Feb 13th 2013

Telling God, "Ciao, I'm Out of Here"

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology

How does one resign from a divine appointment? We just learned that Pope Benedict XVI is resigning his position as the voice of the Catholic Church, the Bishop of Rome, the leader of the Holy See, and the head of state of Vatican City. Let us not forget that throughout most of history, Popes have claimed to be divine, the successor of Peter, infallible as a representative of god on Earth and the right and ability to judge and excommunicate angels. The act of resigning seems inconsistent with such awesome power. If the position is filled as a mandate from god, how does one walk away from that mandate?

The answer is: you don't, if we go by the idea that the exception proves the rule. Church law, in spite of the Pope's direct link to god, in fact allows for papal resignation, but only two in history have taken advantage of the possibility. Natural death or assassinations are the usual means of departure. The last to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415. Before him was Pope Celestine V, who flew the coop in 1294.

My thoughts when I heard Ratzinger was resigning? First, yet another hypocrisy from the church in flouting supposedly divine law for convenience, and second, the more than 10,000 childrenknown to have been violated by Catholic priests. Both call into question the Church's dissonant claim to a higher morality based on a special relationship with an almighty power. In that grating contradiction lays a central problem with the Church, and more generally, with religion: any embarrassing challenges to divine claims can be dismissed as the consequence of human frailties. The Church can claim simultaneously to be the arbiter of a morality inspired by god while offering the excuse that they can be expected to be no better than the general population when it comes to abusing children because it is a "human institution." Rather than holding itself to a higher standard based on its own claims to divine insight the Church offers the rather sad defense that other institutions suffer the same problem.

Our resigning Pope Benedict XVI said "just as the church is rightly held to exacting standards in this regard, all other institutions, without exception, should be held to the same standards." That is a clear statement that the Church should not be held to any standard higher than any secular institution, but precisely to the same standard. He willingly surrendered any claim to a higher moral standing, an astonishing admission for the head of the Church. This very surrender makes his resignation that much easier, and more sense.

Oddly the Pope is resigning because of age and health, rather than why he should. In March 2010, he said in response to the damaging stream of breaking news stories about pedophilia in the Church that, "From God comes the courage not to be intimidated by petty gossip." Petty gossip. Factual news accounts of this horror are reduced to petty gossip. But the Vatican did not stop there. The attack on the media was in fact two-pronged: beyond spreading unsubstantiated rumors and gossip, the media was also said to have exaggerated the extent and depth of the problem as a means of persecuting the Church.

The second idea of unfair coverage plays into the rationalizing and sickening argument that the Church is no worse than any other institution, just under greater scrutiny. But coverage of the Sandusky scandal proves that idea a bit silly. Can anybody claim the media did not cover Penn State with great zeal and excess to the point of obsession? In fact that wall-to-wall coverage could be considered disproportionate since Penn State has a few tens of thousands of interested enthusiasts while the Church as over one billion. The media are not the problem; they are equal opportunity sensationalists. Nor is such lurid coverage new; during the 1980s the news was salivating for the McMartin preschool case in Manhattan Beach, California. The claim that the media unfairly targets the Catholic Church, or exaggerates the extent of the problem through excessive or overzealous coverage is simply not substantiated by the facts. The McMartins were innocent yet the media frenzy went on unabated. The Church has no unique claim to media bias.

Perhaps knowing the media argument was weak, blaming biased coverage for exaggeration or printing gossip was just one arrow in the papal quiver. Next up: society is to blame for encouraging a sexual revolution. A five-year $1.8 million study, initiated in 2006 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop's, concluded that an all-male celibate priesthood, or homosexuality, were not to blame for the sex scandal. Instead, the report concluded that priests preyed upon children because the sexual turmoil of the 1960s and '70s put priests unprepared for the cultural shift "under stress". Society, not the Church, was to blame. This all under Ratzinger's leadership.

At one point the Vatican floated the idea that the Church was the victim, equating the uproar over the sex scandal to the persecution of the Jews. I'll let that one speak for itself, other than to note that such a claim reeks of desperation. The logic behind that claim is evidence of a moral compass spinning out of control.

More damning for the Church than disingenuous misdirection and wild claims of victimhood is the revelation of a secret Vatican edict that rejected an Irish Catholic Church proposal to report pedophile priests to local authorities. Most of us would consider the proposal reasonable and self-evidently the right course of action. Not the Vatican, nor its leader Ratzinger, who in rejecting the proposal created according to an Irish bishop "a mandate to conceal reported crimes of a priest." The Vatican's take on this goes back to a 1999 meeting in Rome where bishops were admonished to remember that they were "bishops first, not policemen." Official doctrine to look the other way. The Church tried to explain away this embarrassing document by noting sex solicited in confessionals had to be dealt with in secret according to church law.

Well, while no institution is above the law let us take for a moment that argument as valid. How well did the Church police its own according to its own laws? With an amazing and callous disregard for its innocent victims. As with many crimes, the cover up became a crime in many ways as bad as the original transgression. This is why the Pope should resign.

The great crime here is not the existence of pedophiles within its ranks of priests, although that is bad enough, but the fact that the Church as a matter of policy transferred known pedophiles to unsuspecting parishes. Allow me to list just a few cases. Father John J. Geoghan was accused in the mid-1990s of abusing 130 grammar school boys, one who was just 4 years old. Horrifying in its own right - but worse is that Cardinal Bernard F. Law knew about Geoghan's predatory sexual habits in 1984, yet approved his transfer to St. Julia's parish. Archdiocesan records reveal that the archdiocese did not view as "serious" the repeated abuse of seven boys in one extended family. Not surprisingly the transfer to St. Juilia's did not go well, resulting in yet more complaints of sexual abuse.

