Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Morality, responsibility, and the Catholic Church

I was so appalled by this article that I felt compelled to write a response. This was originally written in August 2011.


Morality, responsibility, and the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church recently argued before the British High Court that it cannot be held vicariously liable for the actions of its priests. Despite appointing priests to their dioceses, moving them around as it sees fit, obtaining tax benefits for them in nearly every nation, and seeking exemptions on their behalf from anti-discrimination and human rights legislation where it conflicts with Catholic dogma, the Roman Catholic Church has claimed that priests are not employees, and therefore the Church cannot be accountable for their crimes. In other words, the Vatican argued that it cannot be held responsible for the sins of its Fathers.

Raping a child is wrong. Anyone who finds this statement in the least bit objectionable, or attempts to subject it to numerous caveats and exemptions, has no place in a civilised conversation about morality.

Mass child molestation is among the most horrific crimes imaginable. Numerous reports have detailed a pattern of systemic sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in many countries on every continent. In all cases - every single one - the Catholic Church has done its utmost to evade any responsibility for these heinous transgressions: from denying any abuse ever took place, to attempting (often successfully) to ensure that local legal authorities did not learn that Church officials were molesting children, to promising internal investigations that never took place.

Forced sex with a young child is inherently vile and revolting. Yet the offensiveness of these acts is magnified by the fact that they were perpetrated by authority figures while entrusted with supervising children in their care. An assault from a stranger is terrible; it is all the more appalling when committed by a someone in a position invested with public authority and trust, such as a teacher, police officer, or member of the clergy.

And yet it gets worse still. The Catholic hierarchy has, at every turn, attempted to deny, obfuscate, and bury any accusation of impropriety. Rather than fire or discipline the priestly paedophiles in their ranks, the Church regularly shuffled them to new districts where they often repeated their crimes. Regardless of how aware the Pope, as head of the Church, was of these actions, their consistent nature, around the world, over the course of decades, qualifies the Catholic Church as a criminal organisation.

Recall, too, that this behaviour comes from a sect that preaches a universal moral code. Indeed, many Catholics argue that no morality is possible without the words written on their sacred scrolls. The sheer extent of the hypocrisy is astounding. It is inconceivable how anyone can look at the tens of thousands of children's lives shattered by the utter betrayal of these religious authority figures and claim that being steeped in the principles of Catholicism leads to a moral life where adherents accept responsibility for their actions.

The Catholic Church, patently contravening its self-serving rhetoric of being a force for good in the world, has demonstrated repeatedly that it will take any steps it deems necessary to protect itself, no matter how clearly it violates every reasonable definition of decency.

Morality and responsibility are core components of any civilised society. By its actions, the Catholic Church has revealed that these concepts are utterly foreign to its character. Let us turn to other sources for inspiration and role models for how to lead a good life and contribute to making a better world for ourselves and our children.

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