Let me make it perfectly clear: I am no fan of the Catholic Church. I respect it as an institution, but there are elements of its history — deeds carried out by those appointed to high positions and deeply involved in its leadership — that I deeply loathe.
Two of them in recent times come to mind: the conduct of the majority of the leadership of the American Catholic Church during the priest sex abuse scandal, and the conduct of certain European leaders immediately following World War II.
In the former matter, at one point roughly 2/3 — 111 of 178 — of all diocese leaders had kept priests who had been accused of sexual abuse working. Further, the stories of “pedophile priests” being shuffled from parish to parish, whisked away from their accusers and dumped on new parishioners without a word of warning, were legion — as were the accounts of “hush money” paid to the families of the victims in order to buy their silence. Bernard Cardinal Law, former Archbishop in Boston, currently holds a very high position in the Vatican and was involved in the choosing of the current Pope, Benedict XVI. To my eyes, he belongs in a prison cell.
Law oversaw what became the epicenter of the sex abuse scandal, and it eventually came out that he had personally arranged for the coverup of hundreds of cases of sexual assault of children, and sent pedophiles to brand-new assignments that quickly became assignations. His actions led to a host of lawsuits against his Diocese, an unprecedented vote of no confidence by his subordinate clerics, and nearly brought the Diocese to bankruptcy. As it is, they had to close churches and sell off considerable holdings to settle all the claims by past victims.
Law was the most flagrant offender, but a lot — a lot — of high-ranking Church officials saw the problems of pedophile priests as a threat to the Church, and acted to protect it from scandal. Their methods were simple: get the silence of the victims by any means necessary (money, guilt, promises that the offender would get treatment) and then move the offender away from the victims. Under no circumstances was there to be any publicity that might embarrass the church, so that meant that everything was to be done to keep the authorities from getting involved — and if that meant that serial child predators would escape facing Man’s justice, and be given more and more opportunities to prey on fresh Catholic children, so be it.
And as a consequence of his deeds, Law was “kicked upstairs” and to this day holds his Cardinalcy and a high-ranking position in the Church.
Likewise, after World War II, officials of the Catholic Church helped many Nazi war criminals flee Europe. Bishop Alois Hudal personally arranged for the escape of Adolf Eichmann and the commanders of three concentration camps to South America. Later, Franciscan priests from Croatia arranged for many former Nazis to follow a similar path, apparently hoping that their anti-Communist beliefs would help check the rise of that ideology in South America. Later, Western intelligence agencies used their actions as a model for their own, similar, operations.
It is disputed just how high support was for Hudal and the Croatian Franciscans was within the Church, but the role of these actors is not disputable.
However, it must be kept in mind that part of the reason these two groups — Hudal’s and the Croatian Franciscans — were so successful was that the Church was a major player in helping refugees, displaced persons, and the literally millions of victims of the war. The humanitarian efforts of the Church in working to heal the wounds of the conflict that very nearly destroyed Europe are often overlooked — and should not be.
I do not consider the Church “evil.” On the whole, I think that the Catholic Church has, throughout its history, contributed far more on the “good” side of the ledger of humanity than on the “bad.” And while I have many problems with its tenets, I have found the simplest way to deal with those problems is to simply ignore them. I’m not a Catholic, never have been, never will be (knock on wood), and they’re centuries past the point where I have to worry about being forcibly converted. I’ve commented on their internal politics on occasion, but that’s only a reflection of the role the Church plays in global politics — and is made easier by the fact that Vatican City is considered an independent nation, and the Pope a head of state.
So, yeah, yesterday I said that “elements of the Catholic Church” had been involved in helping Nazi war criminals escape justice. It was in the larger context of discussing the sins of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and is historically accurate — as noted above, a bishop and a cabal of Croatian Franciscan priests did just that. I brought it up because it was germane to the thesis of my piece.
I was aware that some would take it as an attack on the Church itself. My use of the phrase “elements of” was intended to prevent some of that, as well as being more accurate and honest than accusing the whole Church.
I see many of the Church’s problems and misdeeds not caused by the fact that they are a church, but mainly problems of scale. The Church is a huge institution, and most things big organizations do are large. Exxon Mobil makes huge, record profits when measured in dollars, but don’t look quite so good when measured as a percentage of revenues. One drunken, womanizing lout is not that big a deal, unless he happens to be one of a group of one hundred prominent politicians. So when an institution the size of the Roman Catholic Church makes a mistake, it’s probably gonna be a doozy. Toss in the religious element, and that just makes it that much bigger.
There is, in the world right now, one — and only one — religion that I consider to pose a real threat to civilization. I’ve discussed it many times before, I have many more pieces in mind in the future, and it ain’t the one headquartered in Rome. In fact, the one based out of the Eternal City is one of the better checks on that other faith we have.
But that doesn’t mean they’ve got a free pass from being held accountable for their sins — even by those of us who don’t belong to their Faith.