The role of Pope John Paul II in a corrupt Catholic Church

(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.)

While a lot of the attention and blame for the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church has focused on Pope Ratzinger’s role, John Paul II has had a shameful history as well. Yesterday, I wrote about his lack of action against, and even the promotion of, an abusive Canadian priest Bernard Prince. Even more shocking are the recent revelations of his close relationship with Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of a powerful order known as the Legionaries of Christ. When he died in 2008 at the age of 87,
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More abuse cover-ups by the Catholic Church

(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 scandal concerning the widespread sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church gets worse and worse. The latest example showing how deeply entrenched the policy of secrecy and cover up was in the church has been the publication in the Toronto Globe and Mail of a 1993 letter from J. R. Windle, Bishop of Pembroke in Ontario, to the representative of the Vatican in Canada concerning Bernard Prince, a priest in his diocese who had been found to have abused a child.

From the letter, it appears that the priest had acknowledged his crime but the diocese had managed to keep it secret. They did not hand him over to the police or want him transferred to another diocese within Canada but had agreed to have him sent to Rome in 1991 instead. The guilty priest was apparently a friend of Pope John Paul II and the latter had actually decided to promote him, if you can believe it, at about the same time that it emerged that the acts of abuse byPrince had not been limited to a single isolated incident but had gone on for an extended period and that he had abused other children as well.

The Bishop of Pembroke was alarmed that if the abusive priest were promoted, the victims would be so angered that they might make their charges public. Throughout the letter, what becomes disgustingly clear is that the main concern of the bishop was how to get Prince out of his diocese while keeping things secret. Here are some excepts from the letter, with all the italics being mine:

When Fr. Prince was first proposed for his present position in Rome (on the recommendation of the now Archbishop T. Franck), I explained to the then Archbishop Jose Sanchez (now Cardinal Sanchez), in his capacity as Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, that, while the charge against Fr. Prince was very serious, I would not object to him being given another chance since it would remove him from the Canadian scene.

Recently it has been brought to our attention that there was not one but four or five victims in all (all minors who talk freely among themselves about their involvement with Fr. Prince), and that several lay people of the Wilno-Barry’s Bay area, as well as a number of priests of the Deanery of Barry’s Bay are aware of these unfortunate events… any papal recognition or promotion would surely result in animosity and “admiratio”, along with other possible ramifications.

The victim assured Monsignor Barry [the Vicar General] that he would not lay any charges (although his counsellor strongly advised him to do so), unless he learned that Fr. Prince was victimizing other individuals and that appropriate steps were not bring taken by his superiors to obviate this possibility through counselling and supervision.

Consequently, Your Excellency, the scenario which exists today is considerably different from when I first spoke with Archbishop Sanchez. At that time we were under the impression that the incident was isolated, in the distant past, and there was little or no danger of any scandal ever emerging.

However, the knowledge and extent of Fr. Prince’s previous activity is now much more widespread among both the laity and the clergy than previously existed. Hence, were he to be honoured in any way it could easily trigger a reaction among the victim(s), or others who are aware of his previous conduct, and this would prove extremely embarrassing both to the Holy See and to the Diocese of Pembroke, not to mention the possibility of criminal charges being laid and a civil lawsuit ensuing.

The next passage shows how the church exploits the ‘respect for religion’ trope (that I have criticized before) and its carefully cultivated mystique of the priesthood to exert coercive power over its victims to keep things quiet.

One redeeming factor is that it would appear that the victims involved are of Polish descent and their respect for the priesthood and the Church has made them refrain from making these allegations public or laying a criminal charge against a priest. Had this happened elsewhere there would be every danger that charges would have been laid long ago with all the resultant scandal. Unfortunately one priest, who was talking with one of the victims who partially revealed. Fr. Prince’s activity while living with him in Ottawa, has been somewhat indiscreet in his comments about Fr. Prince, and has had to be cautioned by the Vicar General in this respect.

The next passage shows the collusion among all the top church officials on the policy of covering up crimes and the need to protect the image of the church over the needs of the abused victims:

I regret both the length and contents of this letter, Your Excellency, but when there is so much at stake for the Church in general and the diocese in particular, given the adverse climate we are currently experiencing, any promotion for Fr. Prince, even for a Papal Honour, but most especially for the Episcopate, would have horrendous results and cause immeasurable harm. All of the Bishops of Ontario who are aware of this situation (and there are several) would most certainly agree with my assessment in this regard.

