Fighting Human Nature

Those of us who never got the whole Michael Jackson thing – and found it really irritating when his funeral shut down the neighborhood here and folks got all strange – at least liked one of his tunes, Human Nature. Sometimes people do things that mess up everything. And you ask why. But it’s just human nature. That’s the heartbreaking, inevitable answer. Yes, Michael Jackson had a sad and messed up life, and may have been hinting at things about his abusive father, but that doesn’t make it any less true – people act in their own self-interest, not yours. Expect anything else and you’ll be sorry.

And it seems Catholics are discovering that now. Nick Baumann at Mother Jones offers an item on the top lobbyist for the Catholic Bishops – yes, they have lobbyists – who advised congressman Bart Stupak on his quixotic quest to hold out for his Stupak Amendment to the healthcare reform bill. It wasn’t much different than the Nelson Amendment in the Senate, and they could have been merged, but Stupak held out for his version of making sure that any insurance company that did any business with the government didn’t offer coverage for abortion, even if women paid for such coverage themselves without government funding of any kind. Offering that kind of private product on the side, for those who had the money to pay for it, would mean the company offering it couldn’t even talk to the government, much less participate in insurance exchanges or anything else. It seems the lobbyist for the Catholics Bishops wrote that for him and he loved it.

But now he knows better:

Perhaps the biggest question hanging over the bishops’ strategy is why they were prepared to see health care reform fail unless the Stupak amendment’s abortion provisions were adopted. After all, there was virtually no difference between the Stupak amendment in the House bill – which Doerflinger insisted was the only acceptable option – and the Nelson language in the Senate bill, which the bishops warned would “require people to pay for other people’s abortions.” …

In the days since Stupak voted for the bill, relations between his bloc and the bishops have soured. “The church does have some work to do in dealing with frayed nerves and divisions on policy questions,” Doerflinger told Catholic News Service. Last week, Stupak attacked the bishops and other anti-abortion groups for “great hypocrisy” in opposing Obama’s executive order after having supported former President George W. Bush’s executive order banning stem cell research in 2007. He told the Daily Caller he believed the bishops and the groups they were allied with were “just using the life issue to try to bring down health-care reform.” In other words, he suspected he was wrong to trust that his former allies were acting in good faith.

You have to learn that people act in their own self-interest. And Digby explains it cynically:

Yes, it was difficult to understand why Catholic bishops who purport to care for the poor would do such a thing. Certainly the non-wingnut laity wondered. In fact, they were aghast. So were the nuns. So were the Catholic hospitals. Stupak and his bloc were apparently just fools.

She says it was always obvious that these Catholic Bishops “were simply trying to tank health care reform for political purposes.”

They are aligned with the Republican Party. And they have shown that they are, shall we say, somewhat morally indifferent. Powerful leaders who will cover up for pedophiles aren’t likely to give a damn about the plight of the uninsured.

Is the Catholic Church a Republican-aligned political organization? Let’s go back to April, 6, 2004:

It is unclear if pressure from the Boston archbishop will prevent Sen. John Kerry from taking communion this Easter Sunday in his home city because of the Democratic nominee’s support for abortion. Amid questions of how Catholic leadership will respond to the pro-choice senator, Kerry’s archbishop – Boston’s own Sean O’Malley – has refused to clarify a statement last summer that pro-choice Catholics are in a state of grave sin and cannot take communion properly.

Adding to the fray in February, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke forbade Kerry from taking communion while campaigning in the area due to Kerry’s stance on abortion and possibly stem cell research.

The two archbishops’ admonishments shed light on the challenges faced by the liberal senator, as he tries to woo Catholics, which represent 27 percent of registered voters.

The denial of communion to a Catholic eminent politician would be unprecedented. Experts cite such action as forbidden by Catholic canon law, except in extreme cases that do not apply to Kerry.

They were playing hardball. His opposition to capital punishment, the Church’s position, didn’t matter, nor did Catholic canon law – you don’t deny anyone communion, sending their soul to hell, over disagreement on one issue. You council them, you win them back, and you offer forgiveness. Excommunication is rare – you use it only for the worst of the worst of the worst. Everyone can be saved, or almost everyone – but not John Kerry.

This was political – the Church did not want him to be president. They wanted Bush, even if he had a record of gleefully executing felons of all sorts, and started wars for no good reason, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands. Yes, the theology was wacked-out. But this was politics – about who gets the office. They could swing the election their way.

And of course it was Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who inserted the Catholic Church into the 2004 election by ordering bishops to deny communion to abortion rights supporters, including candidate John Kerry:

In a June 2004 letter to US bishops enunciating principles of worthiness for communion recipients, Ratzinger specified that strong and open supporters of abortion should be denied the Catholic sacrament, for being guilty of a “grave sin.”

