Posts Tagged “clergy”

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, California / kkmd at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia CommonsHere’s a news story of a sort that I’m surprised is not more common than it is. The Los Angeles Times reports on the fall of a Roman Catholic hierarch in California (WebCite cached article):

From humble beginnings in southwest Mexico, Gabino Zavala entered the priesthood and embarked on a remarkable journey that landed him squarely in the corner offices of the nation’s largest Roman Catholic archdiocese. …

Popular and approachable, Zavala was widely known by his first name. To many, that sensibility made the Vatican’s announcement on Wednesday unthinkable: For more than a decade, Zavala had harbored a dark secret. He is the father, church officials said, of two children, and had resigned his post.

Zavala’s fatherhood, a violation of canon laws of celibacy for priests, was the first controversy to rock the local church during the tenure of Archbishop Jose Gomez, who succeeded Roger Mahony last year.

As usually happens with such revelations, this triggers the LA Times to ramble into a discussion of Catholic clerical celibacy:

Zavala’s resignation is likely to spark renewed debate over the ecclesiastical laws of celibacy. The earliest popes — St. Peter himself, under some interpretations — were married men and fathers. Later, in the fourth century, church officials concluded that men who were not celibate “shall be deprived of the honor of the clerical life.”

The idea was to mimic the sacrificing, chaste life of Jesus — for priests to be married, in a sense, to the church. But in recent years, hundreds of theologians have argued that the rules are dated and needlessly restrictive.

Actually, in spite of efforts beginning in the 4th century to make all clergy celibate, the fact is that this was not universally observed. By the 11th century, clerical marriages were still taking place, among the “secular clergy,” and the matter had to be addressed as part of the Gregorian Reforms.

And while the Catholic Church’s stated reason for priestly celibacy is to emulate Christ’s chastity, the actual reasons are a bit less spiritual and more mercenary than that. Clerical celibacy meant that priests no longer were having children (legitimate ones, anyway), so that church offices no longer passed automatically down from father to son; this in turn meant that church office appointments were made explicitly by the bishops and the Pope, giving them greater control over the Church and permitting them more nepotism. Another reason is that celibate priests don’t have families to take care of or worry about, eliminating the possibility that a priest’s loyalty to the Church might be diminished.

This last is the chief reason the Church will never willingly do away with priestly celibacy; it would cease to be a closed club of bachelors with few external influences. It would fundamentally change as an organization, in a way that would — almost by definition — reduce the hierarchs’ control. There’s no way they’d forfeit that, at least not without a fight.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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A member from the Greek Orthodox clergy (L) and a Palestinian use diesel to scrub the floor and columns of the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem December 28, 2011. REUTERS/Ammar AwadIt seems Christians have a hard time dealing with the fact that — for the most part — the legendary founder of their religion was an avowed pacifist. This is indisputable, and can easily be found in the pages of any Christian Bible (e.g. Mt 5:38-39 and Lk 6:29, just to name two citations quoting him directly on the matter). He’s even known to many Christians as “the Prince of Peace.” Unfortunately, many Christians purposely ignore Jesus’ overt pacifism, paying closer attention to another of his quotations (i.e. Mt 10:34), and they freely exhibit as much violence as they wish.

It’s particularly ironic that a bunch of Christian clergy — men who ought to know better than other Christians that Jesus had been a pacifist — decided to duke it out with one another, in the place where it’s long been presumed he was born. The AP reports via USA Today‘s On Deadline blog on this idiotic debacle (WebCite cached article):

Up to 100 Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic priests and monks swinging brooms clashed inside the Church of Nativity today in Bethlehem in a frenzied turf battle, the Associated Press reports. …

The fighting broke out during cleaning of the West Bank church in preparation for Orthodox Christmas celebrations in early January, as each side jealously guards its territory.

Sounds like these guys have a little growing up to do. It also sounds like this is the sort of jurisdictional conflict that ought to have been resolved long ago.

I was amused by the fact that Palestinian authorities — who have secular jurisdiction over the premises — have opted not to take any criminal action:

“It was a trivial problem that … occurs every year,” police Lieutenant-Colonel Khaled al-Tamimi tells Reuters. “Everything is all right and things have returned to normal.

He tells the news agency that there were no arrests “because all those involved were men of God.”

