This Unholy Mess


Real Housewives of Vatican City

If you’re a connoisseur of noisy, vicious, over-the-top melodrama, you no longer need to rely on the famous women of New Jersey or Atlanta or Beverly Hills for your fix. The Catholic Church has got your back, offering stunning views of pettiness and explosive revenge almost as satisfying as seeing a table overturned in a swank restaurant or a splash of Chardonnay meeting the face of a shocked matron. If the Vatican doesn’t offer exchanges of brutal insults about makeup and hair styles, it’s only because there is no word for “eye shadow” in Latin, and most of the participants don’t have much hair left, anyway.
The ostensible cause of this eruption of distinctly un-Christian behavior is further revelations about the pedophilia scandal that has engulfed the Church for decades, but you don’t have to look too much more closely to see that it is actually the manifestation of an internecine struggle that has long been a big deal in Vatican politics, politics that manage to be sordid and holy at the same time. It’s some sort of miracle, for sure.
The struggle is supposedly between the Church’s conservative and liberal forces, but the irony is that, because of the extreme cover-your-butt conservatism of the Church over many centuries, neither side is forward-looking enough to deal with the issues that are the actual sources of the extraordinary evil of clerical pedophilia: celibacy and male dominance. As long as the Church is organized to accommodate these quaintly retro and incredibly destructive notions, its troubles will go on.
To put that another way: If you create aberrant environments, you get aberrant activities. If you insist that men not marry but live singly, together, in exclusive groups, what can you expect? Human nature is what it is, and its messiness extends to the inner workings of the Church, whether anyone admits it or not. The Church is now trapped by its own propaganda, which says that it is special, founded and guided by God, not by humans. When ugly, shocking behavior emerges in its ranks, members invariably retreat to the old saw about the institution of the Church being inviolable, but, well, since its leaders are human beings after all, they make mistakes. Gee whiz. Sorry. Sigh.
This is, as they say around the Vatican, garbagio. It’s an attempt to have your virginity and lose it, too.
If Church leaders and members are human, why have a church that’s inhuman, one that makes inhuman demands? Why insist that priests and nuns repress one of the most basic drives of our nature, one that finds expression in virtually every plant and animal on earth? What God-forsaken superstition, what esoteric lore could be so important that it speaks louder than the cries of masses of abused children down through the centuries? Maybe the Church’s position is holy—but evidence points to its being deeply immoral, if not outright insane.
If celibacy among the clergy were done away with tomorrow, what would be the result? For one thing, priests and nuns would become experienced in matters of family life, and so more able to give meaningful counsel to Church members. And they wouldn’t have to deal with repressed sexual drives oozing out from under their physiological floorboards, making a mess of their lives and those of others.
If the Church were to become a truly human and humane institution, one dedicated more to the welfare of humankind and less to defending questionable details of a two-thousand-year-old press release, it is reasonable to expect that other important changes would occur. Among these would surely be acceptance of women into the priesthood and Church hierarchy. The very idea that there are no women in the world capable of holding such positions is absurd and offensive on the face of it, and indeed reinforces a kind of modern slavery that most nations today reject. Does anyone want to pull out the old argument that Jesus selected only men as his apostles? Please. Whatever one might think the New Testament is, it’s clearly not an endorsement of then-accepted cultural norms–such as the total subjugation of women–as eternally true and valid. If it were, we would all still accept stoning as a means of recreational justice, and slavery as a celebrated means of getting your chamber pot emptied.
Is there hope? Who knows? With such a long tradition of putting self-protection above the needs of believers, it is hard to imagine the Church suddenly owning and addressing these issues. But then, it is also true that the Church counts hope as one of the three great Theological Virtues, along with faith and charity.
There is always a chance.

2 Replies to “Real Housewives of Vatican City”

  1. dannsue says:

    Paul, I look forward to your op-eds and occasional letters to the editor of the NVR. This piece is spot on and very humorous. You’ve captured every thought I have had as this sordid affair keeps happening. The idea that this ‘church’, enriched by fleecing millions of poor people, (mostly in the southern hemisphere so that it goes under the radar), purporting to take the moral high ground when it covers up it’s dastardly treatment of children and suppression of women in leadership roles, is the height of hypocrisy. They are right up there with Islam when it comes to the treatment of women. Thanks for your good work. I truly enjoy reading your commentary.

    1. Paul says:

      Thanks for the encouragement. This topic is particularly near and not-so-dear to my heart, having endured 14 years of Catholic education (and I use the term generously).

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