The Pope’s Martyrdom Complex

Lately, it seems that every time the Pope shows his face, it’s to scold a country that’s giving people more rights than the Catholic church would prefer them to have. Just consider this report from his recent trip to Spain:

Pope Benedict XVI criticized an “aggressive” anti-church sentiment in Spain that he said was reminiscent of the country’s bloody civil war era as he began a two-day visit Saturday to rekindle the faith.

…Benedict told reporters en route to Santiago that the anticlericalism seen now in Spain is like that of the 1930s, when the church suffered a wave of violence and persecution as the country lurched from an unstable democracy to civil war.

The reference was striking, given the scale of violence back then, when poverty-stricken and disgruntled Spaniards burned churches and murdered priests and nuns whom they considered obstacles to much-needed change. The church claims 4,184 clergy were killed by the government, or Republican side, which accused the church of backing fascist Gen. Francisco Franco.

Nowadays, the church finds itself fighting laws supported by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialist government that have allowed gay marriage, fast-track divorce and easier abortions.

It’s emblematic of the church’s attitude toward the outside world these days that it’s developed such a ridiculous and disproportionate sense of self-pity, one that equates expanded rights for gays and women with the bloody slaughter of a fascist regime. (It did my heart good, however, to see Spain’s Prime Minister Zapatero shun the Pope, relegating him to a brief meeting at the very end of his trip. I wish more world leaders would do the same, or better yet, ignore him altogether.)

Still, it seems the gods have a sense of irony, because lately, every time the Pope wags his finger at us, we find out that he’s using his other hand to push child molesters behind the shelter of his gold robes. It’s happening in yet another conservative Catholic country, this time in Chile, where it’s emerged that church officials sheltered a suspected pedophile for years.

The story in Chile is the same as those that have come out of other countries: bishops and cardinals ignored numerous accusations against the Rev. Fernando Karadima, refused to open an investigation, and coerced and shamed witnesses to get them to recant. One church official went so far as to pressure a victim to drop his request for an annulment – because the trauma of being sexually abused by Karadima had destroyed the man’s marriage, and the church didn’t want that to become publicly known.

Meanwhile, in Rome, the Vatican called out paramilitary police to block a march by victims of clergy sex abuse:

Participants, who reported having been raped or otherwise molested by Catholic clerics as children, flocked to Rome for the candlelit march. They came from a dozen countries and held signs with slogans including “Hands off children.”

…At a briefing before the march, participants stood up one by one to tell how their lives had been destroyed by the abuse they suffered as children. Many recounted years of drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and other psychological and emotional problems.

This trail of shattered lives is what came of the Pope’s indifference – of his continued indifference, since as this story shows, he’s still determined to do no more than the bare minimum. Permitting survivors of sex abuse to actually protest publicly at the heart of his power is obviously something that this pompous medieval princeling would never allow.

And finally, there’s this:

Belgium’s Catholic primate Tuesday faced accusations of homophobia and calls to resign for saying AIDS was justly deserved and elderly child-abusing priests should be spared.

…In a book released last month, Leonard said of HIV carriers: “When you mistreat the environment it ends up mistreating us in turn. And when you mistreat human love, perhaps it winds up taking vengeance.”

But when it comes to child-raping priests, Leonard’s views on vengeance suddenly do an about-face:

Priests who abused children in their care, Leonard went on television to say, must be made aware of what they did, “but if they’re no longer working, if they have no responsibilities, I’m not sure that exercising a sort of vengeance that will have no concrete result is humane.”

Leonard’s spokesman, who took the job only three months ago, resigned after these remarks with the memorable explanation: “Monsignor Leonard at times acts like a motorist driving on the wrong side of a freeway who thinks all the other motorists are wrong.” He’s one of the rare Catholics to show a sense of conscience over the lives destroyed by the church’s secrecy, arrogance and clinging to false dogma. If the church continues its obstinance, though, I have hope that he’ll be far from the last.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Katie M

    Is anyone keeping track of how many Catholics are leaving the church? I’d be very interested to see the numbers.

  • Adele

    It is, I know, sadly few. It’s astounding to me that the Catholic church has any followers left, but then – I was not raised Catholic.

