Catholic Guilt

Gair Rhydd

November 21, 2008

According to George Carpenter, Catholicism is in a no-win situation

The Pope’s latest effort in the battle against sexual abuse among the clergy has made headlines recently. Earlier this year, Benedict XVI made a historic apology to victims of child abuse perpetrated by the Church to an audience in Australia, meeting and praying with several victims.

In another attempt to quell the controversy which has rocked Roman Catholicism since the 1950s, a document has been released issuing guidelines on sexual behaviour within the clergy. Among these are proposed psychological ‘screenings’ designed to filter out those priests who might break their vow of celibacy.

Given the sensitivity of the issue at hand, it is no surprise that the guidelines in said documents have drawn fire from rights groups who take issue with its treatment of both priests and victims.

Terms such as ‘psychological defects’ could refer specifically to paedophile cases; however, coupled with the negative implications for those with ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’, it would appear that gay priests are being tarred with the same brush as potential child molesters.

These sweeping statements have been duly noted by gay rights groups, accusing the Church of making scapegoats out of homosexuals, whose sexual preferences have little in common with those of offenders.

Elsewhere, however, the Church has been accused of towing the line too much, with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) claiming the document doesn’t go far enough.

Accusing the church of an ongoing ‘cover-up’, a statement by SNAP declared that: “Catholic officials continue to fixate on the offenders and ignore the larger problem: The Church’s virtually unchanged culture of secrecy and unchecked power in the hierarchy.”

It seems, which side you are on (except, perhaps, that of the Church itself), that on issues such as these the Vatican can do no right. Coupled with its perennial suspicion of evolution, and its only-too-recent apology for the Inquisition’s treatment of Galileo, the image of the Catholic Church today is that of one unable to face the modern world. Sexual, moral and scientific progress since the Dark Ages has robbed the ancient institution of much of its power, with its authority continually being called into question.

Its notorious ban on the use of condoms in third world countries has led to a preventable spread of unwanted children and sexually transmitted disease. These cases demonstrate a certain ignorance toward both human nature and sexual tendencies exhibited, control of which is not a simple matter of choice. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge how unnatural celibacy is?

Perhaps, on the other hand, it is clear that the celibate lifestyle, and of course religious life in general (which this article is not attempting to criticise), suits many people just fine. The document released last week was, ironically, one of the more realistic concessions made by the church, suggesting as it does that if “celibacy … is lived as a burden so heavy that it compromises … affective and relational equilibrium”, priests should consider careers outside the church.

Of course, one could have a field day with this: just how ‘deep-seated’ are these tendencies, anyway? Could someone tend toward other crimes beside child abuse? What are the implications for traditional (never mind Catholic) morals if we go down such a slippery slope?

What makes this situation slightly ironic is the fact that, whenever the Church makes another apology or concession for its previous sins, it ends up courting more controversy. If they expect a chorus of gratitude for finally admitting that the Earth revolves around the sun (a fact only recently made ‘official’), they’ve got another thing coming.

Maybe people are offended by the naivete with which the former rulers of Europe try to atone for past mistakes, saying a few kind words while their figureheads in the Vatican sit in ivory towers, clinging to the authority they have.

Or maybe we just don’t like old institutions – consider the backlash against the Queen’s ‘traditional’ week of media silence following Diana’s death; we demand our leaders to move with the times. Hopefully, a new generation of Church leaders will do just that.


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