A fine rant from Scott Paeth on the U.S. Catholic bishops

Scott Paeth responds to the U.S. Catholic bishops‘ efforts to prevent insurance from covering women’s health care.

Due in part to my own family’s recent interactions with that bunch, I particularly liked this part of Paeth’s post:

In all honesty, my first reaction to any attempt by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to make any kind of moral argument, least of all one involving sexuality, is to want to say “Shut up, old man.” And no Bishop who is honest about the negligence and criminal malfesence of the Catholic Church around the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of allegations of child molestation and rape around the world over the last half century should expect any other response.

How can any Bishop expect to exercise moral authority, particularly in the authoritarian “do it because I say so” manner that they use, given their record. Every single solitary Bishop should be on his hands and knees begging for forgiveness from both those they’ve directly harmed, and from every Christian, Catholic and non-Catholic, for the damage that they have done to the church. The Bishops, through their choices, erased 2,000 years of authority over the period of a few decades. And why? To protect their own institutional position while shielding absolute moral monsters from being held accountable for acts that were both criminal and detestable. There is no excuse. And it will probably take another 2,000 years for them to regain that authority. In the mean time, the only thing I want to hear from a Bishop is the phrase “I’m sorry.”

… As to the merits of the argument about church institutions and contraception, there are none. …

The real issue, of course, isn’t that the Bishops don’t want to be asked to provide contraception. The real issue is that they don’t want women to have access to contraception. They don’t care who’s providing it, they don’t think women should have it, and so they think that society should prevent them from getting it. That is the heart of this controversy.

In a pluralistic society, the Bishops want to act as though they are not only princes of the church, but princes of the United States as well. But given that the only real authority they wield is moral, and that they have so completely squandered that authority, they have nothing of substance to say to those of us who will not be cowed by their shiny robes and view them as being morally bankrupt and of no use when it comes to spiritual guidance. They have no power to coerce, and no ability to persuade, so they try to change the subject, and hope we won’t notice that once again they’re lying to us.


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  • pharoute

    and I’d like to add… um… nope that pretty much nailed it.

  • “The Bishops, through their choices, erased 2,000 years of authority over the period of a few decades.”

    Only the last few decades?  I’m less inclined to believe that the problem itself began to happen a few decades ago, and I’m far more inclined to believe that the problem has been happening a lot longer than that, and it’s merely the awareness of it that’s begun to materialize over the past few decades.  I doubt it could be proven without unrestricted access to records that very likely were either never kept or were buried in very secret and restricted places, but I still find the latter case much easier to believe, simply because it used to be a whole lot harder for bad news about the Church to become news, period, than it is now .. 

  • Green Eggs and Ham

    I’d like to hear a bishop say, “To which police precinct shall I and my fellow accused report?”

    “To whom shall I make out the cheque?” isn’t half bad either.

    “Yes, secular law applies to priests and bishops too.” would cause a full-on cardiac arrest.

  • Anonymous

    The Bishops’ fatal mistake was forgetting that as leaders of an organized religion in a secular nation, they are Whores of Babylon, not Babylon itself. Had they kept out of sight and contented themselves with trysts in the cloakrooms of Congress and late-night romancing in the Roosevelt Room, they’d have had a better chance getting what they they wanted, but like many a mistaken mistress to the mighty, they stepped from the boudoir, their lips still glistening with the filth of their fornications, and demanded the same rights and considerations as Babylon’s much-neglected wife. (That’d be us.)

  • Aguilaoro88

    Shout this from the hills.  Write this on the mountains.  Cut the rivers to spell it.  Write it on the moon.  Let this be the beginning of a righteous and angry storm in the United States.  Let us see these criminal princes in chains before a row of judges, and let us see them in chains as they march into our jails – and, for the select few masterminds, march out the other end towards the gallows.  Let us churn them out of our body politic, ending in that sweet moment when they – all of them, from the highest to the lowest, from the cardinals to the assistant deacons – are prodded at gunpoint onto ships waiting at Annapolis to take them home to Rome, never again to darken our shores.

    What more needs be said, needs be done to convince the civilized world that this is an agency they need not appease any longer, that these priests and potentates are a cancer on a free and healthy society?

    I weep profusely for those brought up in this evil system and have known nothing else, just as I weep for the North Koreans.

  • In all honesty, my first reaction to any attempt by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to make any kind of moral argument, least of all one involving sexuality, is to want to say “Shut up, old man.”

