smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
I keep reading all these stories about evils committed by Catholic priests and the further evils committed by priests, bishops, and popes to cover up and, well, redistribute the first evils. People seeking to lay blame rightly attack celibacy, secrecy, homophobia, dogma, the complicity of lay parishioners, and so on. Every recommendation for change that I've seen involves a modification to church teaching, to church management, or both.

I think these recommendations generally miss the mark. Catholics have the right to practice whatever dogma they want; they have the right to impose celibacy on their priests if they want; they have the right to believe in whatever crazy (to me) stuff they want to believe. So recommendations that the church become more open, more humane, and more accountable to its membership, while probably good in the grand scheme of things, don't address the real problem. The real problem is not the church's failure to be accountable to its victims and the victims' families.

The problem is that the rest of society fails to hold the Catholic church accountable to the law. The Catholic church's sins are its own, but the persistence of its felonies, while the rest of the world knowingly stands by, is a failure of the governments and citizens of every nation where the church operates.

This is possible, I think, because the Catholic church exists in a weird legal limbo where its top-level policymakers at the Vatican enjoy diplomatic immunity around the world. Its clerical hierarchy appears to believe that Canon law and papal decree supersede the laws of the nations where the church operates. And apart from the law-enforcement black-hole that results from the Vatican being its own quasi-state, lawmakers in general are very hesitant to challenge any religious institution as powerful as the Catholic church. If a much smaller church that wasn't managed by an independent nation-state had a similar problem, I don't think the world's local law officers would hesitate to pursue accusations of child abuse and child rape. But for some reason the world, including a lot of Catholics, seem to be willing to stand by and shrug and say, "Oh well, you know. Catholics."

The solution is obvious but probably impossible: treat the Vatican like a rogue state.  Expel its diplomats and representatives.  Impose sanctions. Freeze its assets. Go, so to speak, "to war."

I know that sounds absurd, but what other choice is there? If no local jurisdiction's laws can be used to investigate and punish the church, then what recourse does anybody have except the tools that nations use against nations?

Failing that, at the very least nations should oblige churches (and frankly, this should apply to all churches and not just the Catholic variety) to incorporate and manage themselves like any other non-profit organization, with open books, taxation where appropriate (being a non-profit doesn't necessarily mean that everything your organization does will be tax free), and the understanding that aiding and abetting felons in an organized way amounts to a kind of organized crime that can and will be investigated in the way that other criminal cartels are investigated.

The answer, in other worlds, is not religious re-organization and religious re-definition. As a firm believer in the USA's First Amendment, I don't believe it's appropriate to seek to impose such changes on a religious institution (not by means of the law, anyway).

I do, on the other hand, believe that it's appropriate and necessary to treat every member of every institution equally under everyday secular law. Which means to me that the Vatican must either cease to exist as an independent state and be absorbed into the secular legal fabric of Italy and Europe (which would enable a conventional criminal investigation), or it must be treated as a rogue or enemy state. This doesn't mean banning Catholicism; it just means putting it on the same legal footing as every other church in the world.

Frankly, I don't understand why these suggestions aren't ringing from the op-ed pages of every newspaper in the world.

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smackshack: a crude digital self-portrait (Default)
smackshack

June 2012

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