In an age when all religions must be treated by right-thinking people with the greatest tolerance and respect, much of the reaction to the sexual abuse story in Europe and the Pope’s involvement with it, is, nevertheless, deeply and specifically anti-Catholic.
This is not just a story about individual priests and instances of malfeasance; it is, instead, a focused and concerted argument against a host of precepts and behaviors and theological positions fundamental to the Roman Catholic Church. The issue isn’t just sex abuse, it’s the Church.
What is under attack is the infallibility of the pope, the nature of priest-supplicant relationship, the cultivated secrecy of the Church, the nature and orientation of the priesthood, and the very power—spiritual, political, and cultural—of the Church itself.
The subtext can’t be missed: It is on the basis of all of the above that sexual abuse has been fostered, tolerated, and covered-up over the last many decades (if not centuries). There might not be a Church, as we know the Church, without sexual abuse. The Catholic Church equals sex abuse.
Let’s go further: all of the grievances, antagonism, and odium toward the Church, on the part of lapsed and apostate Catholics—surely the majority of the Catholic world—are made real.
What’s more, the infallibility and, in fact, continued employment of the Pope are in doubt not just because he may have tolerated, acquiesced to, and facilitated specific instances of abuse, but also because of his obvious inability to handle his predicament. The mystery, remoteness, and other-worldly safety of the papacy are now up against a modern PR crisis. In the face of which, the Pope, who has made his career as the most militant defender of orthodoxy, has become an inarticulate rube whose every utterance seems to implicate him deeper in the worst scandal the modern Church has ever faced.
The best defense that the most faithful can muster is that the Church has survived many, many dreadful things.
But not like this.
It was bad enough when sex abuse was an American problem. But this is the European Church. The historical argument with Catholicism, an argument that has been going on for so many centuries, which the wily Church has defeated or circumvented or stonewalled or built mighty barricades against, is back on the table again.
This time, the Church could very well lose it.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.