He specifically mentioned “the case of a Catholic politician consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws,” a reference widely understood to mean Democratic candidate Kerry, a Catholic who has defended abortion rights. The letter said a priest confronted with such a person seeking communion “must refuse to distribute it.”

So forget Mass and saving souls on the individual level. This was about the down and dirty of influencing voters – more important.

And fast-forward to this year. The Supreme Court chose not to block DC’s gay marriage law – gay marriage is now legal in DC, and the world didn’t end. The court decided to punt on the issue – let it be, or wait for a specific suit where someone claims real damages. But the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, which had threatened to abandon their contracts for providing social services in DC if gay marriage became law, ended its foster care program as a first step in withholding services for the poor and needy until the law is changed back to what it should be. And starting immediately, Catholic Charities no longer provide benefits to spouses of new employees or those who are not currently enrolled in a health care plan – if they have to provide benefits to gay couples they’ll just not provide healthcare benefits to anyone at all. The healthcare needs of their own employee’s families will not be met – period. And if enough kids die or enough families are forced into bankruptcy by medical costs, the politicians will change the law back:

The church faced two options with the approval of the new law, said Robert Tuttle, a George Washington University professor who studies the relationship between church and state. One choice was to expand the definition of domestic partner, as the Archdiocese in San Francisco did years ago, to include a parent, sibling or someone else in the household.

The second choice was to do what the Washington Archdiocese has done: eliminate benefits for all spouses.

Sure it’s sad when their own employees face financial ruin, and some die, but it’s not the Church’s fault, after all. You can see what Michael Jackson was singing about. People, and organizations, act in their own self-interest, not anyone else’s.

And of course when bad things happen it’s never their fault:

The Vatican has slammed the media over allegations that the Pope helped cover-up sex abuse, saying that the claim was an “ignoble” attempt to strike at the Pontiff.

The Catholic Church has been hit by a series of child abuse allegations across Europe and the US over the past few months, and in a strongly worded defense of Pope Benedict XVI, they insisted there was no cover-up in the case of Father Lawrence Murphy, reports the Daily Express.

So ignore the details:

Claims of a cover-up had been made against the now deceased Father Murphy, who is alleged to have abused 200 boys at an American school for the deaf between 1950 and 1974. Reports in the US on March 25 claimed that the Pope, who was then Cardinal Ratzinger, failed to act on warnings about Father Murphy from Milwaukee. The Vatican denied a “cover-up” and said he only became aware of the case “much later, when the priest was already old and ailing.”

On March 26 it accused the media of a smear campaign, with the official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano labeling the reports as an “ignoble attempt to strike at Pope Benedict XVI and his collaborators at any cost.”

The Pope said it was all gossip, presumably like this sort of thing:

Several alleged victims have come forward. Arthur Budzinski said he was abused from the age of 12 when he asked Father Murphy to hear his confession. Steven Geier said Father Murphy molested him as a 14-year-old, using God to justify his actions.

But the Pope had his defenders, like George Weigel:

In his native Germany, Der Spiegel has called for the pope’s resignation; similar cries for papal blood have been raised in Ireland, a once-Catholic country now home to the most aggressively secularist press in Europe. But it was the New York Times’ front page of March 25 that demonstrated just how low those determined to bring the Church down were prepared to go.

And after all, the Pope wrote a pastoral letter of apology to Ireland, to atone for decades of sexual abuse of minors by priests whom those children were supposed to trust. He was really sorry.

But that fine Irish lass Sinead O’Connor wasn’t buying it:

To many people in my homeland, the pope’s letter is an insult not only to our intelligence, but to our faith and to our country. To understand why, one must realize that we Irish endured a brutal brand of Catholicism that revolved around the humiliation of children.

Benedict’s apology gives the impression that he heard about abuse only recently, and it presents him as a fellow victim: “I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.” But Benedict’s infamous 2001 letter to bishops around the world ordered them to keep sexual abuse allegations secret under threat of excommunication – updating a noxious church policy, expressed in a 1962 document, that both priests accused of sex crimes and their victims “observe the strictest secret” and be “restrained by a perpetual silence.”

Benedict, then known as Joseph Ratzinger, was a cardinal when he wrote that letter. Now that he sits in Saint Peter’s chair, are we to believe that his position has changed? And are we to take comfort in last week’s revelations that, in 1996, he declined to defrock a priest who may have molested as many as 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin?

