Editor’s Note: This article appeared in the Fairfield County Weekly, and the Westchester County Weekly, two alternative newspapers with somewhat left-leaning editorial stances. I didn’t send it to the Stamford newspaper for which I normally write op-ed pieces, because they’d already run an article similar to it by James Pinkerton, a well-known syndicated columnist, who is New York Newsday’s house conservative. His editorial was shorter and more focused; however, mine had the advantage of being a good deal more mean-spirited. You can compare for yourself by clicking here.
A Modest Proposal to Prevent Priestly Pedophilia
“It’s so easy to judge
past decisions, some stretching back 40 years, with 20-20 hindsight.
I think the most important thing is to focus on the future.”
— Bishop William Lori, of the
responding to allegations in the Hartford Courant that his predecessor,
Cardinal Edward Egan, helped accused child molesters continue serving as priests.
When politicians are caught with a hand in the cookie jar (or anywhere else, for that matter), their first reaction, and the first reaction of their apologists, is usually to urge us to stop living in the past and “focus on the future.” But in the face of the church’s pedophilia scandal, even some of the most devout are expressing dismay at the reaction of the Roman Catholic leadership.
The actions of men like Cardinal Egan are more than just problematic “past decisions,” as Bishop Lori put it. They show a lack of a moral compass and represent strategies more often associated with political consultants doing damage control than with the shepherds of an organization responsible for the spiritual well-being of hundreds of millions of souls.
Bishop Lori’s statement clearly demonstrates that — to co-opt the jargon of the women’s movement — the church fathers “just don’t get it.” Does it really require “20-20 hindsight” to realize that moving a child molester from one parish to another isn’t going to solve the problem … that it’s legally and — more importantly — morally and spiritually wrong? Whether these tactics go back 40 years or 2,000 years, it is in every way reprehensible to shield criminal priests from prosecution just because revealing their crimes might be damaging to the church.
A recent cover of Time Magazine asked, “Can the Catholic Church Save Itself?” But the follow-up question must be, “Save itself from what?” Is the church actually threatened with extinction by the actions of what The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd called its “parade of pedophiles”? This is hardly the worst abomination the Catholic church has committed in its 2,000-year history. If the Inquisition, the persecution of the Jews and the Crusades haven’t caused the faithful to abandon ship, does anyone really think this scandal is going to bring down one of the world’s richest and most powerful organizations?
Of course, the wild card in all this is the endless litigation that can be expected as the victims fight back in the courts against their victimizers and their enablers in the church hierarchy. Could the threat of bankruptcy and the concomitant loss of power and influence be enough to force the church to accept significant reform?
Not likely. In a financial sense, what’s happening is similar to the legal situation confronting the tobacco companies. The judgments mount up, but the costs can be passed along to the consumers — millions of smokers too addicted not to pay exorbitant prices for their cigarettes. In much the same way, hundreds of millions of lay Catholics will fork over the money to keep their institution afloat, no matter how much it ends up costing. The hierarchy may be embarrassed or inconvenienced, but, ultimately, the church will not be seriously threatened.
Nor will there be major changes in leadership. Cardinal Law, whose behavior has verged on the criminal, is still in charge in Boston, and Cardinal Egan continues to run the prestigious New York archdiocese. Had either of these men been high school principals, they would have been fired a long time ago for their roles in the monstrous crimes they’ve helped to conceal and abet.
Meanwhile, lay spokesman, such as former Ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn, are working the airwaves to defend the church’s course of action. Sounding like a media consultant for R.J. Reynolds, Mr. Flynn recently appeared on Fox TV’s The O’Reilly Factor to support Law’s right to keep his job and warned the “liberal media” not to use this situation to their advantage, whatever that means.
Nor will there be significant changes in the way that the church conducts its business. Not surprisingly, it’s rounding up “the usual suspects.” Joaquin Navarro-Valls, chief spokesman for the Vatican, has told The New York Times that the church must prevent gays from becoming priests (estimates of the percentage of gays in the priesthood range from 10% to more than 50%). This, of course, flies in the face of the data on sexual disorders, which indicate that homosexuals are no more likely than heterosexuals to molest children. And a new round of bashing a minority the church has persecuted for years is more likely to cause priests to hide their orientation even deeper in the closet than it is to bring about reform.
The current controversy has led some critics to question the doctrine of priestly celibacy. Whether an end to mandatory celibacy would help the situation is debatable. Most pedophiles in the general population are married heterosexuals, but it’s possible that, absent the requirement of lifelong abstinence, the pool from which potential priests are drawn might be sexually healthier.
However, as they once dispatched the Jesuits to attack the concept of heliocentrism, the church leadership is deploying its spokesmen to decry any liberalizing tendency toward changing this doctrine, so serious debate on celibacy is unlikely. The church fathers have evidently forgotten that, for the first 1,000 years or so of Catholicism, married priests were the rule, not the exception; its first Pope, St. Peter, was a married man; many subsequent Popes were married, and some were succeeded by their own sons; and millions of Eastern Rite Catholics are currently being served by married clerics. In truth, a major reason for the institution of celibacy in 1139 AD was simple economics — to keep church property from being inherited by the children of the clergy.
Nonetheless, it’s unlikely that this key tenet of modern Catholic faith will be abandoned, because to do so would be tantamount to conceding that celibacy has simply become too difficult. It would be an admission that faith is not enough to make it work, and God is unable to sustain the priesthood in overcoming the difficulties inherent in such a discipline. As with so many other issues, the wagons are being circled.
However, there is another way out. I would like to proffer a modest proposal that offers a more pragmatic outcome than optional celibacy. It would protect the children, without allowing priests to have sex, and it would be more fundamentally biblical than the current arrangement. I’m speaking of a gelded clergy.
The Catholic church’s attitude toward sexual relations for any purposes other than reproduction is clear. St. Paul expressed it succinctly: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Corinthians 7:1). In Matthew 19:12, Christ himself said, “And there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”
According to Webster’s, eunuchs are not men who refrain from sexual relations, but those who have been castrated, rendering sexual relations impossible. At a time when the Christian ideal seems more than ever to be a journey back to the future — to “that old-time religion” — a literal interpretation of Christ’s words would enable men to answer the highest calling by giving up any possibility of sexual dalliances. And what better way to do this than by having prospective priests “seal the deal” by putting themselves under the knife on the day they take their vows? If they wished, they could walk in the footsteps of the revered patriarch Origen (185–232), who followed Christ’s admonition (perhaps just a tad too literally) by performing the castration on himself.
The willingness to undergo gelding would demonstrate the seriousness with which priests regard their vocation, weed out the faint of faith, and enable those who don’t take their calling quite so literally to become Methodists or Unitarians. With such a priesthood, we wouldn’t need what SatireWire.com refers to as “Egan’s Law,” an amendment to Megan’s Law that would make it mandatory for Catholic churches to register with the police for the safety of local children when they move into a neighborhood. And the Vatican would have far fewer lawsuits to deal with from this new breed of eunuchs for Christ.
Click here to take a look at the Pinkerton Article, which deals with the same subject.
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