Sunday, March 28, 2010

Infamous

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. And my Church is yet again in the midst of scandal, a scandal it has brought upon itself because of years of failing to render abusive priests unto secular justice.


I do not believe - as some have suggested -  that religion itself is the evil behind pedophile priests. Nor do I believe that the Catholic requirements of an all-male and celibate priesthood are the root of this evil. I believe the unfortunate truth is that any job that offers a position of inherent authority and trust and offers a high level of access to children is going to attract those who would use that access for evil. 


And let me be clear: the abuse of a child is a grave evil. The abuse of a child by someone who has been given responsibility for that child is not only an evil, but a betrayal of a trust. For a priest to commit such an action compounds the evil and the betrayal of trust with the breaking of his priestly vows.


The actions of these priests are horrible. Any priest who abuses a child should, like any other person who abuses a child, be turned over to the secular legal system. While he should be defrocked as well, that alone is not sufficient penance. We no longer live in a society where the ecclesiastical court sits in judgment on its own, or where an offender can avoid prosecution by pleading the tonsure.


But the Church itself - the Church that decided that instead of rendering the sinners unto Caesar, it would protect them in its bosom and allow them to harm others - needs to undergo drastic change. Jesus himself said: "And whosoever shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me; it were better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck, and he were cast into the sea." (Mark 9:41, Douay-Rheims translation)


So let's talk about scandal. Or, more precisely, let's talk about fama. Fame. Not fame in the modern Page 6, paparazzi photo sense, but fame in the Fourth Lateran, medieval, theological sense of loss of reputation - something more akin to infamy. For example, the inquisitorial proceedings against Joan of Arc were opened because of a charge of fama. Joan's infamy scandalized the faithful. (Read: she wore pants while kicking English ass.) Fama, the public outcry sufficient enough to act as an accuser, and begin legal, inquisitorial proceedings in ecclesiastical court. Sufficient to bring a charge of heresy.


Heresy.


St. Thomas Aquinas defines heresy as "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas." (II-II: 11:1) The hierarchy of the Church who have covered up the actions of pedophile priests, who created the culture of silence which has resulted in this great and shameful scandal, have corrupted the dogmas of the Church. I do not think that it is wrong to call on the current pope, who, when he was a cardinal was the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Sacred Congregation for the Universal Inquisition) to act in a manner that defends the Church from these heretical acts.



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