Friday, January 17, 2014

Vatican Grilling by U.N.: Valuable Commentary

There's a wealth of outstanding commentary yesterday and today about the Vatican's grilling by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. One way that you can keep abreast of the commentary is by visiting Kathy Shaw's marvelous Abuse Tracker site sponsored by Bishop Accountability. Among the good articles I've read up to now:

Kris Ward, National Survivor Advocates Coalition, who responds to the claim of Bishop Charles Scicluna that the Vatican is "getting it" about child abuse:

Not only is “getting it” not an accomplishment, it’s not an “ah hah” moment, it’s not even Christianity. 
Getting the rape and sodomy of children is basic humanity. 
Raping and sodomizing children is criminal. 
Luring children into situations where you can rape and sodomized them is criminal.
This is not a complex theological argument.

Barbara Dorris, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, asks what on earth Pope Francis imagined he was communicating when he chose to concelebrate Mass with Cardinal Roger Mahony on the very day of the UN hearing:

Pope Francis just rubbed salt into the wounds of LA clergy sex abuse victims and Catholics. 
Maybe more than any of his predecessors, Pope Francis is keenly aware that images and gestures matter. So why did he concelebrate mass and privately meet with America’s least deserving and most polarizing retired Catholic official – Cardinal Roger Mahony, on whose watch hundreds of children were raped, sodomized, fondled and assaulted by hundreds of priests, nuns, brothers, seminarians and other Catholic employees, many of whom were deliberately and repeatedly moved and protected by Mahony and his top aides?

Anthea Butler, Religion Dispatches: after noting that Pope Francis may have made a "misstep" in concelebrating Mass with Mahony, Anthea notes, as I did yesterday, the weakness of the Vatican argument that it has no control over the actions of bishops and dioceses around the world:

While answers were few, and explanations fewer from Archbishop Tomasi, the fact that the Vatican had to appear today in front of the United Nations committee is a win. The hearing at the UN is the first time the Vatican has answered to an outside authority regarding sexual abuse. The weakness of their answers to the UN committee rests on the Vatican’s assertions that although it is a state, it does not have jurisdiction over the thousands of archdioceses, dioceses, churches and religious groups throughout the world.

Jerry Slevin, Christian Catholicism, addresses the Vatican argument as a trained lawyer:  

The Vatican’s legal strategy appears to be to try to establish that the Vatican has no real effective control over most of the world's bishops and priests. As to those they control, like the Polish Archbishop diplomat, the Vatican wants sole control over prosecutions like it had in the Middle Ages. As a lawyer, it appears to me that the Vatican may succeed in avoiding direct legal responsibility for some priests, but it will fail almost certainly in avoiding responsibility for most bishops’ misdeeds. The Vatican selects, controls and removes bishops under very tight procedures. Moreover, the Bishop of Bling’s and other bishops' recent abrupt removals over policy matters just confirmed the Vatican’s clear control.

You know what I'm tempted to conclude, as I watch the powerful centrist Catholic spin machine continue to try to convince me and others that we live in a wholly new church--a kinder and gentler one--under Pope Francis? I'm tempted to conclude that the spin works and has always worked by rubbing salt into the wounds of particular, targeted groups--women, abuse survivors, those who are gay.

The centrist argument, which imagines that the church is kinder and gentler even as it targets, excludes, and demeans particular groups of people, actively depends on that targeting of people tagged as inadequately Catholic and less than human. This targeting and tagging of carefully selected groups allows the center to sustain itself and its argument that only its definition of Catholicism counts or has ever mattered.

And so, ipso facto and q.e.d., the church can prove itself to be kinder and gentler precisely by defining certain hapless groups as its enemies, as enemies of its doctrinal and moral purity. The church can prove itself to be kinder and gentler precisely by defining itself over against its perceived enemies.

The church can prove itself to be kinder and gentler, in short, by rubbing salt into the wounds of those it has defined--as part of its doctrinal enterprise--as subhuman, and therefore susceptible to abuse because subhuman. Rubbing salt into wounds and then defining that action as preëminently loving seems to be a distinguishing characteristic of what Catholicism has come to be about in its centrist incarnations at this point in the history of the Catholic church.

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