Catholic Bishops Put Sex Obsession Ahead of Mission to the Sick and the Poor
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Bishops on Steroids
To many observers, the church's strong-arming of both House Democrats and the Democrats of the District of Columbia city council arrived as a sudden and unexpected show of force. Except for the election-year antics of individual bishops bent on denying the church's sacraments to pro-choice Catholic politicians, the institutional church has assumed a more reserved political posture in recent years. That may be, in part, that eight years of the Bush administration gave them less to oppose at the federal level in the way of abortion rights. But the big obstacle to the flexing of the the magisterial muscle in the political arena was the church's willingness to hide the sexual crimes of its priests -- crimes perpetrated against children, first exposed by the Boston Globe in 2002.
"And the sex abuse thing was on everybody's mind, and every time they tried to flex their muscles, somebody would bring up the sex abuse," Kissling explained. "So they didn't get as much of an opportunity to flex their muscles because their moral authority had been totally eroded. Nobody remembers anything for very long, you know? And now it's like, eight years, or whatever it's been since the sex-abuse thing, and so nobody's talking about that any more. And so now they can flex their muscles again."
By its own account, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reports that it has paid a total of $2.6 billion to settle sexual-abuse claims made against its priests. Since the Globe broke the story of of the bishops' practice of concealing the crimes of abusive priests while moving them from parish to parish, where they claimed additional victims, seven dioceses have filed for bankruptcy because of the abuse claims.
Just last month, the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, filed for federal bankruptcy protection on the eve of a civil trial about the church's role in the abuse scandal, after settlement negotiations with victims of priestly sex-abuse broke down. Bankruptcy protection could permit the diocese to keep secret for years to come what its leaders knew about the abuse, David Clohessy of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests told Bloomberg News, if long delays in the resolution of plaintiffs' lawsuits result from bankruptcy protection. "The crisis has always been about secrecy for church officials, from day one," he said. The bankruptcy filing put a hold on all 131 sex-abuse cases against the diocese.
Sex and Secrets in the Church
There is no small irony in the church's self-appointed role as the moral arbiter of human sexuality, whether in the areas of human reproduction or non-heterosexual sex. As an institution, it ranks among the world's most sexually dysfunctional. Its demands for life-long celibacy from its priests and nuns attract no small number people who are uncomfortable with their own sexuality -- be it something as benign and normal as homosexuality, or something criminal and predatory, as in the case of the priests who preyed on minors. Despite the high number of gay men in the priesthood -- most of them likely celibate -- speaking of their orientation publicly, while not expressly proscribed, is not exactly encouraged. The church addresses the sexuality of its own leaders by drawing a curtain around it, creating a culture of sexual secrecy that can only lead to dysfunction. By its actions, the church seems to say it's not the sex that's the sin, but evidence thereof. And that makes heterosexual sex primarily a woman's sin, evidenced by pregnancy, a dynamic that feeds the misogyny of the church's all-male leadership.
Many will argue that the church's anti-abortion position is not about sex; it's about the fetus, they will say. Yet if you take the church's fierce opposition to abortion -- without mercy even in cases of rape or incest -- in the context of its opposition to contraception, it becomes difficult to accept the notion that the church's dysfunction on matters of sexuality doesn't enter into the equation.