church sanctioned the torture then burning of Lutherans, and now they even send ambassadors to Anglican countries, however much they hold them in contempt.

The other “crisis,” of course, was the one that involved Ireland. No Anglican country there. But the Church is taking immense heat over, once again, the inability of it to police its agents (the ones who are able to intercede between us and God) and prevent them from assaulting and molesting children. One wonders how many religions in the world at their heart are so deeply corrupted as to be ambivalent about whether its priests should be punished for sexually assaulting children. But it is so deeply ingrained in the hierarchy of this “faith” that they cannot bring themselves to even do what they themselves promise to do to police their own urges. This is especially evident in the recent report into the conduct of the Diocese of Cloyne, Ireland. The Cloyne Report (which can be read in its gruesome 421 page entirety) is not about some ancient history where the hierarchy didn’t know anything about the crimes being committed in the name of Jesus. (How many times in its history have crimes in the name of Jesus been committed by this institution?) No, it covers the period from 1999 to 2009. And significantly, this period took place after the publication in 1996 of the “Report and Recommendation of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Committee on Child Sexual Abuse by Priests,” also known as the Green Book or the Framework Document. This document required that complaints and evidence of criminal activity be reported to the civil police authorities. Pretty simple, right? Some might think that elementary principles of “ethics” might require it. How did that work out in Cloyne?

First off the Congregation for the Clergy opposed the Framework and in not too subtle a way threatened the bishops who would enforce it:

The Congregation for the Clergy told the bishops of Ireland that the document was “not an official document of the Episcopal Conference but merely a study document”. The Congregation further stated that it contained:

“procedures and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of the same Bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems. If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities.

In particular, the situation of ‘mandatory reporting’ gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature”.

(Cloyne Report, 1.18; for the authority that the Church has granted the Congregation for the Clergy, see its official explanation.)

Then the Papal Nuncio significantly pointed out the clergy’s objections in a secret letter to the Bishops, who had applied to the Vatican for recognition of the Frameworks:

“The Congregation for the Clergy has attentively studied the complex question of sexual abuse of minors by clerics and the document entitled “Child Sexual Abuse: Framework for a Church Response”, published by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Advisory Committee. The Congregation wishes to emphasize the need for this document to conform to the canonical norms presently in force.

The text, however, contains ‘procedures and dispositions which appear contrary to canonical discipline and which, if applied, could invalidate the acts of the same Bishops who are attempting to put a stop to these problems. If such procedures were to be followed by the Bishops and there were cases of eventual hierarchical recourse lodged at the Holy See, the results could be highly embarrassing and detrimental to those same Diocesan authorities. In particular, the situation of “mandatory reporting” gives rise to serious reservations of both a moral and a canonical nature’. Since the policies on sexual abuse in the English speaking world exhibit many of the same characteristics and procedures, the Congregation is involved in a global study of them. At the appropriate time, with the collaboration of the interested Episcopal Conferences and in dialogue with them, the Congregation will not be remiss in establishing some concrete directives with regard to these Policies.

For these reasons and because the abovementioned text is not an official document of the Episcopal Conference but merely a study document, I am directed to inform the individual Bishops of Ireland of the preoccupations of the Congregation in its regard, underlining that in the sad cases of accusations of sexual abuse by clerics, the procedures established by the Code of Canon Law must be meticulously followed under pain of invalidity of the acts involved if the priest so punished were to make hierarchical recourse against his Bishop.”

(Cloyne Report 4.21.)

There were further Vatican communications on this point, and all of them not-so-subtle in suggesting on which side the Pope would land in any dispute between criminal priests and innocent children victims. The language, all couched in canon legalese and not specifically saying not to report criminal priests, was written the way an investment banking CEO would advise his underlings on his feelings against a too strict enforcement of the law or morality. There is no doubt that like any corrupt and morally depraved executive, the Pope had more interest in preventing the disclosure of the crimes of the priests than protecting the well-being of the children of the priests’ flocks. Evidently, when Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me” (Mark 10:14), he was not guaranteeing they wouldn’t be raped. Or at least that’s how the successors to Peter saw their responsibility.

Needless to say, the Diocese of Cloyne failed to follow the Framework set out by the Bishops of Ireland. Evidently, when you work with child molesters on a daily basis, it’s easier to take their side than to follow what your superiors require of you. Predictably, the revelations and conclusions of this report have been greeted with a firestorm in Ireland. Even the Prime Minister of Ireland has lambasted the Church. The Prime Minister of Ireland! What next? Italy demanding that the Church adhere to minimal standards of human decency?

The Vatican has been through this before. Many times. They have what they consider the fire drill down pat. The Pope has recalled the Papal Nunzio, Giuseppe Leanza for discussions. (This is not the same Papal Nunzio who warned the bishops in secret, on  behalf of the Pope, not to enforce the Framework.) The Vatican PR had its pat response. According to the BBC:

Vice-director of the Vatican press office Father Ciro Benedettini said the nuncio’s recall “should be interpreted as an expression of the desire of the Holy See for serious and effective collaboration with the (Irish) government.”


… it “denotes the seriousness of the situation and the Holy See’s desire to face it objectively and determinately.”

