This is a bit of a rant, really, so if you’re looking for my usual soothingly banal, sardonic humour, try somewhere else today.
The recent papal apology for the behaviour of Irish priests ignored the central issue – the appalling failures of an institution that systematically closed ranks, ignored the law, avoided scandal and shielded child rapists for years. The evidence that the Catholic Church was more concerned over its own reputation rather than the damage being inflicted on children is clear, unambiguous and damning. Benedict used the words ‘misplaced concern’ – which sounds altogether too whoopsie for me and he did not apologise for the cover up, only for the abuse, suggesting little new vision in Rome. Indeed whatever investigations are performed are done so under a cloak of secrecy. The ecclesiastical penalty for violation of secrecy by members of a tribunal so convened is excommunication, which probably means millions of years in purgatory with no ice-cream or virgins.
The church worldwide in every denomination has become painfully aware that there are now multiple documented cases where paedophiles in the clergy were identified and instead of being reported to the police, they were quietly moved to another diocese where they continued to abuse. Personally, I think it’s obvious. Putting men with, let’s say, a ‘pastoral’ – read ‘controlling’ turn of mind in situations where they have absolute authority, repressed homosexual tendencies and a degree of licence is asking for trouble. Unbelievers tend to tar us all with the same brush and when the hose is turned on, everybody gets wet.
In any other organisation there would be pressure for measures to be put in place to prevent this sort of abuse from being propagated again, so, why is it that Rome considers herself to be above or at least, beyond the law? She does not, in public, of course, but one only has to go and listen to a Catholic priest in full flow when the might of apostolic tradition as personified in the priestly role of the man at the front – the Vicar – God’s personal representative, harangues the flock for imperfect adherence to rules and catechisms, to see that as an organisation, she believes herself answerable only to God.
Atheism looks tempting at this juncture. But, this is the view, not of an atheist but of an outraged believer, albeit a persistent kicker against the goad of tradition and political enslavement that churches condemn their adherents to with such resounding moral virtue. The reader will perhaps surmise that I hold the office of priesthood in Vaticanus in scant esteem.
As a cul-de-sac, years ago when I read JB Phillips’ ‘Your God is Too Small’, I sensed that the majority of atheists had never encountered a plausible concept of God and they systematically reject playground dogma as a viable alternative to disbelief. They were still rejecting the man with the white beard that they had outgrown in their youth. It’s strange how our mathematics and literature courses become gradually more interesting as we get older and more competent to appreciate them but catechetics and theology remain for too long in kindergarten and thus become of little value as we mature. I think that atheists are frequently people who are either still working out adolescent authority issues ( so why am I not one, then?) or are sincere people waiting to believe in a truly glorious, transcendent God who is not imprisoned by fuzzy descriptions and restricted vision that many Christians – even popular and persuasive televangelists peddling the opium that Marx derided us for – communicate.
Living here, the imams in full flow remind me a little of Catholic priests. One does not need to speak Arabic to catch the passion, fire and vitriol of the preacher as he discourses at full volume, indeed the neighbourhood for several blocks receives full benefit. It all sounds less about a loving, merciful Allah and more about ghastly penalties for sin. But, perhaps I am mistaken and interfaith dialogue begins elsewhere. On a cheering note, by way of conclusion , the Romish heretics might take a leaf from Reverend Timothy Lovejoy’s book who said in a memorable episode of the Simpsons, when Marge Simpson refused to divorce Homer on the grounds that it was ‘sinful’, replied “just about everything is a sin, technically we can’t even go to the bathroom”.