Could someone please explain the Catholic Church to me?

Another Roman Catholic higher-up has been caught in yet another sex scandal. This one has a bit of local flavor for me, being that Bishop Raymond Lahey hails from and runs a diocese in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. In the shadow of the settlement of one scandal, in fact, another has emerged, and it doesn’t look like this guy’s going to heaven any time soon, no matter how respected and God-fearing he was (notwithstanding heaven’s non-existence). There’s something I really can’t comprehend about this — why does anyone who thinks they have the right to cover up these crimes, have any authority at all over morality, civility, civic-mindedness, or of who is morally pure or impure enough to make it into some mythical paradise after death?

Lahey recently “retired” over the $13 million settlement (pdf) that the diocese has just had to undertake to atone for the absurd amount of sexual abuse that has happened over the past 60 years. If you’re a local, and you’re one of the folks that got molested by a clergyman during this time frame (and I know there’s apparently quite a number of you poor folks), here’s the form to fill out for a piece of the class-action settlement fund. Small consolation, I know, but it’s better than nothing.

Shortly thereafter, while traveling by plane, Lahey was apparently randomly selected for a laptop search. This is a practice I don’t particularly agree with — the randomized search and seizure of laptops for illegal software or mp3s or whatever else incriminating there is on your personal property is a gross violation of privacy rights. What they found on the laptop, however, makes me glad that — only in this one instance — they performed said search, as the insufferable asshole was carrying around kiddie porn with him. I guess just in case he needed to rub one out while he was traveling and didn’t have any local boys he could use his influence over. He’s now facing charges, but has been released on bail.

As though that weren’t enough to color the public’s already damaged perception of the church, we have a well-documented history of Catholics circling the wagons where it comes to sexual abuse, only owning up to their crimes when they are dragged kicking and screaming to justice. I mean, even Pope Ratzinger himself, while Cardinal and second in power only to the Pope at the time, helped cover up the molestation of three boys. Bush later granted him immunity against lawsuits that were being brought forward (sorry for the Faux News link) on request of His Holiness himself.

The Catholic Church claims that they need to stamp out this problem by weeding out gays, as though homosexuality leads naturally to pedophilia — forget that there’s zero evidence for this hypothesis. The more likely scenario is that, as such clergy are given absolutely no outlets for their sexuality, which is as basic a human drive as hunger or thirst, and there are a great number of them. Some proportion of Catholic priests are probably only about as likely to be pedophiles as members of the general public, though the figures the Catholic church has released suggests between “a mere” 1.5% and 5% of clergymen being involved in sex scandals. The difference here is, members of the general public are allowed to marry, have sex with other adults, masturbate, or generally attempt to express themselves in the exploration of other fetishes. Some unknown percentage of pedophiles or potential pedophiles are able to subsume that aspect of their sexuality and may never molest a child. The fact that they have other outlets is very likely a factor in this self-mitigation.

The Church also claims other religions are as badly off as theirs is with regard to pedophilia. While an obvious and laughable bit of misdirection, I’d tend to disagree, not the least reason which being that Catholicism is one of the only religions, much less orders of Christianity, with full-on proscriptions against ANY sexuality whatsoever, when performed for any reason other than procreation. Condoms are a sin against the Catholic concept of sex for procreation, so even God’s Appointed Emissary (who is supposedly perfect in all things) is more than willing to lie like a cheap rug about condoms’ efficacy against STDs.

Back to Bishop Lahey himself for the moment. In 2004, he’d written a letter to parents about petitioning to the government to have the gay marriage laws repealed.

“It is not often that we get a second chance to do the right thing,” he said in a letter to diocesan parishioners.

He was talking about Parliament revisiting the matter of what constitutes marriage.

“The people of Canada will . . . have their second chance to do the right thing, by expressing again their conviction that, by definition, marriage is the union between husband and wife.”

He appealed to people to contact their members of Parliament about their affirmation of the church’s view of marriage.

“Today, we have so many problems with our social structures,” Bishop Lahey wrote in his letter, “that the second chance to correct one of them by reaffirming the specific nature of marriage is a wonderful opportunity for us.”

