The healthy human reaction whenever the United Nations says something is to ignore it, and hope that, like a singing drunk outside your window, it will simply go away. The normal Catholic’s reaction to a UN attack on the Church ought to be to rally ’round, to refute the thing point by point, and to lobby Congress to cut off U.S. funding. But after reading the UN’s recent report on the Church and the protection of children’s rights, I simply can’t do that. Not on this topic.
Yes, it’s true that the UN report on the Holy See is an instance of an unaccountable global bureaucracy trying to impose its own views on the free institutions of civil society, using the coercive power of government(s). Inside the velvet glove of happy talk about human dignity and children’s rights is the steel fist of radical feminism and homosexual activism, whose central tenets reject the traditional family, religious freedom, and other goods that reason tells us are essential for man to flourish. The report demands that the Church reach in and revise its Canon Law, its schools, and even its doctrine, wherever the UN sees those things as conflicting with its goals of “gender equality” and the sexual “freedom” of children. This use of the UN’s “soft power” can lead to the use of “hard power,” providing governments the pretext for penalizing the Church and its institutions, as the Obama administration is already doing through the HHS mandate.
The totalitarian implications of a world-wide body imposing its norms across the planet are precisely what worried those of us who criticized Pope Benedict XVI’s call for an international legislative authority that would supervene all national governments on earth—and from which there could be no escape.
There have been many previous collisions between UN proposals and the moral beliefs that Catholics (among many others) derive from the natural law. Various treaties on the rights of women, for instance, have been the pretext for UN attempts to expand legal abortion and sterilization, inappropriate sex education, and other intrusions on parents’ rights, sometimes over the objections of actual voters in the given countries. This latest UN document recycles much of that same old toxic agenda, dressed up in the pink and blue of “children’s rights.”
The Church and other opponents of the UN’s children’s rights agenda, sees clearly that it is based on a degraded, subhumanist view of the person, an ethos of utilitarian hedonism, where the goal of human life is to stack up as many happy moments as possible before a quick and painless end, and that governments should use every means they can grab to maximize their happy moments quotient. Any worldview that suggests some higher or deeper reason for human action, which might entail voluntary sacrifice or suffering, is a fetish of the past that must be discredited and repressed.
In the past, the Church was able to point to its unmatched worldwide record of humanitarian action and claim a moral high ground. In the UN it could count on the support of some Islamic and Latin American governments—and under Republican presidents, the firm backing of the United States. Thanks to the election of a president who fought for even partial birth abortion, who won a majority of American Catholics’ votes, the Holy See no longer has a protector in America, but another enemy.
But far worse, and far more appallingly, the Church has lost its credibility. Squandered it, thrown it away with both hands as the prodigal son did his wealth.
The Church’s response to the sex abuse crisis was for decades was simply criminal, and to this day is culpably dysfunctional and inadequate. The UN authors skillfully and cynically make use of the sins committed by churchmen against the helpless and the innocent to remove the Church as an obstacle against still another set of crimes against other innocents. Thus the devil’s right hand washes his left.
So King Henry VIII used the corruption of bad Franciscans as a pretext for burning Carthusians, and the Bolsheviks cited Tsarist-era famines as the pretext for starving “kulaks.” One set of evils provides the excuse for still more evils—and the only common thread is the victims: in this case, those who were exploited thanks to corruption within the Church, and then the innocent victims of evil UN policies. First we have the thousands of young people sexually used by priests, then betrayed by the bishops whose job it was to protect them. Next we will see the children distorted, corrupted, aborted, when the UN gets its way. Call it Satanic synergy.
If the Church wants to defend the innocent children of the world from the hedonistic propaganda, destructive family policies, and abortion profiteering that the UN is promoting, Catholics must prove that we are not self-serving zealots who will safeguard our tribal interests at the price of every principle. To regain our own credibility we must face squarely and manfully the sheer extent of the Church’s wrongdoing, and hold our leaders accountable for proving their repentance. We must stop acting like loyal Communists who defend the Party leadership’s every twist and turn, however bizarre or criminal.
