Catholicism's latest awful hypocrisy
Date: August 2 2003
If only the Catholic Church pursued abusive clergy in the way it fights
Victims of paedophile Catholic priests around the world must have reeled with
dismay yesterday when they heard of the Vatican's vehement public
denunciation of homosexuality.
In a 12-page document, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has
lashed out at all manifestations of gay lifestyle, labelling all homosexual
activity as "seriously depraved".
More, it has gone on to require that Catholic politicians oppose laws in
favour of homosexual unions, even to the extent of working for the repeal of
laws already in existence. It was "gravely immoral" for Catholics to vote to
recognise these unions, the Vatican added.
Strong words indeed, and deeply hurtful to many devout gay Catholics - and
other Christians - struggling to uphold an ideal of faithful, loving
commitment within same-sex partnerships.
But sex abuse victims who fell prey to Catholic priests and brothers over
recent decades must feel particularly betrayed by this extraordinary
If only the Vatican had been half so critical of its own wayward clergy, and
of the bishops who skilfully protected them for so long. If only it had
demanded Catholic legislators and politicians bring the full force of the
law to bear on the perpetrators.
There have been some words of apology and concern from the Vatican on clergy
sex abuse, but each time they have been minimalist, to say the least.
The Pope has expressed a "deep sense of sadness and shame" at the harm done
by some clergy. But most official comments have been cushioned and
minimised, either by claims that most clergy crimes did not constitute
genuine paedophilia, or an insistence that the vast majority of priests were
good and holy men.
There has been no extensive public acknowledgement from the Vatican of the
terrible pain and injustice suffered by the victims.
As for the bishops who protected abusive clergy, little has been said or
done about them by the Vatican. Cardinal Bernard Law, the prominent American
archbishop forced to resign from Boston after the sex abuse scandals there,
still remains a cardinal. He continues to serve on a high-level Vatican
Coming so swiftly after the sex abuse crisis in the church, this latest
document appears to be the height of hypocrisy.
How is it that the Vatican cannot see that there is no comparison, even by
conventional moral standards, between private, adult, consenting
relationships between people of the same sex, and the wilful destruction of
a child's body, mind and soul by a sexual predator claiming the authority of
Jesus' condemnation of those who fussed about a speck in their brother's
eye but failed to see the great beam of wood in their own, comes to mind.
The Vatican document is only the latest in the battle some mainstream church
leaders are waging against homosexuality.
The Anglican Church has been a battleground for months now, and the battle
continues this weekend when the American Episcopal (Anglican) Church decides
whether to ratify an openly gay man as a bishop. Traditionalist opponents,
including the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen, have travelled the
world to try to stop this move, just as they brought out the big guns to
stop the appointment of a gay bishop in England last month. If only they had
been so publicly energetic and vehement about sex abuse within their church.
Michael Kelly, spokesman for the Rainbow Sash movement, has commented that
the strident tone of the Catholic document shows that the Vatican knows the
horse has bolted. That, clearly, is the nub of the problem, for both the
Catholic and Anglican churches.
Once the dominant churches set the rules by which society governed sexual
behaviour. The church's rules were society's rules, and legislatures
enforced the church's expectations. Not any longer. As the churches rapidly
lose their influence, few take much notice of their strictures any more.
They have become irrelevant.
Same-sex unions are increasingly gaining legal recognition around the world,
and most reasonable people no longer have any problem with the loving gay
partnerships they know among their families and friends.
In the face of such a catastrophic loss of social power and influence, the
reaction of traditionalist church leaders is predictable, if deplorable.
The vehemence of the reaction shows they are fighting to hold on to the last
vestiges of the old dispensation. The power to set the rules is far more
important to them than the occasional regrettable breaking of the rules,
such as has happened in clergy sex abuse.
Meanwhile, the Uniting Church has recently adopted an altogether healthier -
and holier - approach to homosexuality, by emphasising that the moral
yardstick should not be gender, but rather the quality of the relationship.
It has been a breath of fresh air in an ugly time.
• Dr Muriel Porter is an Anglican laywoman and the author of Sex,
Power and the Clergy (Hardie Grant Books, 2003).