The problem is not isolated to a few rogue priests. Here is what the Boston Globe concluded in 2002:

Church documents, official testimony, and victim interviews gathered over the past year paint an extraordinary picture of secrecy and deception in the Boston Archdiocese; a culture in which top church officials coddled abusive priests and permitted them to molest again, while stonewalling or paying off the victims of that abuse.

Nor is the problem confined to Boston. The scandal spread to Canada, Ireland, Italy, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Poland and Germany; and continues to spread around the world to Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Kenya, Tanzania, the Philippines and Australia.

Let us look at one more specific case. Father Peter Hullerman was a known pedophile, sent to therapy by the Vatican in 1980 to treat his disease. He was returned to pastoral work within a few days of beginning his psychiatric treatment. It is hard to be shocked to learn that Father Hullerman was later convicted for molesting boys in another parish. I end with this particular example because the case has broader implications. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was copied on a memo that approved this specific course of action for Father Hullerman. The Vatican denies that Ratzinger ever saw the memo... Perhaps, but at a minimum the memo establishes there was in place an ugly and indefensible Vatican policy of putting known pedophiles in new parishes with no warning to the new congregation. Let us be unambiguously clear about this: the Vatican intentionally put children at risk to protect its priests. That is a fact. That is a crime. That is a subversion of moral values. Putting a child in harm's way, exposing a little boy or girl to the sick yearnings of a pedophile priest who the child is told to trust completely as a representative of a higher power, is a crime unique to the Church, not an invention of the media and not the fault of society. Sick priests are one problem; Vatican policy is another, one not explained away by human frailty. The problem has shifted from sex abuse to the crime of covering up sex abuse; the latter a greater crime because it perpetuates the former. Ratzinger promoted this culture of deceit from on high.

For the sake of argument, let us remove from the equation the notion that the Church, as a self-proclaimed arbiter of morality, must hold itself to a higher standard than society at large. Given that, does the assertion that pedophilia in the Church is found in the same proportion as in the general populace have any merit?

The way statistics are compiled there is no way to answer that question definitively. But we can get toward an answer tangentially. Anne Barrett Doyle, the co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a Web site that compiles reports on abuse cases, noted that the records show, "...there's a vast gap, a multiplier of two, three or four times, between the numbers of perpetrators that the prosecutors find and what the bishops released." There is clear evidence the problem is underreported as a matter of Vatican policy; no such organized policy exists in the general population. One could reasonably surmise therefore that the amount of underreporting is greater within the Church than in society at large. But the question itself is wrong: even if true that pedophilia was found in the Church at rates equivalent to society at large, that offers no excuse for Vatican policy of covering up the crime and transferring known pedophiles to new unsuspecting congregations. The argument itself reveals unconditional surrender to moral decay. That is why the Pope should resign.

The Church cannot be defended. Even if we could explain away pedophilia in the ranks of the priests as typical of the general population; even if we could blame the media for exaggerating the problem or society for creating stress for clergymen; even if the Church need not hold itself to a higher moral standard than secular institutions based on its own claims of divine insight; nothing can defend the Vatican's practice of systematically covering up the crimes of sex abuse within its ranks or sending pedophiles to new parishes to prey anew on a fresh batch of young men.

Being Christian does not bestow upon anybody a higher degree of moral depth or any greater propensity for honesty. After all, we are reminded that priests and laity alike are only human, and will suffer the same moral failures as the non-Christian population. That is what the Church itself argues: Christians are no better than anybody else, and cannot be expected to be so. Exacting standards must be equally applied to secular and non-secular alike. So Christians by the Church's own admission will be equally prone to crime, deceit and all the moral failures attributed to human frailty. They might be absolved of their sins through confession in the eyes of the Church, but victims still suffer the consequence of their human failings. The Church and its apologists can't have it both ways by making the self-contradicting and absurd claim that Christians are more honest and more moral, but no different from anybody else. Ratzinger never exhibited the courage to tackle the moral decay within the Church, and in this absence of leadership, allowed abuse to continue. And this is why the Pope should resign.



Book Introduction:

Beyond Cosmic Dice: Moral Life in a Random World

by Jeff Schweitzer and Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara 

June 22, 2009
"Beyond Cosmic Dice" offers a new perspective on the purpose and meaning of life free from any divine influence. By rejecting the false premises of religion, readers are free to pave their own road for a better life.


Jeff Schweitzer
 spent much of his youth underwater pursuing his lifelong fascination with marine life. He obtained his doctorate from Scripps Institution of Oceanography through his neurobehavioral studies of sharks and rays. He has published in an eclectic range of fields, including neurobiology, marine science, international development, environmental protection and aviation. Jeff and his wife live in central Texas, moving there after retiring from the White House as Assistant Director for International Science and Technology.

Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara is an evolutionary biologist with a doctorate from the University of California. He serves as a marine policy advisor to various national and international bodies, and has recently represented Italy in multilateral environmental negotiations. Through appearances on television and radio, and the publication of articles and books, he has been striving to increase public awareness of marine conservation. Giuseppe lives with his family in Northern Italy.




 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "