Saturday, September 18, 2010

Catholic Chutzpah

This morning on NPR I heard Pope Rat "apologizing" for the child abuse scandal during his UK tour. He went so far as to deliver his performance in English, which you can hear in this fawning report. Now, these official apologies are seldom convincing, and they're probably not supposed to be; they are supposed to "send a message," "convey an image," and other public-relations jargon for fake sincerity.

What makes Ratzinger's performance even more repugnant is that once again, it's all about him.
I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ's grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives. I also acknowledge with you the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins.
I know it's too much to expect this man or his apologists to acknowledge that, bad as the abuse was, the problem is not so much that the church failed to act to protect children -- it acted to protect the abusers. As Alexander Chancellor wrote in the Guardian, the revelation of the scandal and its coverup
also makes the church look more interested in its own reputation than in the welfare of its flock. And that, indeed, was what the Murphy commission, set up by the Irish government to investigate abuse in the Dublin archdiocese, concluded last year when it said that the church authorities had engaged in "the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church, and the preservations of its assets". This was a terrible verdict, but the reluctance of the church to admit fault or to hang out its dirty washing in public is, however reprehensible, not difficult to understand. A hierarchical institution claiming to have the sole right to interpret the Word of God does not lightly jeopardise its authority in such ways.
(There's a striking resemblance to Barack Obama's pretense that he's criticized by other Democrats for not doing enough, rather than things he has done. I suppose that's how the powerful think: they see themselves as victims rather than victimizers.)

Amusingly, Catholic League president Bill Donohue has demanded that atheists apologize for the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, because those men killed millions. "
By contrast, a grand total of 1,394 were killed during the 250 years of the Inquisition, most all of whom were murdered by secular authorities." Of course, those "secular authorities" acted at the behest of the church, and the Inquisition wasn't the only way that Roman Catholicism has killed people. Donohue goes on:
Why should atheists today apologize for the crimes of others? At one level, it makes no sense: apologies should only be given by the guilty. But on the other hand, since the fanatically anti-Catholic secularists in Britain, and elsewhere, demand that the pope—who is entirely innocent of any misconduct—apologize for the sins of others, let the atheists take some of their own medicine and start apologizing for all the crimes committed in their name. It might prove alembic.
It isn't only "fanatically anti-Catholic secularists" who have criticized the Pope and the church's mishandling of the abuse scandal: a good many Catholics have also spoken out. And it's false that Ratzinger is "entirely innocent of any misconduct": he sheltered at least one predatory priest from prosecution, and preferred to blame the gay movement for the abuse. There's also a basic difference between the Roman Catholic Church -- a hierarchical and authoritarian organization -- and atheism, which has no centralized authority, indeed no authority of any kind. The head of such a hierarchy is responsible for the acts of underlings, even if he himself hasn't so much as french-kissed a choirboy.

Though it's true that atheists need to stop claiming that the world would be a more peaceful place without religion, which is obviously false. There was a rally against Ratzinger's UK tour that featured Peter Tatchell, Ian McKellen, Richard Dawkins, and "human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson."

At the rally, Mr Robertson said: "We are here today to celebrate our faith in liberty of conscience; our faith in equality; our faith in human rights.

Of the Pope he said: "He's been met with the most utter, exquisite, grovelling politeness and with that somehow we are in an uncivilised third world country."

"Equality"? I don't think Mr Robertson understands what a "third world country" is. The term "Third World" is usefully unclear in its meaning, of course. Originally it referred to a grab bag of countries that were aligned neither with the US bloc nor the Soviet bloc immediately after World War II. Now, as Wikipedia says, the term "continues to be used colloquially to describe the poorest countries in the world." But poverty doesn't equal lack of civilization, and the role of the "civilized" big powers in keeping the Third World poor shouldn't be overlooked: such countries are a rich source of natural resources and cheap labor. Or was Robertson saying that politeness is somehow uncivilized, perhaps along the lines of effete "oriental" manners compared to robust British directness? Either way, Robertson was teetering on the edge of overt racism in that comparison, which unfortunately is all too common among scientific secular thinkers, and shouldn't be tolerated or excused any more than a Christian's bigotry.

Which doesn't mean it's not a scandal that the Pope can travel to Britain on the public dime, or that he deserves a far less welcoming reception than he's been receiving. But he's far from the only head of state who can do such things: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and other butchers are routinely treated the same way.