My favorite whipping boy, Mark Shea, has a post up about disgraced Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who resigned over groping men in his charge, including teenage boys. Apparently O’Brien leaving his post of his own accord shows how awesome the Catholic Church is:
Memo for those of you saying, “Oh yeah? Why doesn’t the Vatican *jail* him?”
See. there’s this thing called “civil law”. We laity do the jailing thing. And we chose not to. That’s not Rome’s job, particularly with foreigners. And the Church’s job is to emphasize the “mercy for sinners” thing. Those who who would like the Church to be transformed into the Instrument of God’s Avenging Rage on Sinful Man should really reconsider what they hope to have happen to them the next time they enter a confessional. This is one of the reasons I am mortally grateful that the Church, for all her faults, is not run by polling combox Catholics on who needs to be kicked out, punished, and put to death this week.
It’s not that sane moral people expect the Catholic Church to exercise power they thankfully don’t have (like throwing someone in jail – we recall when the Catholic Church did have such power and it wasn’t pretty). It’s that we expect the Church to be honest about certain things.
You see, Mark, the Catholic Church did act with regards to the O’Brien scandal: it attempted to keep his victims nice and quiet for fear of damage to the Church’s reputation. When the Church attempted to silence those who complained about being violated by such a high ranking employee of the Church in attempt to preserve the Church’s integrity, we ask you, and other Catholics, to admit that the Church that you claim to be a moral beacon has a very backwards idea of integrity. Despite supposedly getting its moral cues directly from god, the Catholic Church apparently still needs to learn lessons from mere mortals who have figured out that integrity means solidifying your reputation by looking out for the victims of those in your employ, not binding their victims to help protect the man who violated them by staying silent. This was a lesson we were repeatedly told the Church had learned after it covered up and enabled several child rapists. It is a lesson the Church has apparently not learned, and we expect Catholics to be fair-minded in their morality and, rather than citing the Church’s inaction and claiming how awesome they are, to withhold a great deal of respect until the Church manages to do better.
It has nothing to do with jailing the criminals in your employ. Shea is right when he says that’s up to civil law. However, that doesn’t mean the Catholic Church should do nothing, or that it should be absolved of what it did do.
And it also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t very much think less of those who continue to hand the organization money and to rationalize that such a transparently wicked organization is actually the brightest moral light on this planet, as if almost every other human being were incapable of realizing that shushing the victims of a guilty sexual predator was the wrong thing to do. If you spend more resources protecting a rapist than his victims, it’s not just that you had a slip in moral judgment, but that the group claiming to be the moral guide for all of humanity cannot even manage the equivalent of moral arithmetic.
If the Church wants to take cues about integrity, it should listen to the complainants they attempted to intimidate into silence:
He said the four complainants had been asked to sign sworn statements to Archbishop Mennini.
But he said they had been warned that if their allegations were made public they would cause “immense further damage to the Church”.
“For me, this is about integrity,” he told the newspaper.
“There have been two sensations for me this week. One is feeling the hot breath of the media on the back of my neck and the other is sensing the cold disapproval of the church hierarchy for daring to break ranks. I feel like if they could crush me, they would.”
He said: “I thought it was best to let the men and women who put their hard-earned cash in the plate every Sunday know what has been happening. If you pay into something you have a right, but also a duty, to know what you are paying for.”
He added: “This isn’t about trying to own the moral high ground. I feel compassion for O’Brien, more compassion than the Church is showing me, but the truth has to be available – even when that truth is hard to swallow.”
The church should be glad that this young priest defied them. He did the right thing.
We don’t ask that the Church jails O’Brien – we just ask you to give this lone priest more of your respect than the hierarchy that attempted to shut him up. And, if you can’t do that, if you praise the organization that villainized the real hero in this story (who stood up to the actual villain even when the Church was trying to keep his misdeeds a secret), then it’s time to stop acting like you care more about morality than the maintenance of power for the Catholic Church.