Try this exercise: A new religion has come to your town. The rules governing its leaders include:
- You can’t marry (though you’ll be expected to counsel your faithful on the topic).
- No sex, even with yourself.
- Homosexuality is a sin.
- Women are second-class citizens, relegated to service positions.
- Young boys (and now girls) will be at your service, both religiously and socially.
Would you be worried about that religion integrating itself into your community? Would you be concerned if your kids wanted to be a part of it? How surprised would you be if a number of this cult’s leaders—maybe even a large number—turned out to be social deviants, perhaps even sexual criminals?
Now step back a moment. All of the above rules apply to the Catholic Church. And yet, either because it’s been part of our lives and society forever or because the Church has lived above the law for so long that it seems like we just shrug (either with indifference or helplessness) with each new outrage about their priests and pedophilia.
In previous blogs I’ve discussed my experiences with early-stage Catholic seminarians. But even then you could tell who was in it for the service and who was there because they didn’t want to (or felt they couldn’t) be a regular participant in normal society. Years later, when I checked back in with the group, it was no surprise the fate of each group. The True Believers, the service-oriented ones, were either in parish placements or had left the priesthood. And guess who was in charge, holding down all the key administrative positions? The refugees.
It’s tough to say what it will take for us as a society to take a fresh look at what’s going on in the Church and say, enough of this shit. It’s like when Trump was running for president. Starting with him coming down the escalator and calling Mexicans ‘rapists’ to him on tape talking about grabbing women in the crotch, each time you thought: ‘That’s it—he’s toast.’ And each time we found that America was more tolerant or uncaring than previously thought. That’s how it is with the Church and the continued string of outrages.
It’s clear that, left on its own, the Catholic Church isn’t going to reform itself. Like any institution, it is guided primarily by self-interest and self-preservation. It is up to us, either as individuals or society, to take action. Our responses need to be direct, immediate and strong. And they need to take place on three levels:
- Legally. We’ve legislated against religious practices before, from polygamy in the Mormon ranks to female genital mutilation among African religions practicing in the US. The Catholic Church should be investigated, with all records open to the law. Pedophile priests can’t be treated as social misfits: they’re criminals, and anyone who protects them is the same, including monsignors, archbishops and cardinals.
- Institutional. There’s a reason we don’t see pedophile rings within Protestant, Jewish or Muslim clergy—they attract normal people who live within their communities, not apart from them. It’s time for married priests, women priests, openly homosexual priests, priests who mirror the faithful they serve. Seminaries should either be abolished or strongly encouraged to integrate their members into general society, not hide from it. They should also work with social agencies to weed out pedophiles before they ever get near an altar boy or girl.
- The faithful. Today’s Catholics need to hold their Church accountable. Outrage is no longer enough; it’s time to act—with voices, wallets and feet. They need to shout their outrage and demand change. They need to withhold donations until real change occurs. And if it doesn’t, they should either boycott Mass or even—God forbid—cross the street and join the Episcopalians.