I have been steering clear of the latest iteration of the child abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church because it is an ugly event that is generating a lot of heat but little light. That was before this headline sent me over the edge:
Sex Abuse Scandals Threaten to Taint Papacy
Cases in the U.S. and Italy are the latest in a burgeoning abuse scandal on both sides of the Atlantic that now threatens to tarnish the papacy itself.
This “taints” the papacy? As if the papacy has been a swell institution all of these years? This taints it? In no way am I diminishing the clear evidence of cover-ups and abuse of power in the child abuse scandals and certainly there are few things more horrifying than pedophilia. Even in an age where all manner of sexual deviancy is not only tolerated but celebrated most people still have a natural revulsion to the abuse of a child. Of course given the course of our culture, can “Pedophile Pride” parades be far away? But I digress. Let’s examine the idea that this latest scandal taints an otherwise pristine office….
Not the overseeing of innumerable horrific executions of “heretics” who committed crimes like translating the Bible into the language of the common people. Charming behavior like flaying people alive, ripping out tongues with tongs, burning in a variety of methods at the stake to inflict the maximum agony. All done with the approval of the papacy.
Not the grotesque manipulation of the various European states that caused them to take up the sword against one another and led to years of war that caused untold death and destruction or the incredibly costly and ill-advised wars to retake the “Holy Land” from the infidels. The Crusades may have started out as a reaction to invasions of Europe but in the end it was merely a cynical and heretical attempt to reclaim a piece of land by the sword under the banner of the cross.
Not the use of threats and torture to try to create “converts” during the Inquisition, declaring success when a person recanted under methods of torture that make waterboarding look like a day at the beach. Those same Inquisitors also had the role of sniffing out "heretics" and showing them the error of their ways through torture and murder.
Worst of all, not the distortion of the Gospel into a series of empty rituals and the perversion of the fellowship of the saints into a dead institution that has given countless people throughout the ages a false sense of hope based on religious rituals.
No, none of those acts of villainy tainted the papacy. Only now, in 2010, do we see an incident that taints that office. I recognize that there have been atrocities perpetrated by Protestants over the years and many are every bit as grotesque (just ask the Anabaptists). The difference is that when someone who claims to be an evangelical does something sinful and contrary to the Gospel, I can point it out without fearing that it damages the church. For Rome, her “pope” must be above reproach. Make no mistake that the scapegoats will be numerous and the deflections vociferous and the faux outrage of the Roman church over the “smear campaign” against the beloved pope will be over the top.
I have friends, family and co-workers who are Catholic. I make a distinction as best I can between individual Catholics, even local parish priests, and the institution in Rome headed by a man who adorns himself in regal attire befitting an earthly king, who accepts adoration as “Holy Father”, who claims to infallibly speak for Christ (“The Vicar of Christ”), a man who wags his finger disapprovingly at the wealthy of the world for ignoring the poor while living in unimaginable luxury, a man who permits and expects people to bow down before him and kiss his ring. To me the papacy is little different than any other authoritarian religious leader who leads people astray. Evangelical Christians used to recognize this in pretty stark language. The Westminster Confession referred to the papacy like this: VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God. That sort of language is jarring to our ears in an age of ecumenism and Manhattan Declarations. I guess it was easier to think of the papacy as Antichrist when you were so close to the time of burnings at the stake.
The papacy has been long tainted by fallible men claiming a place of preeminence that no man is been offered and no man has a right to. Joseph Ratzinger is no different, either when he was a mere cardinal or now that he styles himself Pope Benedict. The notion that after a millennium of heresy and inhuman acts in the defense of the power of Rome we suddenly find the papacy itself tainted is ridiculous. The very basis of the office of the papacy is tainted and an affront to the Gospel of Jesus Christ from its inception. It is high time that those who perpetrated these crimes against children be held to account and that those who enabled these crimes through overt actions or inexcusable indifference likewise be accountable as criminals.