That’s right, folks. No crime apparently occurred here, because the people involved in the incident were “men of God.” This sort of reasoning sounds suspiciously like the same line of thinking that made it possible for so many priests and nuns to abuse so many children around the world for decades or centuries. Hmm. Maybe it’s time for a new mindset … one that admits the possibility that “men of God” may not actually be as perfect as others might wish they were?

Photo credit: Reuters/Ammar Awad (cached).

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Presbyterian Church CrossSlowly but surely, the doors of churches in the US are creaking open wider for gays. The New York Times reports that the Presbyterian Church will allow gays to be ordained (WebCite cached article):

After 33 years of debate, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has voted to change its constitution and allow openly gay people in same-sex relationships to be ordained as ministers, elders and deacons.

The outcome is a reversal from only two years ago, when a majority of the church’s regions, known as presbyteries, voted against ordaining openly gay candidates. …

Cynthia Bolbach, moderator of the church’s General Assembly, its highest legislative body, said in a phone interview from Minneapolis after the vote: “Everyone was civil. There was no applause, no cheering. It was just reflective of the fact that we are moving forward one other step.”

This particular lurch of progress hadn’t been anticipated, just a short time ago:

Although by the time the vote was taken in Minneapolis the outcome was expected, Presbyterian church officials said that even a few months ago they would not have predicted that the church was ready to change its policy.

“All of us are surprised,” said the Rev. Gradye Parsons, the church’s stated clerk, its highest elected official. He attributed the turnabout in the votes to both the growing acceptance of homosexuality in the larger culture, and to church members simply wearying of the conflict.

Conservative Presbyterians are, of course, not that happy:

Paul Detterman, executive director of Presbyterians for Renewal, an alliance of conservative Presbyterians, said: “We see this as a bit of a crisis of conscience for us. The book that we hold up as holy is saying one thing, and now the church is behaving differently.”

This is a reference, of course, to the militant Rightist mantra that “the Bible condemns homosexuality,” e.g. in Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13. But the Old Testament also decries many other things, for instance, eating shellfish (e.g. Leviticus 11:10-12 & Deuteronomy 14:10) and, perhaps more famously, pork (Leviticus 11:4-8 & Deuteronomy 14:7-8). If one believes Lev 18:22 must be obeyed literally, then quite obviously Lev 11:10-12 and 11:4-8 must be obeyed literally, too … no more shrimp scampi or baby-back ribs for these conservative Presbyterians!

Hat tip: Mark at Skeptics & Heretics Forum at Delphi Forums.

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Panorama magazine published photographs apparently showing homosexual priests attending gay nightclubs and engaging in casual sex.As if the Roman Catholic Church didn’t have enough problems, especially with misbehaving clergy, an Italian magazine has exposed priests in that country attending gay clubs and having sex in churches. The (UK) Telegraph reports on this Panorama magazine exposé (WebCite cached article):

A journalist from Panorama, a conservative weekly news magazine owned by Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, used a hidden camera to film interviews with three gay priests, who introduced the journalist to the gay clubs they apparently frequent, and allowed the journalist to film their sexual encounters with strangers, including one in a church building.

One of the priests, a Frenchman identified only as Paul, celebrated Mass in the morning before driving the two escorts he had hired to attend a party the night before to the airport, Panorama said.

The Panorama article (in Italian) is available online (cached version). The Catholic Church responded in a conflicted, paradoxical manner. On the one hand it denounced the priests involved and ordered them to quit the Church:

The Catholic Church in Italy, still reeling from the paedophile priest scandal, responded on Friday by ordering homosexual priests who are leading a double life to come out of the closet and leave the priesthood.

On the other hand, it denied the men filmed in the magazine exposé were Catholic priests:

The Vatican did not comment on the Panorama investigation, but a senior source said: “This is the usual silly season rubbish to attract readers during the quiet summer months.

“There is no proof that the people involved are from the clergy.”

This story has similarities to one that recently came to light in my own state of Connecticut, as a Catholic priest in the Nutmeg State has been charged with embezzling upwards of a million dollars from his own parish, spending it on various escapades in New York City, among other places (cached article).

