The Permanent Scandal of the Vatican

The Permanent Scandal of the Vatican April 24, 2010

First Things editor Joseph Bottum has a long must-read of a piece showing over at the Weekly Standard.

The day the Antichrist is ripped from his papal throne, true religion will guide the world. Or perhaps it’s the day the last priest is gutted, and his entrails used to strangle the last king, as Voltaire demanded. Yes, that’s when we will see at last the reign of bright, clean, enlightened reason—the release of mankind from the shadows of medieval superstition. War will end. The proletariat will awaken from its opiate dream. The oppression of women will stop. And science at last will be free from the shackles of Rome.

For almost 500 years now, Catholicism has been an available answer, a mystical key, to that deep, childish, and existentially compelling question: Why aren’t we there yet? Why is progress still unfinished? Why is promise still unfulfilled? Why aren’t we perfect? Why aren’t we changed?

Despite our rejection of the past, the future still hasn’t arrived. Despite our advances, corruption continues. It needs an explanation. It requires a response. And in every modernizing movement—from Protestant Reformers to French Revolutionaries, Communists to Freudians, Temperance Leaguers and suffragettes to biotechnologists and science-fiction futurists—someone in despair eventually stumbles on the answer: We have been thwarted by the Catholic Church.

Or by the Jews, of course. Perhaps it’s no accident that anti-Semitism should also be making a reappearance these days. The poet Peter Viereck’s famous line—“Catholic-baiting is the anti-Semitism of the liberals”—gets quoted in too many contexts to express the connection anymore, and, God knows, the history of Catholicism has plenty of anti-Semitic sins to expiate. Still, Jews and Catholics do have this much in common: In moments of uncertainty and doubt, the people of the West go haring back again to their old gods and traditional answers—blaming the Jews and the Catholic Church.

Do read the whole thing,
because it covers a great deal of ground and dares to defend the very effective policies which the church and this pope have put into place over the past decade, both to address and to prevent abusive situations. This is reassuring news for victims who are not hearing it elsewhere, and need to know about it; they need to know that their suffering and their pain has been heard – that it is being and will continue to be addressed.

I was I was particularly taken, though, with the last section which is a genuine clarion call to Catholic commentators, to be aware that the failings of the left are being tagged with the failings of the church in order to deflect blame for our woeful state and our awful lives. They’ve certainly succeeded in Ireland where our tribe has lost all sense of itself (the day I read they took cigarettes out of pubs is the day I knew Ireland was lost, and I don’t smoke). Americans, endeared to bumper-sticker-speak, short on attention and confused about what is happening in their own government will be very amenable to a central source of all-blaming, which will be the church, and (as Bottum rightly assesses) the Jews.

Don’t be afraid. We’re in for interesting times, but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

I’m sort of looking at this whole crisis as an opportunity for the church to renew itself, be washed clean. It won’t be an overnight cleansing, but I think it will be thorough.

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