How low can the Catholic Church sink?

(My latest book God vs. Darwin: The War Between Evolution and Creationism in the Classroom has just been released and is now available through the usual outlets. You can order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, the publishers Rowman & Littlefield, and also through your local bookstores. For more on the book, see here. You can also listen to the podcast of the interview on WCPN 90.3 about the book.)

The recent revelations of the depths to which the Catholic Church hierarchy has sunk in covering up the disgusting actions of priests who have abused children has stunned even someone like me who is quite cynical about organized religion.

To provide some context for the current scandal and remind us of its history, Pat Condell provides a brief but informative recounting of the appalling history of the Catholic Church, with all its swindles, perversions, anti-Semitism, and anti-science craziness. I was unaware of (or had forgotten) some of these appalling things. (Thanks to Machines Like Us.)

The church has been flailing around trying to divert attention away from its sordid role in child abuse. Initially it defended itself by saying that abuse cases were localized to the US and that the problem was not with the church but with America, that its sex-sodden culture had corrupted everything in its domain, so that even some of its godliest people (i.e., priests) had succumbed to temptation. But now that it is clear that the problem is worldwide (and getting more widespread all the time), they have had to find new scapegoats.

Matt Taibbi points to an incredible statement by Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, who now blames the media for focusing on the abuse within the church and ignoring similar abuse by other institutions. Taibbi has some choice words for the institution he once belonged to:

[T]he archbishop’s incredibly pompous and self-pitying rant is some of the most depraved horses*** I’ve ever seen on the internet, which is saying a lot.

One expects professional slimeballs like the public relations department of Goldman Sachs to pull out the “Well, we weren’t the only thieves!” argument when accused of financial malfeasance. But I almost couldn’t believe my eyes as I read through Dolan’s retort and it dawned on me that he was actually going to use the “We weren’t the only child molesters!” excuse.

But even worse — what does Dolan’s whiny deflecting and excuse-making say about the church as an arbiter of ethical values? These pompous a******* run around in their poofy robes and dresses shaking smoke-filled decanters with important expressions on their faces and pretending to great insight about grace and humility, but here we have the head of the largest Diocese in America teaching his entire congregation that when caught committing a terrible sin, the appropriate response is to blame the media and pull the “All the other kids were doing it, too!” stunt!

Taiibi goes on to suggest that we should perhaps start considering the Catholic Church to be a criminal organization and broken up using anti-racketeering statutes like RICO, originally designed to go after mobsters. There have been rising calls elsewhere as well for putting the pope in the dock.

William Donohue, the media-loving Catholic apologist who, as head of an outfit called the Catholic League, makes his living whining about how everyone is mean to Catholics, tries to defend the church by blaming the parents of the 200 abused deaf children in Wisconsin for not complaining sooner.

It does not seem to strike him that parents may be silent because the church is so good at laying a guilt trip on its followers and brainwashing them into thinking that they are no-good, filthy sinners, meanwhile elevating its priests to be thought of as being pure and direct agents of god, who actually have the power to forgive you your sins. Just imagine that for a minute. Whatever evil act you do, you can go into the confessional and the priest has the awesome power, given to him by god, to say that everything is now fine and your conscience is clear. As singer Sinead O’Connor says about the immense aura of power that the church cultivated, “When I was a child, Ireland was a Catholic theocracy. If a bishop came walking down the street, people would move to make a path for him. If a bishop attended a national sporting event, the team would kneel to kiss his ring.”

Should it be any surprise that the first instinct of abused people is to think that they themselves must have been at fault somehow, that it was their actions that triggered the abuse, and that the priest shouldn’t be blamed?

Furthermore, abusive priests, like serial abusers and conmen in general, can often be charming and have superficially genial and avuncular personalities, which is what enables them to be so successful in their predatory pursuits. Parents who accuse priests of abuse know that they risk being disbelieved and can find themselves the targets of hate from other parishioners who cannot bring themselves to think that their beloved parish priest could be so evil. Furthermore, the police and other authorities are often religious themselves and so cowed by awe of the church and the ‘respect for religion’ trope that they tend to not want to investigate priests and would turn a blind eye to any allegations against them if they could.