In the Connecticut case, it was the archdiocese of Hartford that caught on to the priest’s antics and turned him in to the authorities — likely because they think he had stolen from them. But in Italy, the Church refuses to acknowledge the scandal. They remain delusionally in denial concerning the moral collapse which is rapidly consuming their organization. The facts speak for themselves, even if the Vatican refuses to accept them.

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Benedict XVI in FatimaPope Benedict XVI has come one tiny step closer to contrition over the Catholic clerical abuse scandal, and asked for forgiveness, as the New York Times reports (WebCite cached article):

Addressing the sexual abuse crisis from the seat of the Roman Catholic Church before thousands of white-robed priests, Pope Benedict XVI on Friday begged forgiveness, saying the church would do “everything possible” to prevent priests from abusing children. …

The pope did not outline specific actions that the church would take to combat abuse, as many had hoped — and as Benedict had pledged at an audience in April. Nor did his remarks go much beyond what he had already said in a letter to Irish Catholics in March and in a private meeting with victims of sexual abuse on Malta in April.

But it was the first time that Benedict had asked forgiveness for the crisis from St. Peter’s Square, the heart of the church itself, and on an occasion focused on priests.

Even so, the Pope could not help but try to evade responsibility for everything that happened:

The pope said the Devil was behind the scandal, saying it had emerged now, in the middle of the Vatican’s Year of the Priest, because “the enemy,” or the Devil, wants to see “God driven out of the world.”

“And so it happened that in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light — particularly the abuse of the little ones,” the pope added.

So you see, once again, the Vatican’s thinking implicit behind everything that’s happened … this is not really a failing of the Church and by the Church. It is, instead, an external affliction, imposed on the Church from outside it, by the Devil; in other words, it’s part of an ongoing spiritual struggle between the godly Church and the Forces of Darkness, and it’s the clergy who are its real victims (having popped up during the Year of the Priest). The “little ones” or children who were abused, are merely incidental players in this drama, in the Vatican’s eyes.

So while I can say the Pope has become more contrite about this scandal than he has been in the past, by not accepting full responsibility for it, I cannot really say is truly 100% contrite yet.

Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales).

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Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov (1887)To date I’ve blogged many times on the many Roman Catholic clerical-abuse scandals that have popped up around the world over the last decade or so, and especially the past few months. In January I blogged about an abuse victim’s personal observation that the priest who had viewed his actions as the result of a kind of spiritual contest between himself and the Devil, whom the priest had viewed as somehow being present in his child-victims, “tempting” him, and thus “forcing” the priest to abuse him. While this is a subjective account, it does neatly explain the Church’s reticence to deal with the matter of abusive priests, historically; according to this model, it’s the abusive priest — not the child he abuses — who’s the true “victim” in these crimes.

It’s rare that I see any suggestion of this “scandal-as-a-spiritual-contest” model mentioned in mass media reports, but it does come up here and there. It appeared, for example, in this (UK) Guardian article on the scandal and the Vatican’s reaction to it (WebCite cached article):

Italy’s foreign minister, Franco Frattini, said on his Facebook site that the pope was being subjected to “scandalous and disgraceful” attacks. One churchman, Antonio Riboldi, the emeritus bishop of Acerra, declared that it marked the start of a war “between the church and the world; between Satan and God”.

Note: Apparently the government of Italy is actively defending the Roman Catholic Church, even though there are new allegations of wrongdoing by priests at schools for the deaf in that country (cached article). I guess Italy doesn’t plan to investigate those, unlike other countries’ governments, which either have investigated abuse allegations (e.g. Ireland) or are working toward doing so (e.g. Germany).

The Vatican views itself as being “under attack” by the brutal and ruthless forces of “wicked secularism” and the Devil, which have long been bent on destroying the Catholic Church. This is reflected in this same article, in the words of Italian government officials:

Maurizio Ronconi, a leading Italian Christian Democrat, said: “For years, a masonic-secularist offensive against Catholics has been under way.”

A centre-left opposition MP, Pierluigi Castagnetti, said: “It is now quite clear that the campaign against the pope and the secretary of state of the holy see by certain great foreign newspapers is not fortuitous, nor does it stem from any journalistic right or duty, but is rather a precise design intended to strike the Catholic church at the top.”