However, as previously mentioned, a promotion of any kind would indicate to the victim that he is being further victimized and hence we could anticipate that a charge would be laid and a public trial would follow. This has been the pattern which has been followed in recent event s of a similar nature and it is a situation which we wish to avoid at all costs.

Despite these warnings, Pope John Paul II allowed Bernard Prince to serve in the position of secretary-general of the Vatican’s Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith from 1991 until he retired in 2004. He was finally convicted in 2008 of sexually molesting 13 boys between the years of 1964 and 1984 and is now serving a four-year prison term. It took this for him to be finally defrocked in 2009.

The consistent strategy of the Catholic Church has been to cover up abuse cases and get victims to keep quiet. Is it any surprise then that Catholic bishops in Connecticut are currently fighting a proposed law that would eliminate the statue of limitations on child sexual abuse, because that would unravel their whole plan? They have simply no shame.

Pope Ratzinger is due to visit England in September of this year, no doubt to teach people all about Christian morality. Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have enlisted the services of two human rights lawyers to see if he cannot be arrested during his visit, the way that brutal Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet was, to be tried for the crimes committed by the organization of which he is head.

This should be interesting.

POST SCRIPT: The real problem

The Onion reports on what Ratzinger thinks is the real problem behind the child abuse scandal.

The war against WikiLeaks

(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.)

Yesterday, I wrote about the killing of a family of five people, including two pregnant women and a teenager, and the attempted cover up by NATO forces in Afghanistan. It should be noted that the London Times reporter Jerome Starkey reported the story of killings and cover-up in Afghanistan more than a month ago, saying that “A Times investigation suggests that Nato’s claims are either wilfully false or, at best, misleading” but there was a lack of interest by the US media in reporting these stories

That is par for the course. The US news media rarely has the kind of inquisitiveness or the healthy skepticism of official versions of events that you would expect journalists to have and continues to report the military’s versions of events as facts, at least initially, unless they happen to have reporters actually on or near the site when the event occurred. They usually wait until the real information is unearthed and publicized by either the foreign media or independent groups like WikiLeaks before starting to question the official story and investigate for themselves.

For those who read the foreign media, the number of cases of large scale or brutal civilian deaths covered up by the US military becomes staggering. The use of unmanned drones to strike at targets, which has escalated greatly under Obama, has resulted in numerous cases of civilian casualties. Take this story that reports that up to 90 people, 60 of them children, were killed in an airstrike in Azizabad in Afghanistan on August 22, 2008. First the US said only seven civilians were killed, then much later acknowledged that figure to 33.

Tom Engelhardt describes the event and the cover up:

As many as 76 members of a single extended family were killed, along with its head, Reza Khan. His compound seems to have been specially targeted… The incident in Azizabad may represent the single deadliest media-verified attack on civilians by U.S. forces since the invasion of 2001. Numerous buildings were damaged. Many bodies, including those of children, had to be dug out of the rubble. There may have been as many as 60 children among the dead. The U.S. military evidently attacked after being given false information by another tribal leader/businessman in the area with a grudge against Khan and his brother.

Given the weight of evidence at Azizabad, the on-site investigations, the many graves, the destroyed houses, the specificity of survivor accounts, and so on, this might have seemed like a cut-and-dried case of mistaken intelligence followed by an errant assault with disastrous consequences. But accepting such a conclusion simply isn’t in the playbook of the U.S. military or the Bush administration.

Instead, in such cases what you regularly get is a predictable U.S. narrative about what happened made up of outlandish claims (or simply bald-faced lies), followed by a strategy of stonewalling, including a blame-the-victims approach in which civilian deaths are regularly dismissed as enemy-inspired “propaganda,” followed — if the pressure doesn’t ease up — by the announcement of an “investigation” (whose results will rarely be released), followed by an expression of “regrets” or “sorrow” for the loss of life — both weasel words that can be uttered without taking actual responsibility for what happened — never to be followed by a genuine apology.

Another horror story is the execution-style killing in December by NATO soldiers of eight handcuffed Afghan children aged 11 to 18. Once again, the US media accepted at face value the US military’s initial statement that these were members of a bomb-making ring, and it took the foreign media (again Jerome Starkey this time in The Scotsman) to investigate and report what had actually happened and get NATO to admit two months later that the dead were actually students.

