I found this on the Atlantic Wire’s best Sunday columns. It was aptly labeled by the Atlantic, if ham-handedly titled by the author. Maureen Dowd is unimpressed with the Vatican’s response to sex abuse. It’s convincing reading.
Let’s assume Dowd is right. The church didn’t orchestrate molestation, but they didn’t punish it sufficiently, didn’t help enough to stop it, played a few PR games, dragged their feet. Let’s assume they could have prevented some abuse, but didn’t. Let’s assume they’re still dragging their feet and prioritizing their own self-interest. What does that mean?
When a person starts molesting kids, you stop listening to them on morality. Almost all of the Church’s relevance has to do with morality: right/wrong, how to live, salvation, life/death. A lot of the important stuff is entirely dependent on moral credibility. So, should Catholics consider leaving the Church because of this? Even if you just write off the Church in Rome, they’re involved in all the oversight, training and credentialing that makes a priest a priest or a bishop a bishop. And you never know what they failed to catch or report in your community, even if it was something other than a molestation issue. It appeared to be a basic failure of accountability, not a specific policy to allow molestation. But, that calls into question most everything with the organization’s stamp on it.
Well, maybe not. The Church isn’t a school of philosophy. For the most part, the Church doesn’t formulate moral code. Supposedly, God’s already done a lot of that. They disseminate, implement and celebrate it. The most fundamental role of a church is telling us whether God exists, and if so, what are His rules. Can’t somebody be a jerk, and still talk to God and report back to us? If they’re the only one actually talking to God, isn’t that what’s important?
Well, the molestation matters a lot too. It’s not like boycotting a restaurant because the service is bad. It’s like if our Nation’s dairy producers were molesting us, we’d want to stop going to them, but we can’t give up milk. We’d need to find a way to get the bad people out of that industry. We’d criticize the grabby farmers, maybe fire a bunch and make changes, but we wouldn’t change our opinion about the health benefits, taste, storage and preparation instructions of milk.
And it’s kinda the same with religion. That’s where I disagree with Dowd. The fact that the Church enabled abuse doesn’t mean they should let women be priests. Whether women should be priests is a religious question: whether it pleases or serves God, or helps us to get to Heaven. That analysis hasn’t changed, and it’s still about the Church’s connection and understanding of God. If they know the secrets of salvation and eternity, then we should all listen up and follow (while fixing the abuse and removing bad people). If not, we should walk away from the Church regardless of how few kids they molest.
I don’t think the separation of these issues makes any bad acts less bad. But, it also doesn’t make any religion less godly.