Thursday, April 08, 2010

A Land without God: Clerical Sex Abuse and Religious Intolerance

I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!-- John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, from George Seldes, The Great Quotations, also from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

America is a land without gods. Perhaps, more accurately it is not so much “one nation under God” as it is one nation under many gods and no gods at all. This all depends on what you believe or don’t believe. The only thing for certain is that the United States of America is a secular republic with a constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state. Religious tolerance and pluralism was the ideal that won out. It’s an ideal that serves us well.

I find myself empathizing with John Adams – a solid deist and Unitarian – who struggled with tolerance himself, a value that he clearly respected:

I do not like the reappearance of the Jesuits.... Shall we not have regular swarms of them here, in as many disguises as only a king of the gipsies can assume, dressed as printers, publishers, writers and schoolmasters? If ever there was a body of men who merited damnation on earth and in Hell, it is this society of Loyola's. Nevertheless, we are compelled by our system of religious toleration to offer them an asylum.-- John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, May 5, 1816

Adams had a prejudice against the Roman Catholic Church and its clergy, religious and perhaps even the rank and file who professed it as their faith. Adams was not alone in his contempt for Catholicism. Many in the freshly birthed republic felt that the United States was a protestant republic and Catholics had no place here. Catholics were denied the right to vote, sit on a jury (and this also meant no jury of peers when brought to trial) and in some places it meant that Catholic school children were not allowed to attend public schools. It took the Supreme Court to ban these acts of intolerance.

John Adams was well aware that his attitude toward Catholics fell short of the religious tolerance he admired and desired to see practiced. Reading my own blog posts and essays on the subject of religion I see that, I too, often fall short of an attitude of tolerance. But, it would be useful to suggest that tolerance or acceptance does not imply agreement or approval. Tolerance is an act by those who are in disagreement who deliberately choose an attitude of acceptance toward people who differ from them in matters of faith or sexual orientation and political beliefs and so on. It’s those of us who disagree with each other that are in need of practicing tolerance. Our live and let live brethren have no such issues and prefer to let others do as they please as long as it harms no one or deprives them of their civil liberties – the most admirable of American traits.

The fact that Catholics have had to struggle for basic rights in the early days of our nation’s history makes it deplorable that they take a strong prejudicial hard line against other groups, most notably the gay community. There are Catholic political and social organizations that have taken a strong position in actively pursuing legislation that will deprive gay men and women of their civil liberties. It is unconscionable that a group of people whom experienced such intolerance would be guilty of such inexplicable intolerance themselves.

The Vatican’s recent attack blasting the criticism being hurled at them over the sexual abuse scandal that has been imbedded for centuries (this isn’t just a modern problem) as being nothing more than anti-Catholic hatred or rhetoric is the sad ravings of a group of lunatics that are unprepared to take responsibility for what has happened. Pedophiles always justify their deviant behavior – as many criminals often do. Even the Pope’s recent pastoral letter addressed to the Church of Ireland skirts the issue of accountability and seeks to lay the blame elsewhere. Benedict XVI has also tried to deflect blame toward his predecessor John Paul II and even going so far as to blaming Pope Paul. But, Benedict may just be using this to further his anti Vatican II agenda.

To be fair there is plenty of Anti-Catholicism to go around. Like all religious or ethnic groups Catholics are not free from the missiles of hatred and prejudice. But, let us be very clear. While no doubt there will be some who will use this crisis as an opportunity to vent their hatred and promote their anti-Catholicism the outrage being expressed over the sexual abuse is valid and justified – very justified. The Vatican’s position is indefensible.

If the allegations are true regarding Joseph Ratzinger – I can hardly bring myself to call him Pope Benedict XVI – and he played a role in covering up sexual abuse then he is a conspirator in the whole sordid affair and that makes him a criminal. His crime is such that he should not be allowed to escape prosecution. The world has had enough of criminals escaping justice by claiming immunity as a head of state. Canon law makes the Pope accountable to no one, but god – a position that all sane men and women of reason should reject as absurd.

There is no amount of money large enough to deliver justice to the Churches victims if the men responsible are allowed to go free. Enough have escaped paying for their crimes through death. Let’s not let the remaining live to grow soft on their death beds living their remaining lives in comfort. A prison cell is appropriate for each and every one of them.

I have stated previously that I empathize with Catholics who are reluctant to leaver their church. Abused spouse often take years before they can leave an abusive marriage, if they are fortunate enough to escape with their lives. There are alternatives for those who are appalled at the churches actions but still feel a strong pull toward a liturgical form of worship coupled with a sacramental view of life. There exist many small Catholic fellowships that have no ties to the Vatican and its corrupt government and absurd papal infallibility. In fact, unlike the Roman Catholic Church the governing structure of these church bodies is Episcopal as we see with the Anglican/Episcopal church.

The Vatican’s cries of “foul” are ignoble at best. The church has goose stepped through history in jackboots. It has wreaked more havoc than human goodness. I would prefer that we eliminate all religion from the shores of this great country. But, in so doing I show myself to be as intolerant as the Vatican and the far religious right in this country.

So reluctantly I push aside my intolerance in favor of religious pluralism allowing that everyone has the liberty to believe as they choose. A religious person may choose god whereas I am free to choose reason. Despite those who criticize me I am really not against religion so much as I am for reason and free inquiry. Religion is often an impediment to both.

We must tolerate religion, however, because to not do so makes us petty and vicious. Rather, we just need to ensure that religion doesn’t dominate the conversation as it were. We need to ensure that that believers are not exempt from crimes and the despite their faith they comply with the laws of the land. The Religious Right has done a good job of dominating the issues and forcing itself upon the rest of us. My attacks on religion are generally related to this and to such things as sexual abuse. I have nothing against rank and file Catholics after all I used to be one. What I seek is the liberation of my peer’s souls from bondage. Perhaps some day reason will allow humanity to finally slay all its gods and the United States can truly become a land without gods. Until then we must allow for an uneasy and strained relationship

No comments: