Photo Sunday: Córdoba

To see the pictures, follow the link to continue:

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June 26, 2011, 12:34 pm • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink2 comments
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Photo Sunday: Toledo

More pictures from my Spanish trip. Click the link below to see:

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June 19, 2011, 2:37 pm • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink2 comments
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Do the Right Thing, New York!

I wrote in May about the legalization of civil unions in Delaware (which has now been signed into law), and the ongoing push to pass a marriage-equality law in my own state, New York. Although New York already recognizes same-sex marriages performed in any of the neighboring states that allow them, passage of the bill would be a huge symbolic victory and would give more momentum to the national push for equality.

As I write this, the bill hangs in the balance in the State Senate, where Republicans hold a 32-to-30 majority. Three of the Democrats who voted against it last time have changed their positions, making Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx the lone Democratic holdout (unsurprisingly, he's an ordained minister). Two Republicans have also announced they'll switch their votes to yes, leaving us just one vote short, and several others have suggested they may change their minds. By the time you read this, we may know what the outcome is. (And if we don't, and you're a New Yorker, call your senator!)

What's most noteworthy about this story is the wavering and uncertainty of the Republicans, who sense that gay-bashing is losing its force as a touchstone culture-war issue. Equality is becoming the accepted position, and the vocal bigots are dwindling in number. On the other hand, some groups are firmly cementing their stand on the wrong side of history. Chief among them is New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who said about the proposal:

Last time I consulted an atlas, it is clear we are living in New York, in the United States of America – not in China or North Korea. In those countries, government presumes daily to "redefine" rights, relationships, values, and natural law. There, communiqués from the government can dictate the size of families, who lives and who dies, and what the very definition of "family" and "marriage" means.

This confused diatribe would have a point if the government was forcing citizens into same-sex marriages who didn't want them. But it's completely clear, to everyone except head-in-the-sand bigots like the archbishop, that the push for marriage equality is coming from the people: human beings who seek the freedom to pledge their commitment to each other and receive the same legal rights and protections granted to opposite-sex couples. Passing marriage equality isn't "dictating" anything to anyone, but legitimizing the choice already made by millions of people in love, which is already real regardless of whether the Catholic church admits it.

But in one respect, the archbishop is more right than he knows: we do indeed live in the United States of America, a secular republic whose governing authority comes from we the people, not from holy books or churches who presume to speak for God. The analogy he uses is completely backwards: it's the religious groups, like the archbishop himself, who wish to act as an omnipotent, absolute authority dictating to the rest of us how we may live our lives, how large our families may be, how we may be born and how we may die. In that sense it's the anti-gay bigots, not supporters of marriage equality, who resemble the despotic tyrants of China and North Korea.

Marriage is not simply a mechanism for delivering benefits: It is the union of a man and a woman in a loving, permanent, life-giving union to pro-create children.

This is farcical, false, and historically illiterate. Procreation is not a precondition of marriage. We don't test prospective partners for fertility or make them sign an affidavit declaring their intention to have children, nor have we ever.

And as the learned archbishop should know, marriage as the union of "a man and a woman" is a recent development. In many times and places, including in his own Bible, marriage has been defined as the union of a man and one or more women, and often in the manner of the man as the purchaser and women as the property. We've changed this to make marriage more like a partnership of equals, and instituting marriage equality will approach this ideal closer still.

Before we consign the archbishop to history's dustbin, one more quote:

Yes, I admit, I come at this as a believer, who, along with other citizens of a diversity of creeds believe that God, not Albany, has settled the definition of marriage a long time ago.

Although it's nothing we didn't know already, it's nice to hear confirmation that opposition to marriage equality is purely religious in nature and has no secular justification. The Catholic church, like all religious fiefdoms, can set whatever rules it wishes for its own members. But its writ extends no further than the church walls. It has no right to enact its peculiar prejudices into law and demand that everyone else be forced to live by them. That's the meaning of living in a secular nation, which is something that the Catholic church and all other aspiring theocrats in New York will, I hope, find out soon enough.

EDIT (6/24): Tonight, love won. Congratulations, New York!

June 16, 2011, 5:57 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink30 comments
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Photo Sunday: Madrid

As I've mentioned, my wife and I took a trip to Spain last month to celebrate our first anniversary. I'm not going to inflict all my vacation photos on you, but we did see some sights that are relevant to the kind of thing I usually write about on Daylight Atheism. If you're interested in seeing more, click through to view the rest of the post.

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June 12, 2011, 1:09 pm • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink6 comments
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Strange But True: The Misnumbered Pope

I've been reading Bob Curran's book Unholy Popes, an extremely amusing chronicle of papal misbehavior over the centuries and the more infamous scandals and shenanigans attributed to the various men who've held the seat. There have been periods of decades when Rome was rife with corruption, nepotism, bribery, and at times, open warfare and murder over the papal succession. There have been times when no one was pope and times when there were multiple contenders, each one claiming to be the true pope and threatening the others with excommunication. There have been popes who were so depraved that the Catholic Church itself has retroactively denounced them, declared them antipopes or attempted to erase them from the history books.

It's one of these stories that lies at the root of a bizarre but true fact: The current pope is misnumbered. By the church's own reckoning, Benedict XVI has the wrong number - and by so titling himself, he's tacitly acknowledged the reign of a heretic!

The explanation of this dates back to the 11th century. At that time, the German emperor Henry III had the power of choosing the pope and had installed a series of German bishops in the office. In 1057, his previous pick, Pope Victor II, died. Under the terms of a treaty, Rome was obliged to consult with Henry to nominate a successor, but they failed to do this. Several powerful Roman families instead chose their own candidate for the papacy, Stephen IX, who reigned less than a year before dying of illness. Before his death, he expressed a wish that one of his advisers, Hildebrand, should select the next pope.

But the Roman noble families ignored this wish. They chose another candidate: John Mincius, the cardinal-bishop of Valletri, who took the title Benedict X. A number of cardinals claimed the election was unjust and had been determined by bribery; they were forced to flee Rome by Benedict X and his supporters.

When word reached Hildebrand, who was at the German imperial court, he decided to take action. Together with the cardinals who'd fled Rome, they met and chose Gerhard of Burgundy, bishop of Florence, as the next pope. Taking the name Nicholas II, the new pope pronounced Benedict X an antipope, declared him to be excommunicated, and proceeded to Rome backed by an army organized by sympathetic noblemen. After several inconclusive battles with Benedict's supporters, Nicholas was victorious in a 1059 clash at Campagna, and Benedict surrendered and renounced the papacy. Nicholas allowed him to go free, but when Hildebrand returned from Germany in 1060, he had Benedict arrested and imprisoned until his death sometime between 1070 and 1080.

Hildebrand himself became pope in 1073, taking the name Pope Gregory VII. During his reign, he declared that Benedict X was not only excommunicated but had never been pope, and that any acknowledgment of him as such would be treated as heresy and punished with automatic excommunication. But the next pope who took the name Benedict, in 1303, declared himself to be Benedict XI - implicitly acknowledging his predecessor, despite the pleas of the Curia - and all subsequent Benedicts, including the current one, have followed suit.

If you look at official records, it's obvious that the church is embarrassed by the whole affair. The New Advent Catholic encyclopedia's entry for Benedict X says in its entirety, "The bearer of this name was an antipope in the days of Nicholas II, 1056-61." But this terse note can't disguise the problem: If Benedict X was an antipope, why is it that the next pope who took the name was Benedict XI? Shouldn't he have been Benedict X, since the "first" Benedict X was an illegitimate pretender to the throne? And doesn't this mean that every Benedict since, including the one that's now pope, have perpetuated this error and acknowledged the legitimacy of a man earlier denounced as a usurper, an antipope and a heretic?

June 6, 2011, 5:40 am • Posted in: The LibraryPermalink18 comments
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The Catholic Code of Omerta

As Russell Blackford informs us, the Vatican is again indulging its persecution complex, sending out an archbishop to whine about how unfair it is that gay and lesbian people are increasingly gaining equal rights and how the church is victimized by this:

"People are being attacked for taking positions that do not support sexual behaviour between people of the same sex," he told the current session of the Human Rights Council...

"These attacks [the attacks on the church! —Ebonmuse] are violations of fundamental human rights and cannot be justified under any circumstances," Tomasi said.

Archbishop Tomasi also maintains that "states can and must regulate behaviours" and that "certain kinds of sexual behaviour must be forbidden by law", so there's that. It's no surprise, but it's nice to hear the Vatican confirm that they don't just want to outlaw same-sex marriage, they want to reinstate medieval sodomy laws. (Presumably, if they got their way on this, the next step would be a law listing the permitted sexual positions.)

Well, whenever the golden-robed hypocrites of Rome come parading before us to insist on their moral authority, I feel compelled to take them down a peg. Fortunately, two stories have recently come out of the still-unfolding Catholic child-rape coverup scandal that serve the purpose. I apologize if all the posts about this are becoming repetitive or taxing your patience - they're certainly taxing mine - but I feel it's extremely important to have a record of this, to set down the facts in black and white so that there can be no mistake.

So: the latest development to break is this lawsuit filed in Chicago, charging that the Jesuits knew about and covered up the actions of a serial child molester, Donald J. McGuire, over a span of fifty years (see also). (McGuire himself was convicted and imprisoned several years ago.) The suit includes previously-secret church documents, dating as far back as the 1960s and as recently as 2003, showing that church officials were repeatedly warned about his predatory tendencies and took no action. The extent of their response was that they told him to stop traveling with young "assistants", but he ignored those feeble directives and they did nothing.

And this isn't the only embarrassment for the Jesuits. In another major story, the order's Oregon province has agreed to pay $166 million - the third-largest settlement ever to survivors of sex abuse - to hundreds of students, almost all of them Native Americans, who were abused by priests at Catholic schools throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The attorneys representing the plaintiffs charged that the Jesuit order deliberately used isolated schools in rural areas and reservations, peopled mostly by poor, indigenous students, as a "dumping ground" for problem priests - adding a generous ladle of racism to its thick stew of hypocrisy, sadism and callousness toward violated children.

Any normal person would feel extreme revulsion at these stories, but it's important to say precisely why. It's not that the Catholics are the only ones guilty of this: there have been similar serial molesters in other denominations, even in public schools. It's not that their anti-sex fanaticism warps the minds of their followers, making them uniquely likely to become pedophiles; that's a neat, tidy and emotionally satisfying hypothesis, but there's no evidence for it that I'm aware of. It's not even the nauseating hypocrisy of the Vatican pontificating about how they're the sacred guardians of morality in a secular world, while at the same time conspiring to cover up the most repulsive evils.

No, the most indefensible, infuriating aspect of this vast scandal is the cold and utterly calculating systematicity of the coverup. It's the fact that this happened so often that the upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy became a well-oiled machine for protecting pedophiles, capable of shuffling them around from parish to parish, across continents or decades, without anyone involved having any serious crisis of conscience. (As another example, I wrote some time ago about a pedophile priest so notorious that the church was having a hard time moving him around, because his proclivities were apparently known to every bishop in Canada and none wanted to take him - and still, not one of them raised the alarm.) It's the fact that so many Catholic hierarchs over the years accepted this as if it was business as usual, just a mundane and unremarkable function of the church's bureaucracy.

It's incredible how complete was the veil of silence, how universal the agreement to sustain the coverup. The Mafia only wishes it could sustain such a code of omerta among its members. Nevertheless, despite all their attempts to hide it, this wall of secrecy is cracking, and the truth is emerging despite the church's decades-long effort to cover it up.

April 4, 2011, 6:27 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink17 comments
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Weekly Link Roundup

• Greta Christina posts her completed list of atheists of color.

• In early 1981, Carl Sagan sent this letter to the Explorers' Club - an international society dedicated to scientific exploration - regarding their men-only admission policy. Several months later, the first female members were admitted. (HT: Geek Feminism Blog)

• Johann Hari writes about "the myth of the panicking disaster victim" and what it implies for humanity's inherent moral sense.

• Catholic anti-abortion groups are trying to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to "save" a 13-month-old infant with a severe neurological disorder who is not and likely never will be conscious, after Canadian doctors proposed removing his breathing tube. Peter Singer asks if this is the most "pro-life" use of all that money.

• Following a devastating grand jury report, the Catholic archdiocese of Philadelphia has suspended 21 priests named as child molestation suspects. Also, Maureen Dowd profiles the first U.S. district attorney to criminally charge church officials for covering up child abuse - including sickening details from the grand jury report describing exactly what they helped to cover up.

• In a welcome and long-overdue development, the British government proposes reforming the country's archaic and plaintiff-friendly libel laws to stop abuses such as "libel tourism". (See my earlier post on this.)

March 22, 2011, 8:01 am • Posted in: The FoyerPermalink4 comments
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The Graying of the Priesthood

I've written several times before about the decline of the Catholic church in the West. But today, I want to shine a spotlight on one corner of the world to study a lesser-known but extremely important symptom of that decline. This was brought to my attention by the journalist and atheist Dick Gross, author of the amusingly and aptly titled column Godless Gross, in an essay commenting on this article from the newspaper The Age.

Unlike most First World countries, Australia's Catholic population is growing (mainly because of immigration), now approaching 6 million. But at the same time, the ranks of the priesthood are dwindling. There are about 1,500 priests for the entire country, and the average age of a priest in Australia is 60 and rising. Already, despite the consolidation of almost 200 parishes since 1994, one in four Australian parishes doesn't have a full-time priest. If these demographic trends continue, by 2025 there will be as few as 600 priests for a population of over 7 million faithful - in other words, one priest for every 11,600 Catholics. Something tells me those men are going to be pretty busy.

For the moment, the church has been bridging the gap by importing priests from countries like Nigeria, India and the Philippines. But this strategy (described as one of "despair and desperation" by ex-priest Peter Wilkinson) may not be viable for much longer. As Gross points out, the lack of priests isn't just a First World problem. Some countries already have it even worse:

The Latin American Churches are similarly sclerotic. Brazil has one priest for every 10,000 believers and Mexico one for every 9700!

This is a slow-motion catastrophe for the Catholic church. It's not just that parishes are closing and merging and churches are being shuttered; it's not just that the increasingly few numbers of people willing to be priests are being spread increasingly thin all over the world. It's also that the church's strategy for addressing the crisis, shipping in priests from Third World countries, is bound to make things even worse. Many of these foreign priests exemplify the kind of patriarchal, illiberal culture that's out of step with the population they're called on to serve, which will further widen the chasm between Catholic believers and their own hierarchy:

Catholics for Ministry co-founder Paul Collins shares that concern. "Many of these foreign priests are inexperienced and come from cultures that are tribal and patriarchal. They have little or no comprehension of the kinds of faith challenges that face Catholics living in a secular, individualistic, consumerist culture that places a strong emphasis on equality, women's rights and co-responsibility between clergy and lay people," he said.

Now, there's one blindingly obvious solution staring the church in the face: change the rules to allow ordination of married men and even (gasp!) women as priests. As Gross says, it's not even as if married priests would be a new thing for Catholicism; priestly celibacy didn't become a universally observed rule until the Lateran Councils of the 1100s. But not only has the Vatican rejected that proposal out of hand, it's forbidden the Australian bishops to even mention it in public. Rarely in the history of religion has so sensible a solution to such a pressing problem gotten such a knee-jerk rejection from the very people who would benefit the most from it.

And while the hierarchy refuses to even discuss the issue, the priesthood is still dwindling. Blinded by its own delusional sense of infallibility, the Vatican is marching proudly into extinction. It remains to be seen whether the world's Catholics will obediently follow their leaders off the cliff, or if we may yet see schisms and new sects form as some of them rebel against Rome's hidebound insanity. I wouldn't be surprised if progressive groups like Catholics for Ministry ultimately end up breaking away from the church and striking out on their own.

March 16, 2011, 5:55 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink27 comments
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The Catholic Church Answers Your Sex Questions

Gather round, readers! I've got a real treat in store for you, because today the Roman Catholic Church is going to answer all your questions on dating and sex. Yes, that's right - if you've ever wanted your raunchiest, most explicit questions about human intimacy answered in full, uncensored detail by a group of elderly white men who are also lifelong celibates, today is the day you've been waiting for.

First of all, a reader writes in with this dilemma:

When pregnant, I have am prone to receiving a type of bacterial infection that can cause pre-term labor, and my first child was born several weeks early because of it.

During my second pregnancy, I read that many doctors recommend the use of condoms during pregnancy to try and reduce the transition of the bacteria... I solicited opinions on a Catholic e-mail list as to whether or not the use of condoms during pregnancy under these conditions would be licit. I assumed that it would be. If I'm already pregnant, I am obviously not trying to contracept, right?

Well, reader, of course you can! I mean, obviously the use of condoms to prevent pregnancy is a grave sin in the eyes of God, but since you're already pregnant, you can't conceive again whether you use one or not. And since your intention is to prevent harm to your fetus, a laudable desire considering the church's protect-the-unborn-at-any-cost attitude, surely a condom couldn't be impermissible under those circumstances. This is just an obvious implication of the church's teachings on... wait, what?

First, Catholic moral theology holds that the marital act includes both a unitive and a procreative aspect and that neither of these may be deliberately frustrated... The unitive aspect involves more than just the spouses giving each other the experience of sexual release. That could be accomplished any number of ways that would not be open to procreation. For the spouses to truly be united in marital congress that is open to procreation, at least some insemination must occur. Without insemination, one does not have a completed marital act.

...For this reason, even when a condom is not being used to prevent procreation, it could not be used on the grounds that it prevents the spouses from being united in marital congress.

Ah, of course. You see, I forgot something very important: the Catholic belief in Sperm Magic. Regardless of your intent, if you do anything during sex that prevents sperm from entering a vagina, you make Jesus angry (and you wouldn't like Jesus when he's angry). But never fear, folks, this writer has the perfect Catholic solution:

While it is necessary for some insemination to occur in order for the marital act to be completed, it does not appear that there is any set amount of insemination that must occur. Some orthodox Catholic moralists... have thus proposed the possibility of using a perforated condom that would allow some but not all of the seminal fluid to be transmitted.

Ha ha ha, perforated condoms!? You've got to be kidding me! That's like a religion that believes driving is sinful but allows it as long as your car has a hole in the gas tank! But surely this is just one kook's ridiculous notion, there can't possibly be a whole community of Catholics who oh come on you can't be serious:

The only morally acceptable way to collect a semen sample for analysis is for the man to don a perforated condom and make love to his wife. The perforated condom will allow some semen to escape, making conception possible, while retaining enough for analysis.

The logic here boggles my mind. If using condoms is morally wrong because it's a violation of God's plan for your marriage, how is it any different to seek medical tests and fertility treatments if you're having problems conceiving? Wouldn't that also be an attempt to subvert the plan God put in motion by making you infertile in the first place? (Note, the Vatican does declare IVF off-limits to Catholics, so clearly they accept this reasoning in at least some cases.)

The Catholic acceptance of perforated condoms is like the Islamic practice of "temporary marriage" - a logical contortion to get around a problem they created for themselves in the first place. The church believes that sex has both a "unitive" and a "procreative" purpose, and that's fine, I agree with that. But what's bizarre and arbitrary is the church's insistence that both those functions must be served in every sex act, and any kind of sex that has one without the other is sinful. This is like saying, "The purpose of your eyesight is both to let you take in beautiful sights and also to help you find your way around. Therefore, it's wrong to look at a painting, because you're using your eyes just for pleasure and neglecting the navigational function of your vision." (The "Catholic" solution, one presumes, would be to only look at actual beautiful landscapes and not mere reproductions.)

One last question for today, and this one, unlike the others, filled me more with pity than with amusement:

The other night... we were lying in bed after the kids were down and started to cuddle. The cuddling got pretty active and one thing led to another and I 'went off' (as we like to put it). I wasn't trying to make it happen, but I didn't really try and stop it either. I am familiar with Onanism and I am not sure if this situation qualifies. I know Onanism is wrong, so if what happened was that, then I would be in a state of mortal sin. But I don't know if it is Onanism if it happens in the context of a husband and wife showing affection.

Like the Christian believer Contraskeptic, to whom I wrote a letter of advice a few years ago, this is a case of a well-meaning person hogtied by irrational rules, made to feel guilt, shame and fear for no good reason at all. And the other commenters in the thread didn't help:

All forms of masturbation are inherently, mortally sinful, even within the context of marriage... you need to go to confession. Today.

When people say that religion gives them peace and happiness that atheism never can, I want to point them to stories like these. This is how so many theists decide what's permitted and what's forbidden when it comes to sex: not by judging whether it causes harm to any other human being, whether it fosters love and intimacy in their marriage, or whether it gives them pleasure and happiness, but by consulting a book of superstitious rules laid down by clerics. And because these rules are so arbitrary, so unconnected to human needs and desires, it puts them in constant fear of accidentally crossing the line and committing some imaginary transgression.

The Pascal's Wager logic, which so often assumes that joining a religion is cost-free, hides the fine print: you will end up paying a price, and it may be a lot higher than you think. How can anyone be truly happy in the mental slavery of a religion that layers on the guilt and threats for breaking such absurd laws? And wouldn't people like this be much happier if they abandoned these superstitious beliefs and instead adopted a rational, humanist alternative sexual ethics?

(HT for this whole post: my wife, the talented and lovely MissCherryPi, whom I didn't believe when she first told me about the perforated condoms!)

March 7, 2011, 6:44 am • Posted in: The LibraryPermalink101 comments
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Your Weekly Catholic Scandal Update

It hasn't been a good few weeks for the Catholic church. Every time you turn around, it seems, new repercussions of its conspiracy to protect child molesters are piling up somewhere in the world. Even I've had trouble keeping up with it all, so here's a post to collect the latest news.