Given the penchant of the US government for secrecy and cover-ups, is it any wonder that the independent news media are seen by the US government as an enemy? We are also partly to blame because we don’t seem to want to hear this kind of bad news, unless the victims are Americans. As Engelhardt says:

This sort of “collateral damage” is an ongoing modern nightmare, which, unlike dead Amish girls or school shootings, does not fascinate either our media or, evidently, Americans generally. It seems we largely don’t want to know about what happened, and generally speaking, that’s lucky because the media isn’t particularly interested in telling us. This is one reason the often absurd accounts sometimes offered by the U.S. military go relatively unchallenged — as, fortunately, they did not in the case of the incident at Azizabad.

As a result of the recent WikiLeaks video, the US has now trained its guns (at least metaphorically for now) on it, stating that the organization is a threat to national security and is trying to find out who is leaking to them so that they can punish them as a means of discouraging further leaks. Dan Froomkin writes:

Just last month, WikiLeaks posted the results of a U.S. counterintelligence investigation into none other than WikiLeaks itself. The report determined that WikiLeaks “represents a potential force protection, counterintelligence, operational security (OPSEC), and information security (INFOSEC) threat to the US Army.”

The report also concludes, highly suggestively: “ uses trust as a center of gravity by assuring insiders, leakers, and whistleblowers who pass information to personnel or who post information to the Web site that they will remain anonymous. The identification, exposure, or termination of employment of or legal actions against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers could damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others from using to make such information public.” (my italics)

You can see the secret US memo on how to destroy WikiLeaks at WikiLeaks.

The threats by the US military against WikiLeaks are not to be taken lightly. During the Iraq war, we saw how they viewed Al Jazeera as a ‘hostile’ force. Al Jazeera bureau offices in both Baghdad and Kabul were bombed by US forces even though the news organization had given its coordinates to the Pentagon, and the bombing of their head offices in Qatar was also discussed. The two people who leaked the memo of George Bush and Tony Blair discussing this last option were put on secret trial for violating Britain’s infamous Official Secrets Act, and were sentenced to prison for six and three months.

Any American news organization that questions the innate decency and goodness of the US government and the military risks being harshly attacked as ‘not patriotic’ or not ‘supporting the troops’. This is how a propaganda system is created. It is interesting that a few US media organizations (such as the Associated Press and the Hearst and Gannett groups) actually provide support for WikiLeaks, presumably because as a way of getting around the self-censorship they seem to feel obliged to practice. Once WikiLeaks publishes something, the media then has some cover to follow up on the story. As the editor of WikiLeaks says, “We take the hardest publishing cases in the world and deal with them and by doing that we create a space behind us that admits other people to successfully publish.”

As the London Independent points out, what is amazing is that WikiLeaks has a staff of just five people and yet has produced “more scoops in its short life than The Washington Post has in the past 30 years” and the article provides some background on who is behind it and how it manages this.

This is why organizations like WikiLeaks and need our support. Without them, we would be at the complete mercy of the sanitized reporting of mainstream American media as they faithfully repeat the lies of the US government and the military.

Please support WikiLeaks. There are many ways to do so, not just with financial contributions.

POST SCRIPT: Stephen Colbert on the WikiLeaks video

He first talks about the video, the second clip has an edited interview with Julian Assange, and the third clip has the full, unedited interview. The full interview is well worth watching.

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'WikiLeaks Military Video
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<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Julian Assange
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<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Exclusives – Julian Assange Unedited Interview
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When killing civilians becomes routine

(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 WikiLeaks video I posted yesterday of the killing of Iraqis will have shocked all but the most hardened people. Most Americans, even if they think the killings were wrong, are likely to write this off as the actions of a few rogue elements because they cannot bear to think that ‘we’ can do bad things, so indoctrinated are they by the myth of America’s essential goodness that uniquely sets them apart from the rest of the world. They do not seem to realize that people are pretty much the same the world over and this kind of thing is the inevitable result of sending large numbers of soldiers to fight in foreign countries for extended periods of time. The entire population eventually becomes seen as the enemy and atrocities against civilians become routine. The repetition of this phenomenon is so drearily predictable that it is hardly worthwhile to list them.
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The WikiLeaks video

(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.)

I want to interrupt the series of posts on disbelieving priests to switch to politics, to comment on a shocking video that surfaced last week that some of you might have seen. To give you some background, on July 12, 2007 about a dozen Iraqis, including two journalists who worked for the Reuters news agency, were killed by the US military in a Baghdad suburb. The New York Times dutifully reported the military’s version of the events.

The American military said in a statement late Thursday that 11 people had been killed: nine insurgents and two civilians. According to the statement, American troops were conducting a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

The American troops called in reinforcements and attack helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters employees and nine insurgents were killed.

“There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force,” said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the multinational forces in Baghdad.

This event passed unnoticed since it seemed like just another routine battle taking place in a war zone. The only noteworthy item was that two journalists were among the dead, though since they were not American or western journalists, very few people in the US cared.

Two weeks after the attack, the US military privately showed Reuters officials some portions of a video taken from one of the attack helicopters but they refused to release the entire video of the incident despite repeated requests under the FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). The organization WikiLeaks, that is dedicated to the public releasing of information, obtained the video, decrypted it, and released it to the public. If you have not seen this video, you should, although it is very disturbing.

(The above is an edited 17-minute version. You can see the full unedited 37 minute video here. The White House has acknowledged that the video is genuine. The US military says, incredibly, that it can’t find its own copy of the video.)

For those who cannot watch videos or cannot stomach people being gunned down, the video shows a group of men wandering around in an open courtyard, talking to each other and on their cell phones. They seemed unconcerned about a US military attack helicopter circling overhead. The gunner in the helicopter then unleashed a sudden deadly barrage of fire, killing and wounding almost everyone as they scurried for cover. When later a van comes along and tries to pick up the wounded, fire is unleashed again, killing yet more people and wounding two children who were in the van.

During it all, the people in the helicopter seem gleeful, chuckling over the deaths and congratulating each other, even audibly hoping that a crawling wounded man would make what could be interpreted as a hostile action so that they could shoot him again, laughing when a US military vehicle later went over a dead body, and even being dismissive when they discover that children had been among those shot in the van. A camera and telephoto lens carried by the photographer is mistaken by the gunner for a grenade launcher, a surprising error for trained soldiers to make.

As Dan Froomkin writes:

None of the members of the group were taking hostile action, contrary to the Pentagon’s initial cover story; they were milling about on a street corner. One man was evidently carrying a gun, though that was and is hardly an uncommon occurrence in Baghdad.

Reporters working for WikiLeaks determined that the driver of the van was a good Samaritan on his way to take his small children to a tutoring session. He was killed and his two children were badly injured.

In the video, which Reuters has been asking to see since 2007, crew members can be heard celebrating their kills.

“Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards,” says one crewman after multiple rounds of 30mm cannon fire left nearly a dozen bodies littering the street.

A crewman begs for permission to open fire on the van and its occupants, even though it has done nothing but stop to help the wounded: “Come on, let us shoot!”

Two crewmen share a laugh when a Bradley fighting vehicle runs over one of the corpses.

And after soldiers on the ground find two small children shot and bleeding in the van, one crewman can be heard saying: “Well, it’s their fault bringing their kids to a battle.”

The helicopter crew, which was patrolling an area that had been the scene of fierce fighting that morning, said they spotted weapons on members of the first group — although the video shows one gun, at most. The crew also mistook a telephoto lens for a rocket-propelled grenade.

This video has been seen widely worldwide and as expected has caused outrage. But the US media, ever mindful of its role to hide the truth of war from Americans, has either ignored the story or has downplayed it or has blacked out the more disturbing images. Even when it has covered the story, it is as usual accompanied by the usual apologias, statements of regret, the world weary clichés of the ‘fog of war’, ‘war is hell’, etc. rolling smoothly over the tongue, by now repeated so often as to be almost unconscious. And of course portraying as naïve idealists those who think that even a legal war does not justify the murdering of people as they go about their lives.

Is it any wonder that Americans are always surprised when anti-American violence erupts around the world and are so easily persuaded that it must have irrational causes exemplified by fatuous statements such as that ‘they hate us for our freedoms’?

POST SCRIPT: Julian Assange is interviewed on Al Jazeera

The Wikileaks editor talks about the video and other killings and why we can believe that the video is genuine.

The fog of belief

(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.)

Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University report in their paper titled Preachers who are not believers that as a result of their scholarly education, the priests they interviewed and many of their fellow priests just cannot take the tenets of their faith seriously anymore. As one said of his peers: “They’re very liberal. They’ve been de-mythologized, I’ll say that. They don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead literally. They don’t believe Jesus was born of a virgin. They don’t believe all those things that would cause a big stir in their churches. But that’s not uncommon in mainline denominations, or even in the Catholic Church.” Another said, in an undoubted overstatement, “Oh, you can’t go through seminary and come out believing in God!”