But that is precisely how too many faithful Catholic reacted, again and again, throughout the sex abuse crisis—with excuses, evasions, and unfair attacks on the motives of whistleblowers, journalists, even victims. We all would like to forget about that now, to pretend that we were cheering on The Boston Globe reporters, and other truthtellers like Jeffrey Bond and Jason Berry, from the beginning, that none of us signed on to conspiracy theories—as did Cardinal Maradiaga, who dismissed the sex abuse crisis in 2002 as an invention of the Jewish media.
But most of us can’t. We were good commies, at least for a while, weren’t we? I know that in 2000, when I worked for a paper owned by the Legionaries of Christ, I was none too keen to read the complaints of the men whom its founder abused when they were boys. It would have been too costly to know the truth, so I looked away. And so, dear Catholic readers, did most of you.
In some ways, and on key issues, the Church still averts its gaze. But covering your eyes really doesn’t make you invisible. The world can see, and the Church’s enemies can point to some grave problems left unaddressed in the Church’s response to clerical abuse. Until these are answered, Catholic bishops and the Holy See will have all the moral authority of Alec Baldwin on etiquette.
To speed that process up and give the Church back its needed prophetic voice, I have some questions, directed not at the United Nations but at the Church’s leaders:
Why has not a single bishop, anywhere in the world, been removed from office for covering up sex abuse? In 2002, the Dallas Morning News documented that two-thirds of U.S. bishops were implicated in cover-ups. Each one served out his term and retired in comfort, or else is still in office—including Bishop Robert Finn, who was actually convicted of failing to report the kiddie porn addiction of one of his priests.
Why is there no mechanism for removing bishops in the future if they fail to obey civil and canon law designed to protect innocent children? This past year, a bishop was removed for building too fancy a palace. One might argue that cosseting pedophiles is even worse.
Why have the worst offenders in the hierarchy not been laicized and deprived of their clerical pensions? Why are retired cardinals and bishops who arguably should be in prison still granted all the courtesies and privileges of office—and permitted to say Mass publically? Are churchmen really incapable of understanding the scandal that gives? In a perfect world, the Church would try such men in Vatican City and imprison them itself.
Why is a religious order, the Legionaries of Christ, that was founded by a sociopathic pedophile and run as a mind-control cult still in good standing with the Church—even as priests who drop out of it report that the men in control are quashing reforms, and that many members still secretly venerate its perverted founder? What is there that is reformable in an order that was founded by the moral equivalent of Hugh Hefner or L. Ron Hubbard?
Why does the Church still resist the common-sense demands of lay governments that bishops report—routinely and in every country—sexual crimes committed by priests to the police? Do bishops still secretly side with Cardinal Castrillon, who infamously congratulated bishops who shielded abusers from justice? The Mafia code of “omerta” has no place in the Church of Jesus Christ.
Until the Church’s leaders have healed such suppurating wounds, no one will look to us for medical advice. The world will see the mote in our eye and ignore the log in its own.
The key is to focus not on institutions but principles. Believers must not be pro-Catholic activists, or Catholic “fans” in some fantasy football league, but actual Catholics, which means holding ourselves and our institutions to the highest moral standards. Instead of the bottom line, or the Church’s “reputation,” we must think about the victims—their bodies, minds, and souls. Our founder was a victim, who died at the hands of a mob for the sins of men. Would He really want us to stand by, as still more innocents are victimized, to serve His Church’s “best interests”?
One of the most wrenching passages in all of Western literature comes from The Brothers Karamozov. In it, Dostoevsky’s skeptical anti-hero Ivan asks a question that should haunt us:
Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature—that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance—and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.
Throughout the sex abuse crisis, too many leaders in the Church were willing to answer, “Yes.” They built and preserved their ecclesiastical empires, and did their best to still the voices of the victims, to discredit them or buy their silence, even as they shuffled their victimizers from place to place. The social revolutionaries of the United Nations also say “Yes.” They will build their global utopia at the cost of children’s innocence, of their faith and of their families, and with the bones of the unborn.
And Catholics can do nothing to stop them. We have only ourselves to thank.