  • Nathaniel

    Unfortunately, the church isn’t shrinking, more like relocating. Even as it sheds members in Europe and to a lesser extent in the Americas, it is gaining millions of members in Africa, and some in Asia as well. By the next generation, the church may very well have transferred to have become a mostly third world religion.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Germany seems to be suffering the greatest loss of Catholics.

    it is gaining millions of members in Africa, and some in Asia as well. By the next generation, the church may very well have transferred to have become a mostly third world religion.

    Where it will be competing head to head with Islam. Interesting.

  • Douglas Kirk

    Most of my family (that is, everyone except for two, my father [baptist] and myself) is catholic, and I am ashamed to say they’re standing strong in defence of the catholic church. They seem to take the position that “the problem” has been blown way out of proportion by the media and that the church ahs been regularly turning their rapists over to authorities. Whenever they ask, I present them with evidence that they are indeed mistaken they accuse me of being molested in the past (I wasn’t but I really don’t understand how that strengthens their argument) or they throw out the law of averages and bunker up with their rosaries.

    I am unfortuantely sad to say that, in my experience, most catholic families respond to the rape of children by priests (I refuse to call it molestation. To me that is too generous) in this manner.

  • Robert Tobin

    So Der Führer von Der Vatican Reich, Herr Papst Ratslinger sent out his SS and Gestapo to deal with protestors. He was well trained by the Hitler Youth.

  • http://twitter.com/jtradke jtradke

    My fellow unbeliever’s fundamental misunderstanding of Catholicism is that for most of them, it’s an identity before it’s a belief system. People aren’t going to stop being Catholics because of the sins of the church leadership anymore than I stopped being American because of the actions of the Bush presidency.

    Moreover, plenty of them recognize that the pope is a shitty guy and that the rapes and cover-ups are despicable; but that obviously isn’t evidence that God doesn’t exist, or that Jesus wasn’t crucified, or that the joyous sacraments that have been central to their lives until now are null and void. So why would they stop being Catholic?

  • http://neatshirts.blogspot.com Abeille

    Comment #7 by jtradke
    [I]t’s an identity before it’s a belief system.

    I agree with you. I know a few cradle Catholics who do not know enough about their faith to be able to even practice/understand it yet still identify as “Catholic.”

    They don’t understand the role of the Pope in the church and/or they buy into the idea that Catholics are persecuted uniquely.

  • Barney

    “He’s one of the rare Catholics to show a sense of conscience over the lives destroyed by the church’s secrecy, arrogance and clinging to false dogma.”

    He’s one of the rare Catholics to show a sense of conscience over the lives destroyed by the church’s secrecy, arrogance and clinging to false dogma that is newsworthy and hence reported. Catholics who don’t show a sense of conscience in relation to the abuse stories are the minority. Many of the more reported victim support groups and protest actions are run for Catholics by Catholics. By definition, most of the victims were (and still are) Catholics.

    I think you might’ve meant “He’s one of the rare members of the Catholic clergy to specifically break with the authoritative church line in a show of a sense of…” — assuming you’re not implying that you believe all Catholics are complicit with the cover-up of sex abuse in the church.

    Overall cogent piece — but that last line is needlessly generalist in its antagonism — could alienate people who would otherwise be swayed by your coverage.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    In the U.K some conservative Anglican Bishops are defecting to Rome leaving one Church because it ordains women, for another Church that protects paedophiles. Bizarre logic!

  • Maria

    Robert Tobin,while I don’t think anything of the pope, this comment was pathetic and shows your ignorance.

    to the other comments, I agree, to many catholics are still in and I found many are excusing the church (my mom told me month before the scandal in Germany started that “something like this couldn’t happen in Germany”)–Catholics leaving the church: I just did -for various reasons but I hope it’s taken the right way: that I don’t agree with the church and that I don’t want to support pedophiles.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ Spanish Inquisitor

    Catholics don’t leave the church, at least not formally. I never did anything formal. They just stop participating.

    I think I read somewhere that the Church still counts you as a member as long as you were baptized and are still alive, regardless of your own personal feelings.

