My favorite moment of the whole child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church was when Father Klaus Malangré suggested that Peter Hullermann, the redoubtable German pedophile priest, might be sent to work in a girls’ school. No boys, no molestation. Or, in churchly language, no occasion of sin. Problem solved! Plus, the good father would spend his life warding off female cooties. Malangré must not have heard about priests–and they do exist–who abused both male and female children. Nor had he learned the lesson of Watergate: the cover-up is worse than the crime.
The church has yet to learn that lesson. There is a positively Nixonian smarmy truculence in the response of church hierarchs to the ongoing scandal, which now involves Pope Benedict XVI himself. On Palm Sunday, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan urged worshipers at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to show "love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus." On his blog, Dolan explains that what gets Catholics angry is not just the molestations themselves but also that "the sexual abuse of minors is presented as a tragedy unique to the Church alone." Oh, really? Does the name Mary Kay Letourneau mean nothing to him? This man needs to read the tabloids, which have for years featured an endless parade of molesting teachers, doctors, dentists, therapists and scout leaders. To go by the news, looking at child pornography on one’s office computer is so common, it’s a wonder anyone finds the time to abuse real kids. At this late date I doubt anyone is unaware that the sexual abuse of children is a widespread phenomenon.
The difference is, when other professionals who work with children are caught out, justice takes its course. People are fired. Licenses are lost. Reputations are ruined. Sometimes jail is involved. No human institution is perfect, and it would be foolish to suggest that incidents are always investigated and that abusers who don’t happen to be priests are never protected by colleagues or superiors. Still, it’s probably safe to say that if a principal was accused of overlooking a child molester in his classrooms or recycling him to other schools, nobody would compare his suffering to Christ’s.
And nobody would be asking for his views about sex, reproduction, women, homosexuality or healthcare either. The moral authority granted the Catholic Church in the secular world is for me the most repellent aspect of the current crisis. In the succinct words of Jodi Jacobson, editor of RHRealityCheck.org, "Why is a pedophilia-ridden, pedophilia-hiding, child-abusing Church allowed to write laws controlling women’s rights?" To which one might add: what gives a church in which celibacy is equated with holiness, in which males have almost all the power, the right to a place at the table where laws are made about women’s bodies? The same institution that has dealt so indulgently with its ordained pedophiles had no problem excommunicating a Brazilian mother who sought an abortion for her 9-year-old daughter, raped and impregnated with twins by her stepfather, or pushing for laws in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Chile banning abortion even to save the woman’s life.