There’s no word whether the child porn photos he had were of boys or girls, so we only know he’s a child molester, not his sexual orientation — because, despite what the Vatican would have you believe, you can be a child molester without also being gay, and you can most certainly be gay without being a child molester. His orientation wouldn’t make a lick of difference in the prosecution of the case — minors are in no position regardless of gender to resist the advances of someone in power and trust like Lahey was — but it would shed some light on whether Lahey’s anti-gay-marriage crusades were motivated by him being horrified by his own cock-preferring nature, or if they were merely a function of the Catholic indoctrination. Either way is unacceptable, but the former lends credence to my suspicion that the religion makes promises to help pray away the gay that just doesn’t work and, in the small portion of the population prone to pedophilia, emerges in that behaviour when they find themselves in such a position. (The hilarious part is, the response from everyone up and down the chain whenever someone is caught in such a situation is always, “we’ll pray for you”. As though a lot of people thinking really hard at an omnipotent deity that apparently has your life planned out for you, will prompt said deity to change his mind.)

There are a few questions I have about this whole fiasco, mostly about the Catholic organization itself. First, why would any organization that demands of its followers that they either be straight or be excommunicated (e.g., consigned to Hell by the clergy themselves, not even by the deities in charge!), also suggest that the only way you can right yourself is to enter the clergy, take a vow of celibacy and devote your life to God, knowing that the most successful members will inevitably gain the respect and trust of not only parishioners but of the self-same young boys that become potential victims later? How is it that a religion so blatantly anti-sex and anti-gay manages to attract people who already have difficulties with their sexuality — is it specifically because they falsely promise that belief in an imaginary sky daddy will somehow confer upon them the wherewithal to resist their urges? Is this a kind of Stockholm Syndrome with regard to gays, and a false hope for pedophiles who know what they do to children is vastly immoral? And how is it that the Catholic church, in the face of all the immorality that comes from it, has any moral authority left in this world? I’m looking for honest answers from apologists and theists — someone out there must have a good excuse for why Catholicism exists today, and why it should continue to exist.

Could someone please explain the Catholic Church to me?
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11 thoughts on “Could someone please explain the Catholic Church to me?

  1. 2

    I did some minor grammar-rewriting. I was pressed to get this out the door last night before midnight so I didn’t miss a day on my post-a-day streak — which has been going for, what, three months now?

    Clifton, I’ve heard that excuse used before, and I’m not sure I particularly agree with it. Good and evil are entirely defined by humans — reference points on a scale of what’s advantageous and what’s disadvantageous to humans. Without us, neither good nor evil would exist in this world — it would be cruel, unforgiving and totally neutral. Only with our ability to categorize and rationalize and synthesize information does either good or evil exist. Without something as obviously evil as the Catholic Church, something else would come along to fill in that top-shelf-evil spot. Or we’d shift our perspectives so that whatever was slightly less evil than the Church that still existed, would be the most evil.

    Mike, it’s funny, I never got to that stage in the indoctrination. I think I started tuning the church out shortly before (or possibly during) my confirmation. Any organization that extorts a promise from a 13-year-old that they’ll stick with you forever, is obviously looking for this promise before they can figure out how evil it is.

  2. 3

    The wherewithal to avoid those urges is something that I as taught as a young Catholic; that with prayer the Holy Spirit after confirmation would help me channel sexual energy into spiritual energy.

    It didn’t work, and Ma had to change the bed sheets often.

    As an ex-Catholic with a great deal of distance between myself and the Church I now see it as a criminal enterprise, a mafia with robes and funny hats and a collection racket.

  3. 6

    A lot of the ideas the Catholic Church has about sex comes from the very inception of the church itself. Think about it. These laws were passed by the church in a time when disease really was spread by sex. There were no condoms to prevent it or other barrier methods of birth control to help prevent the spread of various STD’s. Hygeine also wasn’t the best back in those days so the diseases spread weren’t all STD’s, but having sex with someone who wasn’t you’re spouse was a sure way to get sick. So begings the development of the ‘sex is bad’ attitude.