    On the other hand, how could they possibly keep track?

  • Alex Hart

    I really hope that one day people realize that the most amazing thing about the pope is the cool hat he gets to wear. Honestly, if a country isn’t a Catholic Theocracy, the pope can butt the fuck out. (See what I did there?). I’ll begin caring about the churches governmental opinions when they start paying taxes, and only care insomuch as I would a neighbour or anyone else for that matter.

  • anna

    Most people don’t bother to get excommunicated by the Catholic church, so the church still counts them as members. You can get excommunicated by following the steps here (won’t cost you anything): http://www.atheistfoundation.org.au/articles/easy-steps-excommunication

  • Em

    Seriously, Benedict? I wonder what he would compare an actual major lawsuit against the Catholic church for the entire decades-long pedophilia cover-up campaign to, since he’s using up his extreme comparisons pretty rapidly. (Can the whole church be sued, like McDonald’s, or does having an independent territory get around that?)

  • Eurekus

    I can’t wait until he tries to scold Australia with our largely secular government and the population’s overwhelming pro gay marriage stance. Aren’t we going to have fun?

  • Katie M

    “I wonder what he would compare an actual major lawsuit against the Catholic church for the entire decades-long pedophilia cover-up campaign to, since he’s using up his extreme comparisons pretty rapidly.”

    Maybe he’d compare it to the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire? It’s the only extreme comparison I can think of at the moment.

  • Broggly

    http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2010/1107/In-Spain-Pope-Benedict-XVI-lambasts-aggressive-secularism

    ““Spain is a bastion of the Catholic Church in Europe. It doesn’t treat all religions equally. It has preferential treatment for the Church,” says Ferran Requejo, a political science professor in the Universidad de Barcelona. “Relations with the government have been cold for some time and the Vatican has been pushing to weaken the secular push.”

    The Vatican has also been aiming to derail a government electoral promise to reform “religious freedom” legislation that is now broadly considered discriminatory against other faiths.

    It has been indefinitely postponed, though, to avoid further alienating Catholics as the government is already facing massive discontent over the economic crisis.

    Spain is not officially secular, as most western states are. Rather, it is legally neutral in terms of religion, implying it is a faith-based state. In practice that has translated into huge benefits for the Catholic Church that leaders from other religions, namely Muslims, Protestants, and Jews, say are unconstitutional because they are discriminated against when getting access to government aid and public space.

    In Santiago, Benedict XVI met the leader of the main opposition Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy, who has promised to turn back secular laws passed by the Zapatero government if elected.”

    In this case it seems “aggressive secularism” doesn’t just mean accepting gay rights and womens’ rights, but also treating non-catholics as equal citizens of Spain. That’s pretty bad.

  • http://twoangryvoices.blogspot.com Aegis

    This is the same waste of skin who said TWICE in his keynote speech to Britain that equality should not trump ‘fidelity to the faith’ – adherence to Catholic bigotry. He mentioned Catholics being forced to act against their consciences in the name of eliminating discrimination…so apparently acting *with* their consciences would mean discriminating against someone. I don’t know how much more openly he could endorse hate crimes in Britain and get away with it.

  • David

    I can understand why people are upset, but not why they are surprised.

    The Catholic Church HAS to fight disestablishment wherever it can, or it will fall into the dustbin of history. The Pope is simply looking out for the best interest of the organization which he has been chosen to lead.

    That his agenda does not coincide, in any way, with modern humanist political ideas worries him not at all. The Church would prefer the Western world to still be divided into Absolute monarchies…

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I’m not sure that anyone is much surprised. I merely think their sense of contempt is aroused. I know mine is.

  • MissCherryPi

    My fellow unbeliever’s fundamental misunderstanding of Catholicism is that for most of them, it’s an identity before it’s a belief system. People aren’t going to stop being Catholics because of the sins of the church leadership anymore than I stopped being American because of the actions of the Bush presidency.

    Moreover, plenty of them recognize that the pope is a shitty guy and that the rapes and cover-ups are despicable; but that obviously isn’t evidence that God doesn’t exist, or that Jesus wasn’t crucified, or that the joyous sacraments that have been central to their lives until now are null and void. So why would they stop being Catholic?

