Richard Dawkins has a really funny line about how Christianity is “better” than Hinduism because it’s much closer to recognizing the actual number of gods; but they overestimate by one. It’s amazing how tantalizingly close you can get to the truth with religion, but fail to make that final leap across the chasm of rationality (to borrow unashamedly from Kierkegaard).
After watching the Catholic church blame isolated pockets of individuals, the media, and finally “the gays” (it always seems to come down to them), Pope Benedict finally came close to actually acknowledging that the systemic sexual abuses taking place in the Catholic Church were the fault of… THE CHURCH:
Critics have previously accused the Vatican of attempting to blame the media and the Church’s opponents for the escalation of the scandal. But the Pope made clear its origin came from within the Church itself, and said forgiveness “does not replace justice”.
I’m not a demagogue. I am completely willing to recognize when someone I disagree with does something noble. Recognizing that the church had a role in the abuse and saying that having God’s forgiveness (note: evidence not shown) does not replace earthly justice is a marvelous and courageous admission. It takes a great deal of humility and respect for others to stand up and say “I have made a mistake, and the fault is mine.”
Which is almost what Benedict did here. Now I am not trying to suggest that Benedict (as his Clark Kent alter-ego, Cardinal Ratzinger) himself is solely or even primarily responsible for covering up the sexual abuse, although there is evidence to suggest that his office was complicit. I am not expecting him to go out and own up for all of the abuse that’s ever happened in the church. However, there’s one final step that the Pope needs to take if he’s interested in being honest – he needs to stop blaming “Sin”.
Sin is a ridiculous ephemeral concept. It’s a disembodied entity that sneaks into the souls of righteous people and influences their acts. It’s like blaming the devil for possessing you and making you get drunk and beat your kids. Saying that sins within the Church are responsible for its actions is creating a non-corporeal scapegoat. It’s like Jeffy from Family Circus and his ghost pal “Not Me”. You can’t confront “Sin” and take it to task for its actions. You can’t remedy “Sin”. “Sin” is just out there, and there’s nothing to be done about it.
I’m waiting for the pope to recognize that wearing a cloak of impenetrable infallibility is going to lead to corruption. Insisting that the “good of the church” should trump doing the right thing is begging the question – how do you know that what’s good for the church is good for anyone else? What we see over and over is that the more power and secrecy a group has, the bigger the potential for abuse. That isn’t because of “Sin” or because of bad people who sneak in under the radar. It’s the inevitable outcome of an establishment that refuses to play by society’s rules and insists on its own superiority without evidence. The reason the RCC is catching all the attention right now is because it’s the biggest organized religious entity – I’d be shocked to learn it isn’t happening in other places.
As I said, I applaud the Pope for coming close to getting it right. His office’s unrepentant actions immediately following this pseduo-apology are contemptible and I am still no friend of Benedict, but I am willing to recognize when steps are made in the right direction.