    As for the ‘sex during marriage only and only between a man and woman’ attitude. My theory is that this attitude also comes from an even early time when the church itself was just forming and Christians were persecuted for being Christians, back when the religion itself was only just beginning. When it came right down to it there weren’t enough little christians to spread the ‘good word’. Therefore any sex that was not strictly for procreation would have been considered a bad thing, the church needed more followers and the best way to get those followers was for them to be born into the faith.

    It seems to me that the church has clung to these attitudes, not because they truly believe any other type of sex is sinful (though i’m sure there are those in the church who do truly believe every line they’ve been fed by the higher ups within the church) but because the more followers they have the more money they can get in the way of offerings from the followers. That’s right, it all comes down to money. The church is a corporation just like any other in our modern world.

    I was raised Roman Catholic, in fact I went to a Roman Catholic school where I had to have credist in Religion in order to graduate. I still happen to be someone who believes in a God. I just no longer believe in the church and according to the church that, in and of itself, is a sin. They have the perfect racket, ‘do what we say or your going to hell’. If you’re a believer in the Church how can you tell them no? That abuse of power has obviously lead into the abuse of children. A touchy subject for me so i’m not going to go further into it.

    Anyway, I have offically started to ramble, espically since I don’t often post at all. I do, however, want to make it clear I do not believe that everyone who is a clergy member is automatically an asshole. There are plenty of assholes in the world, you don’t have to put on special vestments to be an asshole. I also happen to know that there are people out there who do devoutly believe and are truly saddened, frustrated, embarassed and even downright enraged by the abuse, of all types, that the church and some of its members of perpertrated.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents.

  4. 7

    I think you’re pretty close to the mark, Miranda — every “mainstream” religion out there today predates the germ theory of disease. All those proscriptions against eating things with cloven hoof, eating shellfish, etc., probably all come from witnessing people eating those food items then dying. Never mind that they didn’t prepare them properly, all they saw was cause: eating pig, effect: death. So they figured God did it, and therefore God must think it’s sinful and evil to do so. Likewise with promiscuity — having sex with (and thus being in close physical contact with) the village bicycle was probably very likely to result in you catching whatever plague or STD was going around, so people observe cause: having sex, effect: death, and again, assume God must hate sex. The fact that monogamous relationships don’t result in death from sex just reinforced their beliefs. And it was all selection bias — you don’t remember the times that guys had sex only with their wives and still died from the plague, or the times that your wives died during childbirth from a totally-God-sanctioned marriage and conception.

    So pretty well everything the Bible says about what God does and does not like is derived from evidence, but lacking any scientific controls or, frankly, curiosity. If God is the assumption, you go from cause to effect without ever bothering to figure out the real reason you die from eating undercooked pork.

    That said, how does, therefore, anyone know anything about any of God’s apparent wishes? Or that God even wishes anything? Or that God’s *responsible* for anything? The simple answer is, we don’t. And as science advances, and we figure out the real reason for us dying by eating undercooked meat, or figure out how to have sex without risking getting disease, we replace those chunks of the world that once were filled with “God did it” with actual understanding of this universe. This is why theists fight science so hard. They’ve had so much territory they’ve ceded to science already, and they have a vested interest (what with their corporate-like religions, as you’ve said) in keeping people believing in God. If belief in God erodes, then so too does the Vatican’s money sources.

    Though honestly, when your entire country is built as one gigantic palace, how much more money do you need?

    (I’m sorry, by the way, that you still believe in God — have you considered that you were taught to believe in God by the very organization that has a vested interest in making sure you believe? Therefore, since you already know they were making up all sorts of other shit, why not extend that one concept further?)

  5. 8

    Ok, all I said was I belive in *A* God, I do not belive in the Church. And, you feel sorry that I still believe? Jason, that’s right up there with one of your previous rants about how you don’t like people saying “I’ll pray for you.” I have some personal belifes in a God, you don’t, and that’s just fine in my books that you don’t. I thought we were having an interesitng discussion about the Church as an organization. You believe what you want and i’ll believe what I want and, as friends, I think we can leave it at that. Interesting debates are fine but i can’t help but be insulted by the fact that you feel sorry for me.

    This is why I don’t post.