The churches probably suspect that there is a considerable amount of apostasy among their clergy because it rarely asks prospective clergy to affirm their beliefs. Part of this is because the churches themselves no longer seem certain about what doctrines people should believe. Over time, as scientific knowledge has advanced and made traditional beliefs untenable for any thinking person, the churches have retained their creeds which lay down very specific statements of beliefs that one must in theory hold, while in practice adopting a policy of ‘anything goes’ (well, almost) that gives people a lot of wiggle room as to what they can actually believe in. As Dennett and LaScola write:

The ambiguity about who is a believer and who is an unbeliever follows inexorably from the pluralism that has been assiduously fostered by many religious leaders for a century and more: God is many different things to different people, and since we can’t know if one of these conceptions is the right one, we should honor them all. This counsel of tolerance creates a gentle fog that shrouds the question of belief in God in so much indeterminacy that if asked whether they believed in God, many people could sincerely say that they don’t know what they are being asked.

The five clergy were never asked point blank at their ordination if they believed in god or the virgin birth. If the subject is broached in some way, they adopt the strategy of talking about the concept of god instead of god itself, and this rhetorical ploy is accepted as a way of avoiding direct statements of belief or unbelief.

R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says that this is a disturbing trend: “In other words, some theologians and denominations have embraced a theology so fluid and indeterminate that even an atheist cannot tell the believers and unbelievers apart.”

The disbelieving clergy find themselves in a very tough situation that is almost unparalleled. I cannot think of any other profession where what one believes is tied so integrally to the work one does and where one is routinely required to profess statements of belief. You can see how it can wear you down if you do not believe the things you have to keep saying. As Dennett and LaScola say:

We all find ourselves committed to little white lies, half-truths and convenient forgettings, knowing tacitly which topics not to raise with which of our loved ones and friends. But these pastors—and who knows how many others—are caught in a larger web of diplomatic, tactical, and, finally, ethical concealment. In no other profession, surely, is one so isolated from one’s fellow human beings, so cut off from the fresh air of candor, never knowing the relief of getting things off one’s chest. (my italics)

These are brave individuals who are still trying to figure out how to live with the decisions they made many years ago, when they decided, full of devotion and hope, to give their lives to a God they no longer find by their sides.

But not everyone sees these clergy as brave people struggling with their personal demons of doubt and disbelief. Some view them as hypocrites who have no place in the church. Mohler thinks that unbelieving priests “are a curse upon the church” and that “If they will not remove themselves from the ministry, they must be removed. If they lack the integrity to resign their pulpits, the churches must muster the integrity to eject them. If they will not “out” themselves, it is the duty of faithful Christians to “out” them.”

I think the priests are well aware that this may be the reaction from many of the people around them if they are honest. And so they keep quiet.

Next: The loneliness of the unbelieving priest.

POST SCRIPT: The Daily Show on the Catholic Church atrocities

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Pope Opera
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Priests who don’t believe

(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.)

Over four years ago, I speculated that the percentage of atheists among clergy and theologians may be much higher than in the general population, that it became even more likely the higher one rose in the hierarchy, and that as a result even the pope could well be an atheist. I gave two reasons for making that case.

The first is that members of the clergy encounter on a daily basis many of the kinds of personal tragedies of sickness, death, and violence than can make lay people question their faith, and hence they are more likely to find it hard to believe in a benevolent god. Since no one wants to believe in an evil god (though that would explain things a lot better), disbelief becomes an increasingly plausible option.

The second reason is that those clergy who belong to religious institutions that require years of study in theological colleges before ordination will quickly learn as part of their curriculum that their religious texts are products of human beings and that they have a dubious history that makes it very unlikely that they were divinely created. All the many contradictions make it hard to believe that the religious books were divinely inspired either, unless you believe in a god who is really sloppy and was too cheap to get himself a good editor. Most lay people have little idea of the origins of their texts and thus can more easily believe that they were divinely inspired or created.

Now even the Vatican’s chief exorcist has conceded that apostasy is more common in the upper ranks of the church than people might think, speaking of “cardinals who do not believe in Jesus.”

Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University have recently published a paper titled Preachers who are not believers that seems to provide support for my speculative suggestions. They describe five case studies of Christian priests who are still working but were willing to confide in confidence that they do not believe in the tenets of their faith. Three of the priests were from liberal denominations (whom they called “the liberals”) and two were from conservative denominations (“the literals”).