    Ad hominem, no?

  • Aguilaoro88

    Some hominems need to get added.

  • When I saw that sentence I thought, “since when has the Catholic Church ever had any moral authority?” The hierarchy has been corrupt since its inception. Murdering so-called “heretics,” popes going to war, priests raping nuns and altar boys, the Crusades, anti-semitism, gynocide with the witch burnings, inquisitions, opposing science, not allowing women to be priests, opposing the distribution of condoms in AIDS-wracked nations, on and on and on. 

  • Anonymous

    An ad hominem argument is only fallacious if it’s unrelated to the topic. While I’m sure we could argue the relevance of “old,” the “man” part is certain on-point.

    Hehehe, I said “man part.” /beavis

  •  I’m not sure I can even parse this.

    But it’s worth pointing out that the “filth of their fornications” is less the issue than the lack of unencumbered adult consent involved.

    Your… poetry… rather glosses over this point.

  • Aguilaoro88

    It’s not in reference to their evil deeds with children, but rather to the illicit cooperation between their authorities and the legitimate powers in this country, ie elected officials.

    Took me like 4 sweeps to figure it out, though, and I’m usually pretty quick with this stuff.

  • Katie

     To be totally fair, witch burning was a Protestant thing.

  • ako

    I’m pretty sure it’s a metaphor (a slightly confusing one, since the crimes involved literal sexual acts as well). 

    Still, it’s telling that calling the Catholic Church the Whore of Babylon can sound like sugarcoating its actual crimes.

  • Here’s a quote from Wikipedia: “In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII issued Summis desiderantes affectibus, a Papal bull authorizing two inquisitors, Kramer and Sprenger, to systemize the persecution of witches. As a result, the notorious Malleus Maleficarum was published in 1487, at the very end of the medieval period, ushering in the period of witch hunts in Early Modern Europe which would last for the following two centuries.”

    I took a class on the persecution of “witches” during the Renaissance. The Catholic Church was mitre-deep in that blood.

    Edit: by the way, the young, handsome, charismatic professor who taught that class, on whom I had a serious crush that still hasn’t really died, was a Catholic. He did not mince words about the church’s crimes.

  • Quinnthebrain

    History instructor here.  Yes, both Prots and Caths were deep into the witchburning craze.  In fact, it often took the form of a more localized inquisition or religious war in areas like England and Germany which were suffering from intense religious splits during the 1500s.

    And the one thing they could agree on?  The overwhelming majority of those “witches” were women. 

  • Ian needs a nickname

    The bishops had 2000 years of moral authority?  In addition to witch burning: the crusades, the inquisition, support for Spanish/Portugese colonialism (legitimization of slavery and conversion at sword-point) the persecution of early modern scientists, enthusiastic support for Franco’s fascist Spain, etc, etc.

    There are some individual Bishops who continue to have great moral authority, but Augustine has authority because he’s Augustine, not because he was a Bishop.

  • P J Evans

     I think the first few centuries, before they had any real power, they were probably more moral than they are now, because they were made bishops by the people in their churches, and could be unmade by them just as easily.
    All the talk about apostolic succession and St Peter is justification for their power and wealth, not a reason for it, IMO.

  • P J Evans

    True. The Catholics mostly burned heretics. Like Giordano Bruno and Jeanne d’Arc.

  • Anonymous

     Reminder that Jeanne d’Arc was burned by the English and the whole thing was far more political than religious.

  • Anonymous

    The problem with the Bishops current effusions about contraception is that they show that the hierarchy has learned nothing from what should have been a humbling failure around the child sex abuse scandal. What are we to make of shepherds who not only let wolves in to prey on their sheep, but keep moving them from sheepfold to sheepfold. The worse I ever heard about that was that it was a ‘grievous fault’; it was left to contraception to be an ‘inherent evil’. Really?

    What of the ‘rhythm method’? Isn’t that still the only acceptable form of contraception as taught by the Church? So is contraception evil or only effective contraception?

    I’ve heard that the Church doesn’t want pregnancy to ‘be treated like a disease’–and yet, pregnancy and childbirth used to be one of the biggest killers of women and still causes medical problems. Some women get or stay pregnant at risk of their lives. So, WTF are they talking about?

  • Lori


    So is contraception evil or only effective contraception? 

