I've tried to figure out why the escalating sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church is making me so angry. I mean, there's the obvious stuff: some priests and other Church officials have been getting away with the rape and beating of children for decades. And much of the Church hierarchy and bureaucracy, including the man who is now Pope, has been working hard to cover it all up, often with the tacit assistance of governments and other civil authorities.
A few of my friends and acquaintances are Catholics, but as far as I know none of them have been victims of these monsters—which is a relief. And I'm not only not Catholic, I'm not Christian or religious at all, but a happy atheist. However, I'm not gloating about the Catholic scandals, in some sort of twisted "I told you so" way. I'm sad and viscerally infuriated, in a way I hope many Catholics are, and quite a few do seem to be. Occasionally, learning new details makes me want to vomit. (Then again, that's not hard to do in general these days.)
I think my fury is it's because it's been going on for so bloody long: not just the physical and sexual abuse, but public knowledge of it and Church inaction about it. More than 20 years ago, following the Mt. Cashel Orphanage sex-abuse scandal in Newfoundland, a friend of mine and his girlfriend (who weren't afraid of being a bit tasteless) came to a Halloween party dressed as a priest and an altar boy, respectively. Even in the 1980s, the concept of a molesting priest was so widespread that everyone at the party got the reference.
It's also been 12 years since the Canadian federal government began attempts to apologize for sexual and physical abuse of native students at residential schools run by the Anglican, United, and Roman Catholic churches across the country until the 1960s, and to compensate the victims financially. And that's just here in Canada.
There are, unfortunately, small proportions of sexual predators and sadists in positions of authority inside some institutions that care for children, including schools, hospitals, foster homes, summer camps, and so on—and also including churches and religious organizations outside Catholicism. And sometimes there are coverups. But once exposed, those coverups can, should, and usually do result in shame, dismissals, apologies, and criminal charges. Even decades after the events.
Many groups and individuals within the Roman Catholic Church have had integrity, trying to get the molesters fired, charged, and punished. Yet men of authority within the institution, throughout its hierarchy—from priests and bishops to archbishops, cardinals, and apparently right up to the Pope—have used its power, influence, and worldwide reach to deny, deflect, hide, obfuscate, and in many cases abet those of its members who abuse children.
Their priority seems to have been to protect their Church, and the pedophiles within it, at the expense of their victims, the most vulnerable and innocent of its billion members. When pressed by incontrovertible evidence and public pressure, those same authorities have released half-hearted and defensive apologies. The situation is abominable, and the scandal deserves to be global front-page news, as it has become in recent months.
The Catholic Church claims to be the highest possible moral authority on Earth. Of course, personally, I think that's ridiculous. The horrifying enormity of child abuse and coverup within the Church over decades—more likely centuries, if we're honest with ourselves—only reinforces my conviction.
Indeed, it's hard to think of crimes more vile. If the beating and rape of children—as well as covering up those acts and enabling them to continue—are not sins worthy of excommunication, and presumably hellfire in the afterlife, I don't understand what could be. So if Catholics intend to continue taking claims of moral authority seriously, they must demand some large-scale changes in their Church, and the Pope and his underlings must listen to and act on those demands.
Given the glacial pace of change in Rome, and the stupefying weight of dogma and doctrine and history, I'm not optimistic. But I also genuinely hope that I am wrong.