If you’re looking for in depth coverage of the cardinals gathering in the Vatican to decide which of them will become the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, you’ve come to the wrong place. If you’re looking for some perspective on the spectacle that is pitting 115 sexist, homophobic, mostly white, conservative old men against each other, then read on.
The truth is, if you are interested in meaningful reform of the scandal plagued institution, it doesn’t really matter who the next Pope is. None of the candidates deemed serious contenders would do anything to change the Church in a meaningful way. They are all aging, deeply conservative men who don’t believe in the use of contraception to prevent pregnancy, don’t believe in a woman’s right to choose and believe homosexuality is a sin. Of the viable candidates, a victims of sex abuse advocacy group deemed only three of them as being the ‘least worse’ when it came to taking responsibility for the Church’s role in child abuse. Not exactly a resounding endorsement (and they probably won’t get elected anyway).
In short, there isn’t much to get excited about. The Church will end up with another old white man who won’t do too much to rock the boat when it comes to any of their more serious problems. Sure, he’ll come down on the rampant pedophilia now out in full view, and we can expect some heads to roll. The Church is rightfully in disaster management mode, and acutely understands that it must be seen to be taking on its problem head on. But don’t hold your breath for changes to the decrepit system that produces sexual perversion over and over again, then hides it from the public in order to keep the institution going.
The Catholic Church is a complex beast, and not a completely rotten one. It does huge amounts to alleviate poverty around the world and provides much needed community centers that are built around faith and spirituality – a dying part of human existence in the modern industrial world. Religion provides refuge from the relentless onslaught of consumerism and ever changing societal trends. It helps ground people with a sense of something more important than themselves, and gives structure to lives that are uprooted by shifting job markets, fractured relationships and psychological frailties. It may be built on childish superstitions, but people find meaning in them and that counts for something.
Sadly, the Catholic Church has let its followers down so gravely, and in such humiliating fashion that it is almost impossible to reconcile the different narratives. The Church churns out sexually repressed individuals who horrifically abuse minors, and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars shielding the perpetrators from justice. As the selection process for the next Pope goes on, the Church is currently paying out another $10 million for the actions of former priest Michael Baker, who repeatedly molested four victims beginning in the 1970s in Los Angeles.
The absurd, inhuman culture of celibacy and homophobia has done untold damage to sexually unsure young men, and has fostered a highly dangerous environment of suppressed urges that manifest itself in destructive and abusive behavior. The Church pathetically set up its own psychological counseling centers and treatment protocols to deal with the all consuming crisis, but given the treatment was based on the same doctrines that produced it in the first place, they were always doomed to fail. The Church, trapped in its own dogma, could not look to the real science behind sex abuse because it would unravel the antiquated views it held to so dearly. Ignoring real science and maintaining 12th century views of human society was evidently more important than the lives of abused children.
The worst part about the abuse scandal was how far it went up the chain of command, and how hard the Church worked to protect high powered molesters. Joseph Ratzinger knew probably more than any human being alive on the scale of the abuse, and rather than stick it out to do what was right (ie. alert the Goddam authorities), he did what no Pope in 600 years had done, and retired. Ratzinger had helped protect known molesters, and knew that if there was a serious attempt to uncover all that the Church had been involved in, he would have been implicated in it.
The election at the Vatican comes down to the vote count, and the winner will need a two-thirds majority of the 115 voting cardinals (or 77 votes). As of yesterday, the puff of black smoke from the chimney on top of the Sistine Chapel signalled that the cardinals have not been able to come to a decision. The heavy favorite Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, suffered a blow to his candidacy after anti-mafia investigators carried out a string of raids his diocese (the raids were apparently part of an investigation into “corruption linked to tenders by, and supplies to, hospitals”), but it is unclear whether it will affect his prospects. Should he be elected, it is safe to assume he won’t do much at all. Scola once told reporters that “the church does not have the power to modify the practice, uninterrupted for 2,000 years, of calling only men” to the priesthood, a revealing quote that gives insight into Scola’s views on what the Church really is. The Church to him is an immovable object whose survival must be guaranteed at all costs. Allowing women to become priests and scrapping the ludicrous celibacy laws may actually do something to change the dangerous culture of abuse, but that would mean cutting into the power structure that is so crucial to people like Scola’s ascendancy.
And that is obviously more important than institutional child rape.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.