  6. 9

    Murray, we ARE having an interesting discussion about the church as an organization. I’m sorry if my making the observation that that self-same organization led you to believe in God to begin with, has come off as an insult — I probably should have specified Yahweh, which I really would feel sorry if you still believed in, as Yahweh is a petty, vindictive Bronze-age god and unworthy of an enlightened and modern person’s worship. If you have come to believe in a deity other than Yahweh, the Judeo-Christian God, then what deity is it? Is it a pre-existing one, tied to a specific faith already? How did you come to believe, and why?

    You’ll note that I expect of my friends the ability to put aside the irrational belief that “faith is never to be questioned”. Faith is the first thing we should question. If you don’t have a good reason to believe what you believe, then why keep believing it? If you wanted to question my lack of belief, by all means, do so. I’d be happy to tell you frankly and without any purported insult exactly why I believe any aspect of my current belief system. Please do. I expect my friends to hold me to a higher standard of intellectual honesty.

  7. 10

    The obervation is not what insulted me Jason, yes I do acknowledge the irony there. It was the fact that you felt sorry for me that is insulting. Wheather you intend it to be or not, it is. No matter the God I happen to believe in, I don’t say why which God I believe in should matter. I guess I just feel that everybody should be entitled to their own personal beilefes without having to defend themselves and without having to have other people push their belief system on them. I include athiests in that. Athiests shouldn’t have to defend their belief that there is no God, nor should they have to put up with people who constantly want to “save” them.

    Anyway, barring all that, forgetting about it for the moment, and re entering the realm of “interesting discussion”.

    I’ve struggled with my own belief for many years. Mostly because, as someone who was raised Roman Catholic (the most guilt inducing religion I have ever personally encountered) the idea was implanted very early in life that I would go to hell if I did not conform to a particular set of rules. Needless to say, this scared the ever living shit out of me, espically when I was a child.

    It wasn’t until I went to University and was introduced to the idea that there was *gasp* religions outside of Christianity. (In my family there was a scandal when a relative converted from one form of Christianity to another, so you can imagine my culture shock when I left my little bubble of small town NFLD and went to a University for the first time.)

    I met a lot of people, Christian and non-Christian. Though I never had a problem with anybody who had a different faith then me. It was with these people that I first started having some “interesting discussions”. Mostly, as you do here Jason, challenging me to really think about what, and why, I believed as I did. Those who challenged me to think I spoke with more and more often, those who challeneged me to defend myself for no other reason then the basis of my religion, well, they weren’t as interesting. (I am happy to be able to say that I never once forced my beliefs on them in any way. Never once mentioning God or Church or prayer around those who were uncomfortable with the topic.)

    All this introspective eventually lead me to library computers, old newspapers, and the news itself. Reading qutie a bit of material on the church itself, trying to separate the organization from the religion. Eventually I came to the conclusion that the Church was nothing more then any other business and that made me very sad. It was in my 2nd year, if I am recalling correctly, that I gave up on the Church.

    Without a church or a priest that I could trust what was I supposed to do with my previously held beliefs? Well, to make a very long story a bit shorter, I eventually turned to what most people would understand to be Paganism. Seems to be a big jump doesn’t it? It’s not really, at least not for me. I came to it very gradually, to this day I still struggle with my own spirituality. It’s hard to ignore 18 years of being taught a certain way.

    I believe in mother earth and father sky. I believe in the seasons changing, as they always do. I believe in the cycles of life and death. I hope i’m making sense, this is very difficult for me to explain, as I said early, spirituality is something I still struggle with.

    (A side note for any Christians who may be reading. No, I do not worship the devil, you can’t worship something you don’t believe in.)

    From what I gather Jason, feel free to correct me if I am wrong, you don’t believe in any higher power (be it a God or otherwise) because you believe in science. If it can’t be quantified it can’t exist.

    I could go on for a long time here on exactlly what it is I believe and why. It eventually boils down to, I feel it, I see it, I touch it, I smell it, I hear it.

    Since i’m not sure exactlly where to go from here with this, feel free to ask me more specific questions. I’ll answer as best I can. However, I say again, this is something I still struggle with myself.

    That help any?

  8. 11

    See, this is why I wanted you to comment more! This is great.

