Rome fid­dles, we burn

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

If the Vat­i­can is try­ing to re­store the im­pres­sion that its moral sense is in­tact, is­su­ing a doc­u­ment that equates pe­dophilia with the or­di­na­tion of women doesn’t re­ally do that.

The Catholic Church con­tin­ued to heap in­sult upon in­jury when it re­vealed its long-awaited new rules on clergy sex abuse, rules that the Vat­i­can spokesman, the Rev. Fed­erico Lom­bardi, said sig­naled a com­mit­ment to grasp the net­tle with “rigor and trans­parency.”

The church still be­lieves in its own in­trin­sic ho­li­ness de­spite all ev­i­dence to the con­trary. It thinks it is mak­ing huge con­ces­sions on the un­stop­pable abuse scan­dal when it’s tak­ing baby steps.

The ca­su­is­tic doc­u­ment did not is­sue a ze­ro­tol­er­ance pol­icy to de­frock priests af­ter they are found guilty of pe­dophilia; it did not or­der bish­ops to re­port ev­ery in­stance of abuse to the po­lice; it did not set up sanc­tions on bish­ops who sweep abuse un­der the rec­tory rug; it did not elim­i­nate the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for abused chil­dren; it did not tell bish­ops to stop lob­by­ing leg­is­la­tures to pre­vent child-abuse laws from be­ing tough­ened.

There is no moral awakening. The cru­elty and in­de­cency of child abuse once more in­spires tac­ti­cal con­tri­tion. All the pen­i­tence of the church is grudg­ing and re­ac­tive. Church lead­ers are merely as penitent as they need to be to pro­tect the in­sti­tu­tion. Imag­ine such a scene in the con­fes­sional. “For­give me, Fa­ther, for I have sinned. I am as sorry as my job or school re­quires me to be.”

“But my daugh­ter, that is not true pen­i­tence. That’s sit­u­a­tional pen­i­tence.”

Af­ter the Bel­gian po­lice brac­ingly con­ducted raids on the church hi­er­ar­chy, in­spired in part by the hor­ri­fy­ing case of a boy mo­lested for years by his un­cle, the bishop of Bruges, a case that the church ig­nored and cov­ered up for 25 years, the pope did not ap­plaud the more ag­gres­sive tack. He con­demned it.

In a Times story re­cently, Lau­rie Goodstein and David Halbfinger de­bunked the spin that Car­di­nal Joseph Ratzinger had been one of the more alert of­fi­cials on the is­sue of sex­ual abuse: “The fu­ture pope, it is now clear, was also part of a cul­ture of non­re­spon­si­bil­ity, de­nial, le­gal­is­tic foot-drag­ging and out­right ob­struc­tion. More than any top Vat­i­can of­fi­cial other than John Paul, it was Car­di­nal Ratzinger who might have taken de­ci­sive ac­tion in the 1990s to pre­vent the scan­dal from metas­ta­siz­ing in coun­try af­ter coun­try, grow­ing to such pro­por­tions that it now threat­ens to con­sume his own pa­pacy.”

If Ro­man Polan­ski were a priest, he’d still be work­ing here.

Stu­pe­fy­ingly, the new Vat­i­can doc­u­ment also links rap­ing chil­dren with or­dain­ing women as priests, deem­ing both “grav­iora delicta,” or grave of­fenses. Cler­ics who at­tempt to or­dain women can now be de­frocked.

On Beliefnet, Mark Silk, a pro­fes­sor of re­li­gion at Con­necti­cut’s Trin­ity Col­lege, sug­gested that the stronger threat against women’s or­di­na­tion is not “a mal­adroit add-on” but the me­dieval Vat­i­can’s “main busi­ness.”

Af­ter the Vat­i­can launched two in­qui­si­tions of Amer­i­can nuns, it didn’t seem pos­si­ble that the arch­con­ser­va­tive Il Papa and his pa­ter­nal­is­tic re­doubt could get more un­en­light­ened, but they have some­how man­aged it.

Let­ting women be priests — which should be seen as a way to cleanse the church and move it be­yond its in­fan­tilized and de­fen­sive state — is now on the list of aw­ful sins right next to pe­dophilia, heresy, apos­tasy and schism.

Arch­bishop Don­ald Wuerl of Washington as­serted, “The Catholic Church, through its long and con­stant teach­ing, holds that or­di­na­tion has been, from the be­gin­ning, re­served to men, a fact which can­not be changed de­spite chang­ing times.”

But if it was re­served to celi­bate men cen­turies ago as a way for the church to keep land, why can’t it be changed? If a so­ci­ety makes strides in not sub­or­di­nat­ing women, why can’t the church re­flect that? If men prove that all­male hi­er­ar­chies can get shame­fully warped, why can’t they em­brace the nor­mal­ity of equal­ity? The Vat­i­can’s in­sis­tence on male pre­rog­a­tive is misog­y­nis­tic pop­py­cock — en­hanc­ing U.S. Catholics’ dis­en­chant­ment with Rome.

In The New Re­pub­lic, Garry Wills wrote about his strug­gle to come to terms with the sins of his church: Je­sus “is the one who said, ‘What­ever you did to any of my broth­ers, even the lowli­est, you did to me.’ That means that the priests abus­ing the vul­ner­a­ble young were do­ing that to Je­sus, rap­ing Je­sus. Any cler­i­cal func­tionary who shows more sym­pa­thy for the preda­tor priests than for their vic­tims in­stantly dis­qual­i­fied him­self as a fol­lower of Je­sus. The car­di­nals said they must care for their own, go­ing to jail if nec­es­sary to pro­tect a priest. We say the same thing, but the ‘our own’ we care for are the vic­tim­ized, the poor, the vi­o­lated. They are Je­sus.”

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