Why, obviously! All these allegations are fabricated by “masonic secularists” and by “certain great foreign newspapers.” We all know the abuse never occurred. The masonic secularists and the newspapers paid folks all around the world to make up stories about how they were mistreated. They found hundreds, or thousands, of people to weave fantastic tales of abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy.

Yeah yeah that’s it! By the way, I have several thousand acres of Arizona swampland that’s going cheap; you’d better buy it quick before it’s all gone!

It’s become increasingly apparent that the Church and its defenders view this scandal, overall, in the same way that the abusive priests themselves may view their own behavior … as a diabolical attack within a larger cosmic spiritual war. This is why they are so quick to defend themselves and deny everything; to admit any wrongdoing or fault within their organization would be to grant the Devil, and the “masonic secularists,” a “win” in this larger spiritual conflict. And they don’t want that.

If I am correct — and this is the mindset the Catholic Church and its defenders adhere to — then there is no way this will ever be resolved. Any evidence of clerical wrongdoing or hierarchical cover-ups will be viewed as being diabolical in origin, and will be rejected and fought off. Investigations by secular governments, and any internal or external pressure to “change,” will also be viewed as diabolical assaults on the eternal and “godly” Church, and likewise be actively resisted.

Lastly … does anyone know what a “masonic secularist” is? As far as I know, this phrase is a contradiction in terms, because in order to become a Freemason, a man must also believe in some deity. Thus, a mason literally cannot be a “secularist” in the strictest sense.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Pope Benedict XVI has apologised to victims of sex abuse / Telegraph photoAfter dispatching his network of parish priests in Ireland to read his letter to Irish Catholics, which ostensibly acknowledged the misdeeds there (it even referred to them as “criminal”), the very next Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI proceeded to use Bible passages to justify the evil that had been done to children in the R.C. Church’s care. The (UK) Telegraph writes about his latest address (WebCite cached article):

Campaigners had hoped that after his seven page letter on Saturday to Irish victims of child abusing priests in which he said he was “truly sorry” the Pope would use his weekly sermon to apologise in public.

But he failed to do so and instead he asked Roman Catholics around the world to be “indulgent towards sinners and pray to God to ask for forgiveness for our failings.”

He used as an example the Bible parable from John’s Gospel in which Christ asks people about to stone an adulteress: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Honestly, I can’t think of any other way to describe this, than to call it “rubbing salt into Ireland’s wounds”:

The pontiff didn’t mention his letter chastising Ireland’s church hierarchy as he made his weekly appearance Sunday from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square. He cited the Gospel passage about Jesus’ inviting those without sin to cast the first stone toward an adulterer.

“While acknowledging her sin, he does not condemn her, but urges her to sin no more,” Pope Benedict said. told English-speaking pilgrims in the square. “Trusting in his great mercy toward us, we humbly beg his forgiveness for our own failings, and we ask for the strength to grow in his holiness.”

The Pope here is actually asking people not to “condemn” the child-rapists, child-beaters, and assorted other criminals who hid behind their vestments, cassocks and habits, and were sheltered for decades by the Catholic hierarchy. How nice of him. Let’s go over the many moral and contextual errors in the Pope’s use and abuse of one of the most famous gospel passages, shall we?

The story of “the woman taken in adultery” is found in the gospel of John, and the original passage is as follows:

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:1-11)

Let’s look at this. First, the Pope is comparing the ongoing and often systematic abuse of children, by adults, with a single instance of adultery, which is a consensual act between two adults. How, exactly, is there any equivalence here? If there is one, I can’t see it.

Second, this gospel story implies that the woman was at least remorseful, and it’s possible that she did, in fact, “sin no more” after this episode. The Roman Catholic clergy who abused children in their care, however, have been anything but remorseful, and they abused children for decades, often going on to later victims even after having been caught; and they were consciously protected by an organization that supported them and frequently prevented them from being prosecuted. Here again, an equivalence fails.

Usually it’s the fundamentalist Christians who abuse scripture in order to justify doing the wrong thing … but in this case it’s none other than the head of the Roman Catholic Church who’s doing so. Obviously he has no shame, no remorse, and no understanding of what has been going on in his own Church. But conveniently, he does know just enough to be able to use Jesus’ own putative words to tell people not to “judge” criminality within the Church he ostensibly commands.

Photo credit: Telegraph.

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