    I guess I just feel that everybody should be entitled to their own personal beilefes without having to defend themselves and without having to have other people push their belief system on them. I include athiests in that. Athiests shouldn’t have to defend their belief that there is no God, nor should they have to put up with people who constantly want to “save” them.

    You’re honestly not the only one that thinks this. A lot of folks in the scientific community feels that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria”, as Stephen Jay Gould once said. My problem is, I happen to see, over and over, where they ovelap — every place that a theist pushes their beliefs to the exclusion of all others in public spheres like politics and education.

    I strongly feel we need to not merely accept the idea that people have every right to believe what they want, even if that belief leads to objective harm — when I rail about Jenny McCarthy campaigning against vaccination because she believes, despite all the evidence, that it causes autism, it’s because vaccines are important, and telling people not to get them does objective harm to our society. Likewise, there are some religious belief systems that cause objective harm, as an indirect result of what their foundational texts tell them about the deities in question — look at Islam with its honour killings, or the Westboro Baptist Church with their “God Hates Fags” schtick. If you’re allowed to believe whatever you want without being questioned, then these people are perfectly allowed to believe they have the right to kill women and gays because they honestly believe it’s their god’s will. Belief, or faith, should never be elevated to the point where it’s above reproach. If it is, then great evil becomes sacrosanct. So, since I see no reason belief should be sacrosanct, that’s why I say you have as much right to question my beliefs as I have of yours.

    Also, being an atheist doesn’t necessarily include an active belief that there’s no god or gods. That’s “gnostic atheism”, sometimes incorrectly called “strong atheism”. I am an agnostic atheist — I don’t believe in any deities, but I do NOT say there’s definitely not such a thing, because deities could very well turn out to exist outside the scope of our universe. There could also be extremely advanced aliens who would seem to us as though they’re deities, though I hope I’d be able to recognize the difference and not start worshipping The Picard.

    Well, to make a very long story a bit shorter, I eventually turned to what most people would understand to be Paganism. Seems to be a big jump doesn’t it?

    It is a little bit of a leap, but not as big a leap as going from believing in something supernatural to believing only in nature. Paganism is very close though. It’s almost like pantheism — the belief that the universe itself is God, e.g. ultimate, alpha/omega , though without sentience. The big thing is, Christianity has long opposed paganism — from casting the fertility goat god and pentagram as devil symbols, to co-opting Saturnalia and the Festivus tree and calling it Christmas / a Christmas tree, Christianity has done whatever it can to undermine people’s ability to believe in the more codified beliefs (if there are still any left) within Paganism.

    I actually have a lot of respect for people that believe the Earth itself is bigger and more important than us mere humans that inhabit it. This is empirically true. I don’t know about anthropomorphizing it, giving it a will, outside of the natural processes that are totally indifferent to our existence. Likewise with people that worship the sun — I mean, without the sun, none of the life we see on this rock would exist. It’s the gigantic energy source that lets our planet overcome entropy just long enough to live, become sentient, then reach out and explore this universe.

    From what I gather Jason, feel free to correct me if I am wrong, you don’t believe in any higher power (be it a God or otherwise) because you believe in science. If it can’t be quantified it can’t exist.

    If anything, I believe in Carl Sagan’s transcendent view of this universe — that we are star-stuff, we humans are the universe’s way of becoming sentient and learning about itself. I have “faith” (by which I mean, it hasn’t yet failed me, so I believe it will continue to work in the future) in the scientific method as the only way, when applied honestly, to discover actual truth about this universe. No ancient text has ever postulated any revealed truth that comes close to the splendour and majesty of this universe, this reality, as it actually is. That’s why I explicitly believe every single deity that’s been postulated by any major or minor religion to be false, and that’s why I believe, if there is room in reality for a supernatural entity, it must exist outside of nature, and therefore outside of reality.

    It bothers me sometimes that some people say science strips the world of beauty and wonder, as though beauty and wonder are the exclusive domain of the supernatural. Everything you see around you… well, nature itself did it, and it didn’t even do it consciously. That much is amazing. That we’ve figured out how much of it has happened, and that we are continuing to figure out how even more of it happened daily, is equally amazing.

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