This is an expanded version of a piece that was first published on AlterNet.
If your softball league or your children’s school did what the Catholic Church is doing, you’d quit in outrage. So why are you still Catholic?
Why are you still Catholic?
Presumably, I don’t have to tell you about the rash of child-rape scandals in the Catholic Church. I don’t have to tell you about the cover-ups, the shielding of child rapists in the priesthood from law enforcement, the deliberate shuttling of child-raping priests from town to town to protect them from exposure — thus enabling them to continue raping children. I don’t have to tell you about the Church using remote, impoverished villages as a dumping ground for priests who raped children. I don’t have to tell you that this wasn’t a few isolated incidents: it was a widespread, institutional practice, authorized by high-level Church officials. Including Cardinal Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — who, among other actions taken to protect child raping priests, delayed the dismissal of a child rapist in the priesthood… for the “good of the universal Church.”
And I’m just focusing on the child rape scandal. I’m not even talking today about the other recent scandals in the Church: the gay prostitution ring, the Church banning the use of condoms in Africa to prevent the spread of AIDS, the rape of nuns by priests and the ignoring/ concealment thereof.
You know about all of it.
So here’s what I want to ask you:
Why are you still Catholic?
If these scandals had taken place in any organization other than a religious one — would you still be part of it?
Would you still be part of it? Would you still pay your league dues and show up for softball night? Would you still pay your tuition and send your kids off to the school every day?
Or would you be walking out in moral outrage? Would you be writing enraged letters to the organization’s leadership — and sending copies of those letters to your local newspaper — explaining exactly why you can no longer be part of an organization that behaves so reprehensibly? Would you be picketing, exhorting other members to leave along with you, calling law enforcement to demand a response?
And if the latter — then why on earth aren’t you doing that with the Catholic Church?
If I wrote that story, people would think it was over the top. “That’s ridiculous,” they’d say. “You have to make your evil more believable, more human. Nobody really does that.”
Well, people really do that.
The Church you belong to really does that.
Why on Earth are you still a part of it?
If that’s true, then my first question to you would be: Do you really believe that? If you disagree with the Church (as many Catholics do) on a huge number of substantial issues — birth control, gay rights, women’s rights, condom use for people with AIDS, etc., not to mention the institutional protection and cover-up of priests who rape children — then what does it mean to say that you believe in the Church?
But let’s say you’re a more traditional Catholic. Let’s say you do agree with the Church on most of these positions. All of them, even, except the one about protecting child rapists and thus perpetuating child rape. Or let’s say you are a more moderate Catholic… but that your disagreement with the Church on major theological issues still doesn’t interfere with your basic belief that the rites of the Church are necessary for your spiritual redemption.
I’d like to ask you to take a step back from your beliefs for a moment, and view them the way an outsider would. If someone else belonged to a religion that, say, protected men who torture and murder their wives; or a religion that practiced widespread fraud and theft from the desperately poor; or a religion that encouraged people to blow up buildings… would you nod sagely and say, “The sincerity of your faith is a good enough reason to stay in that religion”?
Or would you recoil in horror at how profoundly their fear of eternal punishment, and their desire for eternal reward, had bent their moral compass?
And if the latter — then why should you treat your own religion any differently? Your Church protects child rapists, thus perpetuating more child rape. Why are you still a part of it?
In which case, I have to ask you:
Are you freaking kidding me?
There are thousands upon thousands of excellent charitable organizations in the world. Charitable organizations that don’t protect child rapists, in a consistent, cold-blooded, institution-wide system of covering their asses. I’ll ask you the same question I asked about your job or your softball league or your kids’ school: If any other charitable organization behaved the way the Catholic Church did — if the Red Cross or the American Cancer Society shielded child rapists from exposure and law enforcement, shuttled them from town to town so they could keep raping children, and then stonewalled and rationalized and deflected blame when they got caught — would you respond by saying, “Well, yes, sure they helped get a bunch of children raped… but look at all the good work they do! Doesn’t that count for something? Why throw the baby out with the bathwater?”
Or instead, would you abandon that organization in revulsion, demand the arrest and prosecution of everyone involved, and immediately take your money and your time to a charity that didn’t, you know, help rape children?
If so, then I have to take a deep breath and ask you: Are you really prioritizing your own comfort over the rape of children?
Are those really and truly your priorities? Is it more important to you that you be soothed and comforted than it is to not participate in an institution that protects and conceals child rapists and actively enables them to keep doing it indefinitely? When you put the horror and the suffering and the ruined lives caused by child rape on one side of the balance — and the fact that you’re comforted by soothing rituals and pretty music on the other — do you honestly weigh those two considerations, and decide that your comfort comes out as the greater need?
And if not — if you think, as I hope you would, as I hope anyone with a shred of morality would, that your personal comfort is worth sacrificing if it means not participating in an institution that perpetuates the widespread rape of children — then why are you still part of this Church?
I don’t care whether you believe in God or not. Well, okay, that’s not true. I do care: I think religion is a mistaken idea about the world, I think that on the whole it does significantly more harm than good, and I’d love to see humanity let go of it. But if people’s religious beliefs and practices don’t hurt anyone else, then it’s their business, and I don’t really care all that much about them.
But see — that’s exactly the thing.
Belonging to the Catholic Church does hurt people.
As long as Catholics stay Catholics, no matter how repulsively evil the Church’s behavior becomes, no matter how many children get raped as a result of its institutional practices, then the Church is not going to change. It will have no reason to change. As long as Catholics continue to attend church, to donate money, to be counted in Church rolls, to send their children — their children! — to church and Catholic school for religious education and the perpetuation of Catholicism, then the Church will assume that it can do anything at all, with impunity. It will assume that it can… you know, I’m trying to think of an example of evil more grotesque and over-the-top than “protecting and concealing child rapists so they can go on raping children, just to protect the organization’s public image,” but I’m coming up short. It will assume that it can squander hospice donations on cocaine and hookers? Dump the Vatican’s sewage into the Rome subway system? Torture kittens in St. Peter’s Square? No. None of that is more grotesquely, over-the-top evil than protecting and concealing child rapists so they can go on raping children, just to protect the organization’s public image.
If you stay in the Catholic Church, even after this scandal, you are essentially telling them, “Go ahead and protect child rapists. I don’t care. As long as I personally get to keep taking Communion and go to Heaven when I die, whatever you do is hunky-dory with me. Your spiritual extortion — your indoctrination of the idea that I will be tortured with burning and fire for all eternity if I don’t drink your wine and eat your cracker — has worked. You can do anything at all that you like. You won’t hear a peep out of me.”
Is that really what you want to be saying?
The only way — and I mean the only way — that the Catholic Church is going to change its stance on this issue, or indeed on any issue, is if Catholics vote with their feet, and get the hell out of there.
When are you going to do that?
To leave the Catholic Church, visit the Count Me Out website, which walks you through the process.