These priests spoke of how hard it is to live a lie and how they would like to be open and change their lives but they stick with it because they have no other means of making a living.

The loneliness of non-believing pastors is extreme. They have no trusted confidantes to reassure them, to reflect their own musings back to them, to provide reality checks. As their profiles reveal, even their spouses are often unaware of their turmoil. Why don’t they resign their posts and find a new life? They are caught in a trap, cunningly designed to harness both their best intentions and their basest fears to the task of immobilizing them in their predicament. Their salaries are modest and the economic incentive is to stay in place, to hang on by their fingernails and wait for retirement when they get their pension.

Confiding their difficulties to a superior is not an appealing option: although it would be unlikely to lead swiftly and directly to an involuntary unfrocking. No denomination has a surplus of qualified clergy, and the last thing an administrator wants to hear is that one of the front line preachers is teetering on the edge of default. More likely, such an acknowledgment of doubt would put them on the list of problematic clergy and secure for them the not very helpful advice to soldier on and work through their crises of faith. Speaking in confidence with fellow clergy is also a course fraught with danger, in spite of the fact that some of them are firmly convinced that many, and perhaps most, of their fellow clergy share their lack of belief. (my italics)

What gives them this impression that they are far from alone, and how did this strange and sorrowful state of affairs arise? The answer seems to lie in the seminary experience shared by all our pastors, liberals and literals alike. Even some conservative seminaries staff their courses on the Bible with professors who are trained in textual criticism, the historical methods of biblical scholarship, and what is taught in those courses is not what the young seminarians learned in Sunday school, even in the more liberal churches. In seminary they were introduced to many of the details that have been gleaned by centuries of painstaking research about how various ancient texts came to be written, copied, translated, and, after considerable jockeying and logrolling, eventually assembled into the Bible we read today. It is hard if not impossible to square these new facts with the idea that the Bible is in all its particulars a true account of actual events, let alone the inerrant word of God. It is interesting that all our pastors report the same pattern of response among their fellow students: some were fascinated, but others angrily rejected what their professors tried to teach them.

John Shelby Spong, former Episcopal bishop of Newark describes some of the things you learn from biblical scholarship:

Miracles do not enter the Christian story until the 8th decade; the Virgin Birth and understanding the Resurrection as the physical resuscitation of a deceased body enters Christianity in the 9th decade, the story of the Ascension of Jesus is a 10th decade addition.

Should it be surprising that these things can shake the faith of believers, including priests, and are thus kept from the general public?

POST SCRIPT: The War on Easter

Now that atheists have won the war on Christmas, isn’t it time to start wars on all the other holidays of all the religions?

<td style='padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;' colspan='2'Easter Under Attack – Peeps Display Update
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Should the pope resign?

(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 Catholic Church is battling the widespread perception that it is rotten to the core. Even the Chief Exorcist of the Catholic Church says that all this abuse and cover-ups by high officials of the church are signs that “the Devil is at work inside the Vatican.” (Yes, there actually is such a post as ‘Chief Exorcist’, if you can imagine it. If anyone had any doubts that the church is still an institution with medieval sensibilities, this news should surely settle it. He claims that he has dealt with 70,000 cases of demonic possession in his 25 years on the job. That’s almost eight every day, including weekends and holidays! Give that man a raise.)

As Christopher Hitchens writes:

This is what makes the scandal an institutional one and not a matter of delinquency here and there. The church needs and wants control of the very young and asks their parents to entrust their children to certain “confessors,” who until recently enjoyed enormous prestige and immunity. It cannot afford to admit that many of these confessors, and their superiors, are calcified sadists who cannot believe their luck.

And now there are reports that the Boy Scouts have also been covering up the sexual abuse of young boys.

The Boy Scouts of America has long kept an extensive archive of secret documents that chronicle the sexual abuse of young boys by Scout leaders over the years.

The “perversion files,” a nickname the Boy Scouts are said to have used for the documents, have rarely been seen by the public, but that could change in the coming weeks in a Portland, Ore., courtroom.

The attorney for a man who was allegedly molested in the 1980s by a Scout leader has obtained about 1,000 Boy Scouts sex files and is expected to release some of them at a trial that began Wednesday. The lawyer says the files show the organization has covered up abuse for decades.

