Should People and Governments Shun the Totalitarian Catholic Church?
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When a totalitarian regime aids and abets the rape of tens of thousands of children one would expect it to be shunned by governments and citizens alike. And any statements it might issue on matters of morality accorded no respect.
Why should we make an exception when the regime is the Catholic Church?
That the Roman Catholic Church is totalitarian is undeniable. Church law itself makes this clear. Canon 331 declares the Pope “the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.”
Canon 333 emphasizes the remarkable power this institution endows in one man, “No appeal or recourse is permitted against a sentence or decree of the Roman Pontiff.”
And whenever the Pope chooses he can issue decrees related to faith and morals that not only have the power of law but must be considered irrefutable, at least since 1870 when the Church declared the Pope “possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer wished His Church to be endowed.”
The entire hierarchy of the Catholic Church is at the mercy of the Pope. He appoints bishops and can impose his directives on the lowliest priests and nun.
I hasten to note that the Church was not always totalitarian. The first Christian communities were remarkably democratic. For at least the first 100 years after Jesus Christ was killed, during the time Matthew and Luke and John and Mark wrote the Gospels, women (yes, women) as well as men directly elected church leaders. But that was before a new religion metastasized into the world’s most powerful, centralized and enduring institution.
That the Catholic Church is guilty of widespread rape is also undeniable. A few years ago there was a spate of news items when sexual abuse cases first surfaced in Boston and a few other cities. Media coverage since then has withered but the issue has not. Just the opposite. In 2011 allegations of sexual abuse of minors have spread to 26 countries. In just one case in the United States the Churchagreed to pay $250 million in compensation to about 700 abused males and females. The Netherlands has documented almost 2000 cases.
Following the publication in July of the fourth report since 2005 documenting sexual abuses by Catholic clergy in Ireland, its Minister for Children and Youth Affairs observed that the abuses described “would be horrifying if it were done to prisoners of war, never mind little boys and girls.” The Irish Prime Minister and parliament publicly denounced the Vatican for its culpability.
The human toll of decades of exploitation and predation can get lost in the fog of statistics but comes through clearly in individual stories. Like that of Katherine Mendez who related her horrifying account to Kimberly A.C. Wilson of the Oregonian last March. Katherine was “11 years old when she was raped at St. Mary’s Mission School in Omak, Washington moments after she scuffled with another student and was brought into the office of Father John J. Morse. The sexual abuse continued from the sixth grade into eighth grade she said. And even after Mendez left the school and moved in with a foster family in Selah, 200 milers away, the priest tracked her down to continue the abused. “Every day, every single day, it was a nightmare”, says Mendez. “I was always looking over my shoulder.”
In November the overwhelmingly Catholic country of Ireland took the extreme step of shutting its embassy in the Vatican. (The Vatican has been a state since 1929, when it was granted that status by Benito Mussolini in return for its support for his dictatorship. Comprising 110 acres, an area smaller than Washington’s National Mall, and 800 people Vatican City is by far the smallest nation in the world.)