    Only effective contraception is evil, because it allows women to enjoy sex. The ‘rhythm method’ is OK because A) it totally messes up your sex life by making it, and you, the slave of your cycle rather than an expression of your sexuality and B) doesn’t work worth a shit, no matter how much you obsess over it. Joy of sex ruined. Woman pregnant whether she wants to be or not. Mission accomplished.

  • Ad hominem? Are there Catholic Bishops that are not old men? It sounds like a statement of fact rather than an argument of any kind, and far more polite than the less insulting but more vulgar ‘Stah-Foo’. 

  • Joel Hanes

     I thought for a minute he was referring to the owner of the superb and long-extinct blog “Body and Soul”.

  • Tonio

    How is “moral authority” being defined here? The term sounds like the bishops are claiming to be the world’s morality police. But the column and many of the posts seem to imply that it’s about being examples of moral behavior.

  • I’ll gladly tell all the Roman Catholic hierarchy to shut the fuck up and sit their asses DOWN. When the Pope himself comes to Canada, looks every Aboriginal in the eye and apologizes sincerely and profusely for the damage wrought to generations of their children in the residential school program, then I might be inclined to grant any notion that any figure from that church has any right to claim moral authority on so much as pricking a balloon with a pin.

  • To my mind, authority is a social construct that leads others to defer to, or at least take seriously, my judgment on questions where I am authoritative. For example, moral authority is a social construct that leads others to defer to, or at least take seriously, my judgments about morality.

    This is different from policing morality, although anyone who successfully polices morality will probably come to develop moral authority. That is, if I am (for whatever reason) able to go around telling people what to do and avoid doing in the name of morality, a lot of people will begin deferring to my judgments about morality even when I’m not around to police them. (Some won’t, though, and a lot depends on specifics.)

    It’s also different from behaving morally, although if I am seen to behave immorally that will probably lead to the loss of my moral authority. For example, if I’m a moral authority within a community and then it comes out that I have been knowingly participating in the abuse of that community’s children, a lot of people will stop deferring to my judgments about morality.

  • Tonio

     Thanks for the explanation. You’re talking about authority in the knowledge and judgement sense. My point about “policing morality” is that the Church is the type of religious organization that claims an inherent authority about morality whether or not people defer to its judgments. It amounts to “Right and wrong are whatever we as the Church say those are, because we know what’s best for everyone.” I’ve said many times that authoritarianism is not morality.

  • Lori

    The morality police just keep showing us how it’s done. The Diocese of Sacramento has decided to stop funding a local homelss shelter because the director, a United Methodist minister, is pro choice and supports marriage equality.

    Yes, you read that correctly—they’re so very holy & principled that they refuse to help provide homeless people with shelter, food & other aid because they don’t like opinions that have nothing to do with the shelter or how the director does her job.


    If the Catholics don’t want to fund any services that don’t conform to their beliefs or any services provided by people who publically disagree with their beliefs that is obviously their right. I do wonder if they’ve considered the long game here though. The Church gets away with a lot of crap because they do so much good and they provide so much charity, and blah, blah, blah. I’ve also heard more than one Catholic justify continuing to give money to the Church in spite of things like the sex abuse scandals, because charity. Apaprently the Church thinks it is better served by using charity to whip people back in line than as good PR to cover its many ugly sins. Good luck with that guys.

  • Anonymous

    Of all the areas in which the Catholic Church now speaks with the least moral authority, that area is sexual morality.

  • Tonio

    In DC the archdiocese got out of the adoption business because the city was requiring agencies to include same-sex couples in the eligibility. So children go without homes because the organization doesn’t want gay cooties. There’s no way to rationalize that bullshit without deeming morality to have no meaning.

  • Lori

    At least in the case of the adoptions in DC the issue was direct. A group run by the Church was going to have to accept same-sex couples as parents for adoptions they facilitated.

    This business in Sacremento is on a whole other level. The group in question is not run by the Church and the problem that they’re having with the director’s opinions has nothing whatsoever to do with her job at the center. She is not advocating for marriage equality, legal abortion or contraception in her capacity as director of Francis House. The opinions that the Church objects to are public in the context of Rev. Whitmore’s other job, working for a non-Catholic church.

    The Church is no longer saying, we can’t support services that we consider immoral (placing children with same-sex couples). It’s saying that it can’t support any services provided by people who publically disagree with them about anything.

  • Tonio

     Excellent point. I can’t see how any person who has even a tiny bit of love for fellow humans could believe that hurting homeless people is more moral than being associated with someone who favors marriage equality. It’s like a mirror universe version of morality, where the bumper stickers read “Have you Kicked Your Child Today”.

  • (nods) Sure.

    Personally, I don’t acknowledge authority that is not at least correlated with the “knowledge and judgment” sense — if someone doesn’t know any more about X than I do and doesn’t have more reliably accurate beliefs about X than I do, but nevertheless feels I should defer to their assertions and beliefs about X, I tend to giggle and move on.

    When people talk about authority in other senses (like, in your example, the inherent moral authority some people attribute to the Church irrespective of knowledge and judgment) I understand them to be simply claiming power.

    I don’t object to people claiming power; I may even respect their power. But I find it helps clarify my thinking if I don’t confuse that with authority.

  • Tricksterson

    But if you add too many hominems some of them might want to get married leading to the collapse of civilization as we know it.

  • Tricksterson

    Protestants mostly hung not burned.  Catholics killed some but less.  Mostly they were into burning, well, Protestants.  And Jews of course.

  • Tricksterson

    The National Lampoon way back in the 70s ran a cover that showed a cute dog with a gun to it’s head and the caption “Buy this magazine or we’ll shoot this dog!”.  The only difference between this and what the Church is doing here and elsewhere  is that the editors of the National Lampoon never actually intended to kill the dog.

  • Well, they’re saying they won’t support the charitable actions of someone who publicly disagrees with them about the place of women. I wonder if they’d have withdrawn the money if she disagreed with them about the death penalty. I kind of doubt it. 

    As for the “but charity” argument — no charity in the world would still be on its feet and telling people what to do if they had been exposed to be behind 1/50th of the crimes the Catholic Church has been behind. 

  • Anonymous

    This whole no-indirectly-funding-things-we-don’t-like position is getting worse already:

    The Catholic Diocese of Sacramento no longer will fund programs at Francis House, a nonprofit agency that serves homeless people, because of its new director’s views supporting abortion rights and gay marriage.[…]

    In its letter to Whitmore, the Sacramento Diocese said it respects the work Francis House does and cannot expect every organization it supports financially to “actively promote Catholic teaching.”

    “We can expect, however, that they or their leaders not publicly oppose Catholic teaching and that, unfortunately, is the situation in which we find ourselves,” the letter reads.[…]

    “Why would we ask someone to contribute money to an organization and ask them to overlook all of those things that undermine the church’s teachings?”[…]

    [Michael Miiller, a member of the agency’s corporate advisory board] said the agency “really appreciates the diocese’s support over the years. But the issues raised in their letter are not our issues.”

    “We serve the poor,” he said. “We don’t have a litmus test for homeless people when they come in. We don’t ask them for their position on choice and gay marriage. We just help them. But for whatever reason, the diocese made those issues a higher priority than the mission.”

    My favorite ironic quote from the Diocese: “We like to get out in front of these things.”


  • That makes things sound cut-and-dried in a religious climate that was not.

    A Fransiscan preacher helped ignite the witch hunts. A pope authorized them, and told a couple of inquisitors to write a manual about how to find and murder “witches.” This work, the Malleus Maleficarum, is a work of pure misogyny. It was the Bible of witch hunters in Europe. 

    One thing I find quite interesting: this woman-killing craze flared up for two centuries throughout Europe, among both Catholics and Protestants, and even, in a small way, in the colonies in New England. But it got its real start during a time of serious problems for the Catholic Church itself, caused by people calling out the Church’s corruption.

    If the Catholic Church hadn’t covered up sexual abuse for decades, would they be screeching like this over birth control now?

  • Lori


    My favorite ironic quote from the Diocese: “We like to get out in front of these things.”  

    …so we can be run over by them. Because that’s how we roll.

  • Anonymous

    In my rush to vent about the latest volley in the Church’s war on religious freedom, I totally missed that you had already mentioned this story earlier today. Sorry about that!

  • P J Evans

     I hope that it gets the attention of most of the people in the area – and that they support the shelter, rather than the bishops.
    Because that’s a really good example of the ‘morality police’ being wrong in just about every way they could find.

  • Are there Catholic Bishops that are not old men?

    The youngest Bishop in the US is currently 47 years old. 

    Whether that is “old,” I leave for the reader to decide.

    And what is up with Disqus putting a space at the beginning of comments?