First, there's the Netherlands, where the media has reported that one of the country's archbishops personally arranged to shield a pedophile priest by moving him to a different parish. This is nothing new, given the widespread complicity of the hierarchy in the cover-up. But what's especially damning is that this same archbishop, as recently as last March, was explicitly denying that he knew anything about child abusers in the church:

Cardinal Simonis caused some distress in the Netherlands last March, when he was asked on television about the hundreds of complaints surfacing against the church and replied in German rather than Dutch, saying "Wir haben es nicht gewusst" — or, "We knew nothing."

The phrase, which is associated with Nazi excuses after World War II, drew uncomfortable parallels for the church, which has been accused of covering up the issue of sexual abuse.

I don't want to Godwin's Law this thread, but really, how can you avoid it when the people responsible for protecting sex predators are using the exact same excuses that were given by Nazi collaborators?

Meanwhile, in the U.S., a grand jury has accused the Archdiocese of Philadelphia of continuing to let known sex predators have access to potential victims. At least 37 priests for which there's "substantial evidence" of abuse are still serving in roles that put them in contact with children, and at least 10 of these have been in these jobs since 2005, when a previous grand jury issued a 124-page report that accused the church of a widespread cover-up.

But it cheered my sense of justice to see that this grand jury isn't stopping at harsh words. On the contrary, the article says that they've returned an indictment against William Lynn, former secretary of clergy in the archdiocese, charging him with endangering the welfare of children by refusing to take action:

"The rapist priests we accuse were well known to the Secretary of Clergy, but he cloaked their conduct and put them in place to do it again," the grand jury said.

The grand jury reluctantly concluded not to press charges against Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Lynn's direct superior, due to a lack of evidence, even though the two of them worked closely together on this. But even so, it's long overdue that the Catholic higher-ups, not just the rank-and-file priests, be held to account. The ones who participated in covering up child abuse are every bit as guilty as actual sex predators, and they absolutely deserve to be punished accordingly.

Next, in a story that really sums up how widespread this problem is, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has been embarrassed again. It turns out that the diocese's vicar of clergy appointed a priest, Martin O'Loghlen, to a church-run sexual abuse advisory board - even though O'Loghlen himself was a known abuser who molested a teenage girl in the 1960s and admitted to having a "sexual addiction". A lawyer for victims of sexual abuse put it perfectly:

John C. Manly, a lawyer for victims in dozens of sexual abuse cases, said Father O'Loghlen's case was egregious because of his time on the sexual review board. "He was personally selected for a board that is meant to protect people from priests like him," Mr. Manly said.

And finally, there's this in-depth report on the continuing fallout of the Catholic sex scandal in Ireland. Like Poland, Ireland was one of the Vatican's last European strongholds; Catholicism was given a privileged place in the constitution, controls almost all of the schools and hospitals, and was deeply intertwined with the national identity. The church's influence ran so deep that contraception was illegal there as recently as 1980, "and until 1985 condoms were available only with a prescription."

The privileged place of Catholicism in Irish society was a disaster for the children in its care. The church used that privilege to cloak itself in a veil of unchallengeable authority, behind which horrible atrocities flourished in a culture of total depravity and impunity. This is no doubt why the child-rape scandal was far worse in Ireland than anywhere else. As the article notes, Ireland has had by far the highest number of reported cases of sex abuse per capita. In the absolute number of cases, it's second only to the U.S., even though the U.S. has almost a hundred times as many people.

But despite its suffering, and despite all the legal protections the church still enjoys, Ireland has been a model in uncovering the truth. All three of its government commissions on Catholic sex abuse - the Murphy Report, the Ryan Report, and the Ferns Report - were comprehensive and devastating to the church, and have been a model for similar investigative efforts in other countries. The church, for its part, has shown nothing but intransigence: Cardinal Sean Brady, the highest-ranking Irishman in the hierarchy, refused to resign despite helping to cover up the activities of one of the country's most notorious pedophile priests. And Pope Benedict's response to the crisis has simply been to blame it all on secularization and order the Irish to pray more and engage in "eucharistic adoration".

The repercussions of the church's arrogance may not be fully felt for a generation or more. But we're already seeing rumblings: Mass attendance has dropped by 50% in last 30 years, and even elderly members of the church are demanding reform in a way that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Of course, as far as the Vatican is concerned, they did nothing wrong and none of their policies need to change. The inevitable collision of these two attitudes will be another sign of how the Catholic church, despite its pomp, is steadily ushering itself into extinction.

February 22, 2011, 6:41 am • Posted in: The RotundaPermalink17 comments
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