Toronto
3 min

How the mighty are fallen

With each passing scandal, the Catholic Church loses more and more moral credibility

Pope Benedict XVI Credit: Sergey Kozhukhov photo, CC share alike 3.0

When did homophobia become the hottest ticket in comedy?

Over the course of the last few weeks, two of the biggest, most powerful anti-gay groups in the world have been shooting themselves in the foot, and it’s just a hoot to watch. Mostly, I think, because neither knows how badly it’s injuring itself.

First there were two US generals who said allowing gay soldiers to serve openly would be bad for the military.

One guy suggested that gay Dutch soldiers serving with UN forces in Bosnia were partly to blame for the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. Dutch officials reacted with fury; others with disbelief. As various media pointed out, the Dutch soldiers were lightly armed and solidly outnumbered. The sexuality of their members wasn’t exactly central to the outcome.

Yet another US general suggested that allowing gay soldiers would endanger “unit cohesion”  and “warrior culture.” Civil rights were beside the point. To succeed, the military must remain a world apart, “full of strange customs.” And he did this in print. On the op-ed pages of the New York Times. Doesn’t he have an editor? Gay essayist and screenwriter Paul Rudnick had great fun with this, imagining a gay soldier grooving on the joys of an all-male army (see newyorker.com/humor), but really the event tittered along all by itself.

Meanwhile, that other great advocate of oddball machismo, the Catholic Church, was doing its best to self-destruct. After centuries of persecuting others for their religion, sexuality or political beliefs, the Church, it seemed, was now caught up in its own, self-inflicted, auto-da-fé.

As news of sexual abuse scandals surfaced in Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany, the Church seemed powerless to contain the problem. The best its defenders could do was suggest the problem was not limited to the Church alone; it was widespread in society at large, particularly in families.

Funny, that’s the same thing gays have been saying for years. Remember when gays had to defend themselves against charges of pedophilia? Now it’s the Church’s turn. Except that it doesn’t have much ground to stand on.

Again and again, it seems, the Church has done little to stop the problem. In the past, it’s either moved offenders or sent them off for treatment but seldom removed them from priestly duty entirely.

In the most egregious case yet to emerge, it was revealed that kids at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin had complained of abuse since the 1950s, but the priest alleged to have molested as many as 200 deaf boys died in 1998, still a priest. News of his alleged transgressions reached as high as the Vatican, but he was never defrocked.

For an organization that has always wrapped itself in the mantle of virtue, this is devastating stuff, but Church officials seem blind to the optics.

It’s true that the sexual abuse scandals have been covered in a very black and white way.

(For a better and more nuanced approach to the stymied sexuality of Catholic priests, read Andrew O’Hagan’s Be Near Me, the tale of a priest who becomes embroiled with a dangerously precocious straight boy. Isolated, lonely and depressed by the long-ago loss of his one true love, the priest kisses the boy. And then the witch hunt begins. It’s beautifully written, with a great deal of feeling, and tells you things the headlines don’t dare to impart.)

But you’ve got to wonder about an institution that’s so peculiarly adept at incubating deviant sexuality. How many of its problems stem directly, if unwittingly, from Church doctrine itself?

This, after all, is the institution that has opposed contraception, interfered with safe-sex initiatives in Africa and sneered at almost every kind of human sexuality outside procreative wedlock. Gays, priests, singles – nobody was supposed to have sex. With so much repression afoot, is it any surprise that some of the strictures sprang a leak and a particularly weird form of sexuality seeped out?

Whatever the case, the Church is certainly getting its comeuppance. Having disparaged so many forms of human sexuality, the Church itself is now being disparaged. If it’s not karma, it’s blowback.

I don’t mean to belittle the pain and trauma of anyone who’s suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church. But it is fun to watch such a viciously homophobic organization implode, especially since it seems to be hoist with its own petard.

With each passing scandal, the Church loses more and more moral credibility. (And remember, these scandals have been piling up since the 1980s and Mount Cashel.) Soon, it’s to be hoped, it won’t be able to do any more damage to kids or gays or anyone else in its cruel care.