You see, like any organization caught with its pants down (in this case literally), the church pretends it wants to cooperate. But the Cloyne Report showed that the Church intended no such thing. In fact it was the Pope himself who in secret showed he was dead-set against it. And the Church still can’t bring itself to offer even a pretend apology. To prove the point that the pope was not going to be swept in in the fury of irrational people (Irish, for god’s sake!) who wanted to protect their children from being criminally violated by those that the Church has expressly warranted have an inside track to the great I AM, Father Benedettini added: “Nor does it [the Pope’s action in recalling the Papal Nunzio] exclude some degree of surprise and disappointment at certain excessive reactions.” Yes, those “excess reactions.” The Church has always been the victim.

You see, like all criminal organizations, the Church can see clearly what the appropriate level of reactions to its crimes ought to be. It is not rational to go overboard in condemning an organization that intentionally and secretly breaks the promises it makes to the public. After all, if the public gets this upset about a little child molestation, what are they going to think when they find out the Church can’t deliver on salvation, eternal life and being direct channels to the great I AM?

It might also be worth noting that Mr. Benedettini’s use of the title “Father,” like all Catholic clerics, indeed like the child molestors themselves, is to demonstrate his concern for his “children.” Of course Mr. Benedettini has no children of his own and therefore has never experienced the outrage that a father feels when his child is violated. So even the titles these men assume reveals how far short of their promises they aspire to and how little substance there is in their assumed positions.

So what do these two instances of Catholic conduct demonstrate? On the one had we have a friend in Christ so meticulous about the possibility of potential sin that he instructs his followers to not contribute to an organization trying to alleviate the suffering of women. (And remember, it is women that his screed was about. The foundation did not do reasearch into prostate cancer.) So someone assisting a person doing good (for women, keep in mind) now must be stopped because the person doing good now might do evil in the future. (And keep in mind I’m not now debating the ridiculous position the Church takes on stem cell research, which if I did would make the supposed “evil” potentially to be done in the future so much less clear.)

Compare that with actual evil being committed by the agents of the Church itself against the most vulnerable of the persons it claims it is serving. Not only does the Church do nothing. It tries to prevent others from doing anything.

Now isn’t this all odd? The whole sex thing with women involves all sorts of rules against having sex unless child-bearing is intended. But when their agents, illegally, force sex on children, the response is to hide the sin. Put it another way: If a US Congressman proposes family planning, he can be excommunicated. If a Catholic-ordained priest spends his life forcing himself on children, the Church allows him to continue “ministering” to his flock.

Why the difference? The answer has nothing to do with scripture. It is simply a matter of the Church’s historic role in Europe. This medieval organization who supported the power structure of the Dark Ages was able to retain its position by providing the ideological cover for the use of power that the economic system demanded. And that system demanded that the role of women was solely to bear and raise children. They had no value otherwise. Their status was slightly above a milk cow. And so the rules of the church have been arranged with that role in mind. If women die in childbirth, so be it. There are plenty. If they suffer breast cancer, so be it. Frankly, most women who get breast cancer are above the childbearing age, so their usefulness is long gone. By contrast, the crimes of the clergy, whether violation of celibacy, drunkenness, child rape, simony, and so forth, don’t prevent the Church from fulfilling its role as ideological handmaiden of power. So what of it?

The Church, unlike some other religious organizations, some of which actually confront power, has never lost sight of its role. It is remarkably flexible when it finds that it has to adapt. Now a Catholic can actually believe that the Earth revolves around the sun. Or not. It doesn’t matter. Catholics are now allowed to read the Bible in their own language. Lutherans can actually live in Catholic countries. But if something as fundamental as a woman’s role in society is concerned, the Church will make itself ridiculous standing against women.

Nothing will change the Church. After 2,000 years the Church has failed to heed the ancient wisdom: “One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” (In fairness, the direction was issued by someone the Church rarely listens to. See Mark 10:21.) Instead the Church has spent most of its earthly career storing up wealth on Earth. So be it. It’s none of my business. Except that contributing to this organization gives you a tax deduction in the US. And it doesn’t pay property taxes on the extensive real estate it owns. And the churches are all tax exempt when they engage in profit making activities. And they are given leeway when they engage in all sorts of minor crimes and violate commercial regulations. So we are all forced to indirectly subsidize this organization. It would be as though Enron were given tax exempt status.

One thing this organization should learn, however, if it intends to continue its career of standing against ameliorating suffering and for obstructing the justice that should be meted out against its agents: It should learn PR. It is truly surprising that the Vatican can continue to hire a PR hack like Father Benedettini. If we have learned anything about how a criminal organization should handle PR, it is that it does no good for their representatives to say that the outrage is too much. It may make the insiders feel better, but it doesn’t help the organization’s long-term survival. Rupert Murdoch initially took that tack recently. He soon found that it only enraged public opinion. He has since learned that eating humble pie is the best course, however distasteful the meal is. Perhaps the Vatican could hire Joel Klein to give it some lessons in damage control. Except for that historical problem the Church has had with Jewish people.

Maybe the only thing that can help at this point is someone attacking the Pope with a pie. But then again the Pope doesn’t have a wife half his age to run interference. The Pope certainly doesn’t need the help of a woman. That’s not what his organization stands for at all.

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