As one of the victims herself, which she explains, she is appalled:

Benedict’s apology states that his concern is “above all, to bring healing to the victims.” Yet he denies them the one thing that might bring them healing – a full confession from the Vatican that it has covered up abuse and is now trying to cover up the cover up. Astonishingly, he invites Catholics “to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland.” Even more astonishing, he suggests that Ireland’s victims can find healing by getting closer to the church – the same church that has demanded oaths of silence from molested children, as occurred in 1975 in the case of Father Brendan Smyth, an Irish priest later jailed for repeated sexual offenses. After we stopped laughing, many of us in Ireland recognized the idea, that we needed the church to get closer to Jesus, as blasphemy.

And she recounts her experience on Saturday Night Live eighteen years ago, when she finished her song, stared at the camera, and tore up a picture of the pope. That pretty much ended her career, but she suspects that now many people might get it:

As Ireland withstands Rome’s offensive apology while an Irish bishop resigns, I ask Americans to understand why an Irish Catholic woman who survived child abuse would want to rip up the pope’s picture. And whether Irish Catholics, because we daren’t say “we deserve better,” should be treated as though we deserve less.

But she should know it’s just human nature. People look out for themselves. Expect anything else and you’ll be sorry.

But Matt Taibbi has an interesting take:

I was raised Catholic but stopped going to church at the age of 12. I was a complete idiot at that age with regard to almost every other area of human knowledge, but even I knew back then that the church was a scam. There are good and decent people working as individual priests, but the institution as a whole is a gang of cheap charlatans preying on peoples’ guilt feelings (which of course are cultivated intentionally by the church, which teaches children to be ashamed of their natural sexuality) in order to solicit a lifetime of contributions.

When I see a Catholic priest chanting his ridiculous incantations and waving his holy smoke over someone’s gravesite or at a wedding, the vibe I get is exactly the same as the one I get watching a plumber groan and moan and babble gibberish about all the different things wrong with your kitchen pipes, when in reality all he had to do was replace a washer. It’s the same as picking up your car after an oil change and listening to the mechanic rattle off a list of charges totaling thousands for the nineteen extra things he looked at under your hood, just out of concern for your safety… And when you protest, no, there was nothing wrong with my alternator, I’m not paying for that, he tries to bullshit you – oh, yes there was, trust me, if we hadn’ta fixed that, your car woulda died on the highway within a week.

That’s all the church is. They’re a giant for-profit company using predatory salesmanship to sell what they themselves know is a defective, outmoded, basically unnecessary product. They’ll use any means necessary to keep their market share and if they have to lie and cheat and deflect and point fingers to keep the racket going, they’ll do it, just like any other sleazeball company.

But I think it’s time we started considering that what the church is even worse than that. It’s possible we should start wondering if the church is also a criminal organization that in this country, anyway, should be broken up using RICO statutes.

Or we could treat them as terrorists:

We don’t permit countries that harbor terrorists to participate in international society, but the Catholic Church – an organization that has been proven over and over again to systematically enable child molesters, right up now to the level of the Pope – is given a free pass. In fact the Church is not only not sanctioned in any serious way, it gets to retain its outrageous tax-exempt status, which makes its systematic child abuse, in this country at least, a government-subsidized activity.

We could end that, but he argues that underneath all of this there is a root story that has to do with human nature, and specifically with celibacy:

The celibate status of its priests is basically the Catholic Church’s last market advantage in the Christian religion racket, but human beings are not designed to be celibate and so problems naturally arise among the population of priests forced to live that terrible lifestyle. Just as it refuses to change its insane and criminal stance on birth control and condoms, the church refuses to change its horrifically cruel policy about priestly celibacy. That’s because it quite correctly perceives that should it begin to dispense with the irrational precepts of its belief system, it would lose its appeal as an ancient purveyor of magical-mystery bullshit and become just a bigger, better-financed, and infinitely more depressing version of a Tony Robbins self-help program.

Therefore it must cling to its miserable celibacy in order to keep its sordid business scheme going; and if clinging to its miserable celibacy means having to look the other way while children are serially molested by its sexually stunted and tortured employees, well, so be it.

And that may be the problem, or so says David Link:

I’m not staying up nights waiting for the Pope to apologize for his role in covering up – and I’d say offering tacit acceptance of – child rape by Catholic priests. As alcoholics and their loved ones know all too well, you can’t offer a sincere apology for something you don’t or can’t admit is a problem in the first place. Any apology from the Pope would be putting the cart before the horse. This isn’t a tragedy just of human frailty or even of bureaucratic self-preservation and corruption. The original sin here is doctrinal.

And the doctrine is to deny human nature:

The problem isn’t celibacy – or only celibacy – it’s the Church’s cramped and careless view of nature, and specifically sexual nature.

