Thursday, September 19, 2013

Why I'm not going to thank the pope for anything


My Facebook feed tonight was full of statements thanking Pope Francis for admitting today what we've all known for over thirty years: "that the church had grown 'obsessed' with abortion, gay marriage and contraception". In addition to gushy messages from individuals in my feed, there was a statement from Catholics for Choice (an organization I have long supported and deeply respect) and the following graphic from the Abortion Care Network.

While I understand this impulse, as a pro-choice ex-Catholic who attended Catholic school through the 12th grade, and received all the sacraments through that point (as Jim Carroll sings, "I got con-fir-MA-shun!"), I cannot participate in this premature outpouring of gratitude. 

While I have known many wonderful Catholic individuals who have been important in my life, including nuns and brothers, I cannot forget nor can I forgive that the Catholic Church systematically covered up a epidemic of sexual abuse shocking in its extent and the way it was implicitly allowed to continue unabated for decades.

I know my parish had an alcoholic pederast as a priest when I was in junior high. They moved him along to another parish soon enough, and I don't know if he raped anyone while at our parish, but I do know that a classmate of mine who had previously been sexually assaulted refused to be alone with him (e.g. in confession), and I trusted her instincts. 

I know someone who got HIV after being raped by his priest. 

These are but two small examples of a massive crisis in which an astounding number of violent, abusive, exploitative acts were covered up at every level of the hierarchy, all the way up to the Vatican. The decision was made that it was more important to protect the institution than the individuals who looked to that institution for solace and guidance. This goes all the way to the former pope, Benedict XVI, who was named in cases brought by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and others. I firmly believe he retired to defuse the issue and deflect attention away from the hierarchy (after all, how can an infallible being resign?). And it's no accident that he continues to live in the Vatican - doing so protects him from prosecution

So no, I'm not going to be mollified by a new pope who names himself for Francis of Assisi, or who phones average Catholics, or who verbally admits blatant doctrinal faults. Those are all nice PR moves, but PR moves aren't enough. I won't accept anything short of massive structural change that results in justice for survivors of sexual abuse by priests, and actual doctrinal changes regarding abortion and contraception, homosexuality, and women in the priesthood. When that day comes, we can all be truly grateful. Until then, I will neither forgive nor forget, and I will certainly not thank.

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