    DING DING DING! A winner is you, jtradke. My parents have read articles like these and said things like “Jesus Christ, the Pope is evil. But I will be GOD DAMNED if a Nazi like him will take my church away from me.” They’re involved with their parish outreach and and have a hard time with the contraction of the good works of the soup kitchen around the corner with the atrocities in the Vatican.

    I’m familiar with the cognitive dissonance of Catholic identity – I have not received communion since 2004. When asked my religion I say “Unitarian Universalist without qualification. And yet I have never been able to call that man “The Pope” or “Pope Benedict.” I have always called him Cardinal Ratzinger. I was aware of his extreme views when he was elected and it was too awful to think that this man was the leader of something that was so important to my identity and psyche.

  • Julanar

    So if you don’t like the corrupt Catholic authorities and think that the church truly belongs to YOU, then why not break away and start your own church? Lots of people have done it in the past. And if you want to stay because of the charity work, why not join one of the hundreds of non-Catholic charities in the world? Or start your own charity to go along with your own church?

    If you want to prove that you really care about the bad aspects of the Catholic church, you need to DO something. Simply paying lip service to your disapproval does nothing.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Is anyone keeping track of how many Catholics are leaving the church? I’d be very interested to see the numbers.

    I haven’t been able to find more information to corroborate this, but the Times just ran this article on renewed interest in exorcism among Catholic bishops (yes, exorcism), which referred to a poll showing “the loss of one of every three white baptized members”. The article also speculated, and I find this plausible, that the church is feeling so battered by scandal, some of them feel the need to reassert their claims of control over the supernatural to bolster their moral authority. (Good luck with that.)

    I think you might’ve meant “He’s one of the rare members of the Catholic clergy to specifically break with the authoritative church line in a show of a sense of…” — assuming you’re not implying that you believe all Catholics are complicit with the cover-up of sex abuse in the church.

    That’s true, Barney, but I think the broader point is valid as well. Although there are certainly many Catholics with conscience who are revolted by these scandals, as in my link or Steve Bowen’s, the large majority of Catholics have neither left the church or ceased their support of it.

    I understand that there are probably a lot of Catholics who keep going to church out of a sense of history and tradition, or because they want to participate in church-backed social services, or for any number of other reasons that don’t involve a sense of fealty to the pope. I understand that relatively few of them directly condone what the church has done. But they have to face facts: if you show up in the pews, if you put money in the collection plate, you are sending the Vatican a message that they don’t need to change their ways. The Church isn’t a democracy, and ordinary believers have no voice in how it’s run. The only way they can voice their disapproval is by disassociating themselves, and at this point, I think that’s the only moral option.

  • Scotlyn

    The Irish website http://www.countmeout.ie was set up to facilitate the large numbers of Irish Catholics who did wish to leave the church in an official way. This site, and the numbers of people who followed it’s instructions, obviously was successful enough to have a noticeable impact. The site has now posted a “suspension” notice in response to recent changes made in Canon Law, specifically to block this “way out” – as described here. This has placed a lot of Irish “defections” from the Catholic Church in abeyance, as described by Irish journalist Una Mullaly here. It seems the Church no longer wishes to provide any official way out – so it can still “officially” number everyone baptized as a Catholic.

    There will be an Irish census next year – 2011, and some of us are campaigning to have everyone who does not consider themselves a Catholic by faith and in conscience (as opposed to culture and identity) to list themselves as having “no religion.”

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    Catholics don’t leave the church, at least not formally. I never did anything formal. They just stop participating.

    I think I read somewhere that the Church still counts you as a member as long as you were baptized and are still alive, regardless of your own personal feelings.

    On the other hand, how could they possibly keep track?

    SI, from what I’ve heard, requests for excommunication don’t really get anywhere either.

    As for how they keep track, they don’t have to. God keeps track! LOL!

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I bet if you uttered a few well-placed blasphemies in confession you could expedite matters.

  • Alex, FCD

    I bet if you uttered a few well-placed blasphemies in confession you could expedite matters.

    Maybe tell the Bishop the joke about why all the girls like Jesus?


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