Should it be any surprise that the victims and their families suppress their anger and hide their shame until it becomes too much to bear or enough time has lapsed that they feel it is safe to speak out?

The dawning realization by priest abuse victims that they are not alone and their allegations are more likely to be believed will likely result in more abusive priests being brought to justice. The process is already beginning. In Germany a hotline for reporting abuse complaints reported being overwhelmed with more than 4,500 calls on the very first day.

As I will discuss in the next post, the church clearly has decided that it is going to tough it out and can ride out this scandal the way it has previous ones.

POST SCRIPT: Oprah or the Catholic Church?

Tbogg shares his vision of what Easter Sunday was like at the Vatican.

Meanwhile, Louis Black moderates a debate to see who is more evil.


  1. Bruce says

    I know many Catholics who cringe at the mention of Bill Clinton’s name. Although I find their disgust with his sexual indescretions laughable, I would never defend Clinton on his personal morality. His legacy is, in fact, the Monica Lewinsky affair, and he will have to live with that.

    It is important that Clinton-hating conservative Catholics find ways to rationalize how this scandal is not only different, but not as bad. Here are some suggestions.

    Clinton and Monica had consensual sex.
    Monica was an adult.
    Clinton lied about it for a duration of months (rather than years).

    Wait a second, maybe these are bad arguments for the Catholics.

    Inconsistency is easy to point out for any philosophy or political argument, but to those who condemn the former president as a sleazy womanizer, I encourage you to renounce your allegience to an organization that has redefined the term sleaze.

    Are all Cathloics and bishops and priest bad people? No, but their little boys club sure is naughty.

  2. Siya says

    I think you get carried away by your hostility to religion, thereby undermining your case, because it leaves one wondering whether, sometimes, you are making reasoned thoughtful arguments or simply venting your anger. A case in point:

    “Whatever evil act you do, you can go into the confessional and the priest has the awesome power, given to him by god, to say that everything is now fine and your conscience is clear.”

    This is a distortion, unworthy of someone who was a former Christian. You should know that confession is not just about having someone say “now everything is fine and your conscience is clear,” it is more about the most difficult thing a human being can be asked to do: admitting to oneself, and to another person, that they have done wrong, truly repenting and asking for forgiveness. I don’t mean, here, any nonsense about “original sin,” but the daily transgressions of dishonesty, cruelty, lack of consideration for another, etc. Such regular reflection on our faults might even eventually lead one to recognizing more subtle shortcomings like bigotry.

    I don’t hold to any religious ideology and appreciate your efforts to break the destructive stranglehold of organized religion, but the weak point of polemics is that they basically only preach to the choir. Arguments that triumph even while recognizing what is valid and good about the opposition, would be really powerful.


  3. says


    The point being made is not about the purpose the confession serves for the person confessing, the benefits of which could be what you suggest.

    The point was that people are made to believe that the priest has the awesome power to give you absolution for your acts, thus building up his mystique.

  4. kural says


    Mano was never a Catholic, so I am not sure why he should care, and besides what is unworthy of a former Christian who has since rejected any commitment to what he sees as a meaningless and irrelevant doctrine. Isn’t the morality of Christianity relative? Works don’t matter as long as one does not buy the whole nine yards -- sin, blood, etc., Agnes Boiaxhu followed that to a T, which is why she amassed millions, never built even a dispensary or poor house, never dispensed even a single dose of medicine, while availing of the best medical facilities that the rich could have. Boiaxhu also made it clear that suffering is wonderful because it puts us in touch with the suffering of Jesus and that is a divine gift.

    In fact confession is about owning up to the (supposedly, allegedly) sinful and fallen nature of man, which in turn leads us into more sin. Protestant doctrine rejects the need for an intermediary -- a priest -- so the believer does his own confessing.

    I would rather go with what is attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, “First do no harm.” And Gandhi, “…for means, after all, are everything.”

  5. Siya says

    I agree that making a priest into a god-like figure paves the way for all kinds of abuses. It seemed to me that in addition to that, you were also implying (I am responding here, to your tone of voice in the sentence I mentioned) that there was something ridiculous about the ritual of confession as well. If I am wrong,I apologize.

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