The Church trumpets the notion that God has ordained sex only for procreation, and that God’s nature is itself being violated by every sexual act with any other intention; and even a correct intention isn’t enough if the act isn’t within a properly consecrated heterosexual marriage. This is nature writ very small.

In contrast, the demand that priests be lifelong celibates is a decree to those who are merely human to defy nature itself. What was originally crafted as a supreme sacrifice to God has turned into (if it has not always been) the institutional torture of human beings that plays out in these all too predictable everyday tragedies. Yes, some priests don’t molest children. Perhaps the Vatican is correct that the vast majority of priests are entirely innocent of the charge. But if anyone believes the vast majority of priests is actually celibate, they certainly aren’t a vocal lot.

Any reasoned definition of nature must include human nature, which is what most Catholics obviously believe as they mock the Vatican’s mad directive about birth control.

And Christopher Hitchens merely points out that the Pope is not above the law:

One by one, as I predicted, the pathetic excuses of Joseph Ratzinger’s apologists evaporate before our eyes. It was said until recently that when the Rev. Peter Hullermann was found to be a vicious pederast in 1980, the man who is now pope had no personal involvement in his subsequent transfer to his own diocese or in his later unimpeded career as a rapist and a molester. But now we find that the psychiatrist to whom the church turned for “therapy” was adamant that Hullermann never be allowed to go near children ever again. We also find that Ratzinger was one of those to whom the memo about Hullermann’s transfer was actually addressed. All attempts to place the blame on a loyal subordinate, Ratzinger’s vicar general, the Rev. Gerhard Gruber, have predictably failed. According to a recent report, “the transfer of Father Hullermann from Essen would not have been a routine matter, experts said.” Either that – damning enough in itself – or it perhaps would have been a routine matter, which is even worse. Certainly the pattern – of finding another parish with fresh children for the priest to assault – is the one that has become horribly “routine” ever since and became standard practice when Ratzinger became a cardinal and was placed in charge of the church’s global response to clerical pederasty.

And Hitchens runs through the other excuses, like that during his time as archbishop of Munich, Ratzinger was more preoccupied with doctrinal questions than with mere disciplinary ones.

Hitchens will have none of that:

What exactly were these doctrinal issues? Well, apart from punishing a priest who celebrated a Mass at an anti-war demonstration – which incidentally does seems to argue for a “hands-on” approach to individual clergymen – Ratzinger’s chief concern appears to have been that of first communion and first confession. Over the previous decade, it had become customary in Bavaria to subject small children to their first communion at a tender age but to wait a year until they made their first confession. It was a matter of whether they were old enough to understand. Enough of this liberalism, said Ratzinger, the first confession should come in the same year as the first communion. One priest … reports that he wrote to Ratzinger expressing misgivings about this and received “an extremely biting letter” in response.

So it seems that 1) Ratzinger was quite ready to take on individual priests who gave him any trouble, and 2) he was very firm on one crucial point of doctrine: Get them young. Tell them in their infancy that it is they who are the sinners. Instill in them the necessary sense of guilt.

And Hitchens says that fits:

Almost every episode in this horror show has involved small children being seduced and molested in the confessional itself. To take the most heart-rending cases to have emerged recently, namely the torment of deaf children in the church-run schools in Wisconsin and Verona, Italy, it is impossible to miss the calculated manner in which the predators used the authority of the confessional in order to get their way.

And everyone gets a pass for what they did:

This is what makes the scandal an institutional one and not a matter of delinquency here and there. The church needs and wants control of the very young and asks their parents to entrust their children to certain “confessors,” who until recently enjoyed enormous prestige and immunity. It cannot afford to admit that many of these confessors, and their superiors, are calcified sadists who cannot believe their luck. Nor can it afford to admit that the church regularly abandoned the children and did its best to protect and sometimes even promote their tormentors. So instead it is whiningly and falsely asserting that all charges against the pope – none of them surfacing except from within the Catholic community – are part of a plan to embarrass him.

And that’s fine with Hitchens:

This grisly little man is not above or outside the law. He is the titular head of a small state. We know more and more of the names of the children who were victims and of the pederasts who were his pets. This is a crime under any law (as well as a sin), and crime demands not sickly private ceremonies of “repentance,” or faux compensation by means of church-financed payoffs, but justice and punishment. The secular authorities have been feeble for too long but now some lawyers and prosecutors are starting to bestir themselves. I know some serious men of law who are discussing what to do if Benedict tries to make his proposed visit to Britain in the fall. It’s enough. There has to be a reckoning, and it should start now.

But can you imagine the Pope before the bar, trying to explain himself?

Well, he could sing – “If they say – Why, why, tell ’em that is human nature…” – not that the Catholic Church knows anything about that.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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