The Catholic Church is baring its teeth.
The first snarl came from Pope Benedict himself. Feeling his oats after a victory against gay marriage in the European Court of Human Rights, the pope slammed the door on glasnost in the sex abuse scandal, ordering his subordinates not to speak ill of their colleagues. Ironically, the target of the pope’s wrath had actually been defending the pope himself. Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna had been sticking up for Benedict, telling reporters that long before Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI, he had sought a full investigation of the allegations against Austrian Cardinal Hans Hermann Groer, who was widely suspected of sexual abuse of young seminarians. Ratzinger’s initiative had been squashed, though, by Cardinal Angelo Soldano, who then served as the Vatican Secretary of State, and who is now dean of the College of Cardinals. So was Benedict pleased that Schoenborn was defending him? He was not; he sternly reinforced the chain of command, growling that “only the pope has the authority to accuse a cardinal” and that Church officials need to “show due respect” for one another. An institution genuinely committed to reform might encourage its members to go public when internal procedures fail to produce results; the Catholic Church censures them.
The Church slammed another door as well, filing a brief in a Kentucky case to prevent plaintiff’s attorneys from taking depositions of the pope and three other senior Vatican officials. The Church’s two arguments are downright silly. First, they say there has never been an official Vatican policy of hushing up sex abuse cases. But how can the court know what the Vatican policy is unless the plaintiffs are allowed to complete their discovery? The second argument may not be silly under the law — the brief says that Vatican City is a “nation,” recognized as such by American diplomacy, and allowing a court to subpoena its officials would be “akin to a foreign plaintiff seeking a foreign court order compelling the depositions of the United States President, Vice President, Secretary of Defense and ambassador.” Legally, the sovereign immunity argument is probably a winner — which is just the latest evidence of the absurdity of recognizing Vatican City as a state, on the level of France or Japan.
With one European Court victory in its pocket, the Church pressed on for another, arguing that the government of Italy has the right to brainwash Jewish, Muslim, humanist, and other children by installing a Christian crucifix in every public school classroom. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re called the crucifix “an emblem of a universally shared humanity” — an odd description of an instrument of torture. Rather than just dealing piecemeal with one symptom after another, though, the Church launched an initiative to attack the root of the disease — secularism itself. “The process of secularization has produced a serious crisis of the sense of the Christian faith and role of the Church,” the pope complained, and thus announced a new bureaucracy to combat “a progressive secularization of society and a sort of ‘eclipse of the sense of God.’” If the Church proclaimed a special campaign to target Jews, or Muslims, or Mormons, or Methodists, wouldn’t there be a storm of indignation? But targeting humanists gets a ho-hum from the press. What would they say about a humanist effort to target Catholics, on the grounds that they suffer from a sort of “eclipse of the sense of reality”? Read the rest of this entry »