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A Hypocritical Church's Sex Lessons | The Nation

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A Hypocritical Church's Sex Lessons

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One of the most sexually repressed institutions in human history has been caught with its pants down yet again but still insists on wagging its disapproving finger at the rest of us.

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Robert Scheer
Robert Scheer, a contributing editor to The Nation, is editor of Truthdig.com and author of The Great American Stickup...

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Last week, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange released more than 10,000 pages of letters, handwritten notes and other documents from the personnel files of fifteen priests and teachers as part of its $100 million settlement of another in a numbing series of class-action sexual abuse lawsuits against the Catholic Church.

Despite the horrific drumbeat of child molestation revelations, however, sensible Catholics hoping for a more transparent and less sexually repressed church shouldn't hold their breath. The new pope is not only a longtime leader of vicious church attacks on "evil" gays, he also has shamefully blamed the molestation scandal on the media.

"In the church, priests also are sinners. But I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offenses among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower," said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger--now Pope Benedict XVI--in 2002 when he was the head man of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

There is nothing holy about shooting the messenger.

The leader of the world's largest religious denomination apparently doesn't understand the essential truth of the molestation scandal: It was the church's breathtakingly systematic cover-up over many decades that so horrified followers and outsiders alike.

When it comes to matters of poverty, immigration and peace, the Catholic Church is a major source of enlightenment. It is a serious loss to have the church's work in those areas undermined by its Dark Ages attitude on sex. And, as is so often the case with the most severely judgmental and repressed, this stance is rife with moral hypocrisy.

How else to explain an institution that refuses to accept responsibility for the lives it has violated through sexual abuse, even as it incessantly condemns same-sex couples for wanting to form stable families? If you are gay and want to get married you are "deviant and a threat to society," according to the Vatican, and if you adopt a child--the irony is dark here--it is tantamount to abuse.

Pope Benedict himself exemplifies this contradiction. The same man who doesn't get the scale of the molestation cover-ups has written some of the Vatican's most anti-gay rhetoric, including a 1986 letter to bishops calling homosexuality "an intrinsic moral evil," as well as a 2003 battle plan telling Catholic politicians they have a "moral duty" to oppose gay marriage and adoptions.

"Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior...but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity," stated the church's "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons."

"Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development."

Tell that to the many happy children of loving and nurturing parents who happen to be gay. Such a common-sense solution to the tragedy of unwanted children is what the pope abhors as part of a "dictatorship of relativism," to quote from his pre-anointment speech April 18.

This is all especially outrageous considering that the openly gay community has offered a model of honest and socially accountable behavior, while the Catholic Church--secretive and unaccountable--has provided exactly the opposite. In fact, the church's history of sexual abuse by "celibate" priests and nuns makes the case that the repression of natural impulses leads to, rather than discourages, sexual abuse. Is it too much to ask that a religious institution sporting such an abysmal record in dealing with these matters stop dictating the bedroom behavior of its millions of followers?

Sadly, it probably is. The church will continue to face eruptions of sexual scandal because of its renewed insistence on a sanctimonious medieval morality ignoring the main lesson of this sorry affair: Sex is natural, only becoming ugly and exploitive when denied healthy outlets.

For our civil society, the message is even more compelling: Yes to the life decisions of responsible adults, gay or heterosexual; no to the sexual dictates of a church that cannot be trusted to monitor its own behavior. The pope has minimized priests' crimes while wagging a finger at gays.

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