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?
For any Catholics who might be reading this, I have a question for you:
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 presumably, I don’t have to tell you about the Church’s response as this scandal has been exposed. I don’t have to tell you that, overwhelmingly, they have stonewalled, rationalized, deflected blame. I don’t have to tell you about the Church’s “Come on, the kids weren’t that young, most of them were over 11” defense, or their “Hey, everyone else is doing it” defense. I don’t have to tell you how they’ve equated the accusations against the Church with anti-Semitism. I don’t have to tell you how they’ve blamed the child-rape scandal on gays, the media, the Devil , even the rape survivors themselves. (No, really. From the Bishop of Tenerife: “There are 13 year old adolescents who are under age and who are perfectly in agreement with, and what’s more wanting it, and if you are careless they will even provoke you.”) I don’t have to tell you that the Church is opposing a measure extending the statute of limitations on child rape. I don’t have to tell you about the Pope’s dismissal of the child-rapist-protection accusations as, quote, “petty gossip.”
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?
If it were your political party, your softball league, your university, your children’s school, your employer? If any of those organizations were involved in a massive, global conspiracy to protect and conceal child rapists? If they responded when the scandal came to light by entrenching and rationalizing, blaming the victims and making counter-accusations? Not in a few isolated incidents, but as a massive, institution-wide culture, a matter of official policy even, that extended throughout the organization and reached all the way to the top?
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?
I mean — how bad does it have to get? Let’s say I was making up a story about grotesque, nauseating, inexcusable- on- the- face- of- it evil; evil that would make all non-sociopathic people turn away in revolted horror at the very mention of it. And let’s say that, to illustrate that evil, I made up an example of a powerful, global institution that concealed and protected child rapists, shuttled them from town to town, failed to inform law enforcement officers and in many cases actually stonewalled them, deliberately dumped the child rapists in remote, impoverished villages… and then, when the horror finally came to light, responded with defensive entrenchment and equated the accusations with either anti-Semitic bigotry or petty gossip.
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?
Maybe you stay because of your sincere religious faith. Maybe you sincerely believe that the Catholic Church is the only way to spiritual salvation, and that if you abandon it, you’ll abandon your hope of paradise in the Afterlife.
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?
Or maybe the religious part isn’t so important to you. Maybe you don’t have strong beliefs about Catholic theology being the only true theology. But you still defend the Church, and still participate in it, because they do charitable work that you support and want to be a part of. (An argument many people made when this piece was first published on AlterNet.)
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?
And maybe, again, the religious part isn’t so important to you — but you find the ritual of the Church comforting. It’s been part of your life since you were a child, your family and friends all belong, you find the music and the stained glass and the reliability of the weekly ceremony to be profoundly soothing.
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.
Belonging to the Catholic Church gives your support to an organization that conceals and protects child rapists. Again, not as a few isolated incidents, but as a massive, institution-wide culture, a matter of policy even, that extends throughout the organization and reaches all the way to the top. Belonging to the Catholic Church — giving them money, letting them count you in their rolls, sending your children to their schools — gives this behavior your personal thumbs-up, and actively enables it to continue.
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.