What in the Devil’s name is happening at the Catholic Church?
A couple of weeks ago Pope Benedict XVI announced he was resigning. Not satisfied with having bookmarked his place in history as the first pope with a Twitter account, by clocking off early Jo Ratzinger also became the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to step down as the Church’s CEO. A pope’s normal retirement date typically coincides with his or her, sorry his, date of death, but this one felt he deserved some rest and relaxation before meeting The Boss. As we all know, pope-ing ain’t easy.
Then yesterday Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s most senior Catholic and the Church’s leader in Scotland, announced he was also clearing his desk. He was weeks away from retirement. This was a couple of days after allegations had surfaced of inappropriate behaviour by O’Brien towards three current priests and one former priest. Yes, as in sexual misbehaviour. Yes, as in homosexual misbehaviour.
Those with a heroin-like addiction to power, and this most definitely includes religious leaders, don’t generally resign. They tend to cling to power with all their might even when odds are insurmountable and defeat inevitable. So the events of the past couple of weeks have been interesting, to put it mildly, as is the prospect of further revelations. The house of cards that is the Vatican will hopefully come crashing down before long. Nonsense, shrouded in lies, underpinned by fear, masquerading as morality, seeking ever greater power and influence over the lives of Catholics and non-Catholics alike: this is what the Catholic Church does, and what it does extremely well. It certainly occupies a niche in the morality market.
Whenever disinfecting light floods onto the Catholic Church and the institution finds itself in a tight spot, it tries to stress that it and its leaders are fallible. Well of course they are; everyone with a functioning brain knows that. They don’t need to be told.
The Church also tries to argue that the institution and its leaders are no more likely than any others to commit crimes or to misbehave. Well hang on, even if one accepts that is true, on what basis can the Church then claim any moral superiority? I thought the whole point was that the Church and its leaders provided indispensable moral leadership and protection to all of humanity which we ignore at our peril, no? On what basis can they otherwise justify their grotesque privileges? On what basis can they otherwise insist on propelling their ridiculous and often deadly teachings about homosexuality and contraception from such elevated platforms? If anything, people should insist on evidence that the Church and its leaders are far less likely than others to do wrong.
O’Brien himself touched upon the fallible theme in his own resignation statement, in which oddly enough he didn’t deal with let alone dispute the allegations that prompted his very hurried resignation:
“Looking back over my years of ministry: For any good I have been able to do, I thank God. For any failures, I apologise to all whom I have offended.”
If Cardinal O’Brien is a homosexual then there is nothing wrong with that, morally or legally, though homosexuality does go against the Church’s own teachings. O’Brien was a highly enthusiastic opponent of the government’s recent Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, describing same-sex civil marriage as “a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right”.
As far as any alleged homosexual behaviour is concerned, one could simply observe that O’Brien has somewhat confusing views on homosexuality which could benefit from clarification, and that he now has rather deep personal and professional issues to grapple with. But as far as his alleged improper conduct against unwilling colleagues is concerned, that would certainly be immoral and potentially even criminal.
Does anything capture the squalor, hypocrisy, immorality and sexual dysfunctionality of the Catholic Church as effectively as allegations – which were followed by an almost immediate resignation – that the managing director of its UK operations made unwelcome sexual advances against his colleagues, colleagues over whom he exercised power? It’s almost as if the Church has now deliberately chosen to become a satirical parody of itself. Perhaps this is the Church’s final, bizarre throw of the public relations dice.
Some of the reaction to O’Brien’s resignation has itself dripped with religious privilege. Look at this sad attempt by the BBC’s religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott to muster sympathy for O’Brien by portraying him as a victim:
“Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation is also a personal tragedy for himself.”
“In resigning his post at the head of the Scottish Catholic Church, Cardinal O’Brien blights the end of an illustrious career only a few weeks before he was due to retire.”
And how about Pigott’s shamefully positive spin on otherwise intolerant and inhumane attitudes to key moral issues, which are seemingly to be admired when held by religious leaders up to their neck in allegations of sexual misconduct:
“Cardinal O’Brien will be remembered in particular as a forthright defender – occasionally in outspoken and colourful terms – of Catholic teaching on abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality.”
And rather than focus on O’Brien’s alleged wrongdoings the big story in the news seems to be – shock, horror – that there will be no UK representative in the forthcoming conclave to elect an Abuse-Cover-Upper-in-Chief for the Church – commonly known as a pope. This is religious privilege at play once more: nothing is of greater importance than the continued existence and smooth administration of the Church. The laborious, never-ending and ultimately pointless exercise of cementing over the institution’s yawning tectonic cracks must take precedence over absolutely everything.
As this decrepit and criminal racket of an institution stumbles from one scandal to the next like a brutal and corrupt Roman emperor sustaining knife plunge after knife plunge, the victim narrative creeps in yet again as commentators repeatedly tell us how “this comes at a difficult time for the Church”.
Can you recall the Church experiencing times that weren’t “difficult”?
Can you recall anyone being responsible for these “difficult times” other than the Church and the many sorry excuses for human beings – and supposedly morally superior ones at that – who run it?