It seems like we should be extra vigilant about hierarchical organizations that place young children under the unsupervised care of dominant older people. Such situations seem to create just the right conditions for abusers to take advantage of children.

Richard Dawkins says that despite the calls for him to resign, the pope should not do so:

As the College of Cardinals must have recognized when they elected him, he is perfectly – ideally – qualified to lead the Roman Catholic Church. A leering old villain in a frock, who spent decades conspiring behind closed doors for the position he now holds; a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part; a man whose preaching of scientific falsehood is responsible for the deaths of countless AIDS victims in Africa; a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence: in short, exactly the right man for the job. He should not resign, moreover, because he is perfectly positioned to accelerate the downfall of the evil, corrupt organization whose character he fits like a glove, and of which he is the absolute and historically appropriate monarch.

No, Pope Ratzinger should not resign. He should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice – the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution – while it tumbles, amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears.

Dawkins surprisingly missed ‘gay-loathing’ in that list.

Of course, all this will not prevent religious people from trotting out that old chestnut that we can only get our morality from god and the Bible and religion, that without them we would be totally amoral or downright evil people. They will claim that acts of a few bad apples do not mean that religion itself is a bad influence. The problem is that they try to have it both ways. The power of the Catholic Church and the clergy arises from their claim that they have a direct line from god, through the laying of hands by the pope, archbishops, and so on. All the trappings of the church, the rituals, the incense, the robes, the fancy hats, the rings, are meant to instill in people the idea that the clergy are holier than them. Priests cannot claim that privilege when it suits them and then say ‘Oh, we should not be held to higher standards than ordinary people’ when it emerges that they are often worse than ordinary people.

Defenders of the church will argue that the number of priests involved in abuse cases is small (though that argument is becoming harder to sustain as the scale of the abuse keeps growing) and that there are good priests doing wonderful work. They are right. There have been many inspiring Catholic priests and nuns, especially in Latin America, who bravely used the protective cover provided by the church in a good way, to fight for justice and to end oppression by cruel and murderous dictatorships. It is interesting that both Ratzinger and John Paul II actively saw the crushing of such priests and the associated liberation theology as a prime task, just as they sought to suppress the movements of progressive nuns and priests in Europe and the US.

Both popes seemed to see the abuse by priests as something secondary, to be covered up so as to not distract from the fight against doctrinal heresy. It would have been nice to see them use all that energy to combat abusive priests instead. But instead, priests who severely abused children could expect sympathetic understanding from the church’s top echelons while those who merely advocated the abandonment of policies of priestly celibacy or a male-only priesthood or the prohibition against contraception risked being severely rebuked.

Given the long-standing demands from popes to all high church officials that they should essentially cover up the acts of abusive priests, probably a high fraction of all the current crop of bishops, archbishops, and cardinals have such skeletons rattling around in their closets. So one should expect more and more allegations of cover-ups to emerge, coupled with an increasingly solid wall of resistance from the entire hierarchy of the church as it dawns on them that they are all at risk of exposure and that, in the words of Ben Franklin, they must all hang together, or assuredly they shall all hang separately. One has to look for the few remaining bishops who have clean hands to have the moral courage to go against the policy of stonewalling.

I have no doubt that the pope and its priests and bishops will continue to have the gall to act as if they are still the guardians of morality. Ratzinger now is trying to evade guilt by saying that the problem is that humanity in general is in crisis and in need of deep change for which, of course, he and the church can provide moral leadership. As this cartoon by Jesus and Mo says, this is what they always say, even if it is becoming increasingly clear that they have absolutely no standing to make the claim of being moral leaders.

POST SCRIPT: How the Catholic Church really works

Actor Louis CK investigates for Funny or Die how the church works and tries to find some humor in the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church as the abuse horror stories multiply. (Warning: Very strong language and sexual content.)

The Catholic Church stonewalls

(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 way that defenseless children were treated in some Catholic orphanages or other homes for children is remarkable for its cruelty. The children were subjected to abominable treatment. In addition to the sexual abuse, physical and psychological abuse was also widespread. Stories are emerging that a bishop who is pope Ratzinger’s friend routinely slapped, punched, and beat with a carpet beater children who lived in a church-run home in order ‘to drive Satan out of them’. The gripping film The Magdalene Sisters, based on a true story about an actual home for ‘wayward’ girls run by the church in Ireland, details one such institution. You cannot see that film and not be horrified at what was done to those young women.
[Read more…]

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.