The September 15, 2011 edition of Rolling Stone shines a light on the inner-workings of the leadership of the Catholic Church, centering on an ongoing criminal case in Philadelphia involving five allegedly sexual predators (for priests and a Catholic school teacher). This is a well researched and well-written article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
The article is filled with disturbing anecdotes and statistics. For instance,
- The US conference of Catholic Bishops funded a study that lowered the number of clergy classified as pedophiles by redefining puberty as beginning at age 10
- “Seminary is a form of military-style indoctrination, molding meant his think institutionally, not individually it’s like a brainwashing, almost [states a former seminarian]”
- According to a 1990 psychological study, “only half of all priests adhere to their vows of celibacy.”
- Another study (“The Catholic Priest in the United States: Psychological Investigations”) found “that three fourths of all American priests were psychologically and emotionally underdeveloped, or even mal-developed.” The attitudes of these grown men toward sex, the study concluded “were on par with those of teenagers or even preteens.”
Why has the cover-up of sexual predators continued on to the present? “The answer, in large part, lies in the mindset of the church is rigid hierarchy, which promotes officials who are willing to do virtually anything they’re told, so long as it’s in God’s name.”
The focus of the article is the conduct of high-ranking Catholic clergy who engaged in the now-well-known conduct of denying the criminal conduct of pedophile priests, and moving them from parish to parish, or school to school, rather than calling in the police, or at least defrocking the miscreant priests. Stir in additional misconduct such as hiding incriminating records and you understand the criminal minds of much of the leadership of the modern Catholic Church, an organization that claims moral authority while exhibiting none when it comes to the horrific conduct of many of its high-ranking leaders.
I didn’t write anything for yesterday’s commemoration. Many others, most far better suited to memorializing the day, said a great deal. My paltry mutterings would add little to what is, really, a personal day for most of us. Like all the big anniversary events, the “where were you when” aspect makes it personal and maybe that’s the most important part, I don’t know.
Instead it occurred to me to say something about the element of the disaster that puzzles most of us, even while most of us exhibit the very trait that disturbs us deeply in this context. One of the most common questions asked at the time and still today is in the top 10 is: how could those men do that?
Meaning, of course, how could they abandon what we consider personal conscience and common humanity to perpetrate horrible destruction at the cost of their own lives.
The simple answer is also the most complex: they were following a leader.
I’m going to string together what may seem unrelated observations now to make a larger point and I will try to corral it all together by the end to bring it to that point.
Firstly, with regards to the military, there are clear-cut lines of obligation set forth, the chief one being a soldier’s oath to defend the constitution. There is a code of conduct consistent with that and we have seen many instances where an officer has elected to disobey orders he or she deems illegal or immoral. There is a tradition of assuming that not only does a soldier have a right to act upon conscience, but that there is an institutional duty to back that right up. The purpose of making the oath one to the constitution (rather than to, say, the president or even to congress) first is to take the personal loyalty issue out of the equation.
To underline this a bit more, a bit of history. The German army prior to WWII was similarly obligated to the state. German soldiers gave an oath to protect Germany and obey its laws. Hitler changed that, making it an oath to him, personally, the Fuhrer. (He left in place a rule explicitly obligating the German soldier to disobey illegal or immoral orders.)
Unfortunately, human nature is not so geared that people find it particularly easy to dedicate themselves to an abstract without there also being a person representing it. (We see this often in small ways, especially politically, when someone who has been advocating what is on its own a good idea suddenly comes under a cloud of suspicion. Not only do people remove their support of that person but the idea is tainted as well. People have difficulty separating out the idea from the person. The reverse is less common, that a bad idea taints a popular leader.) Dedicating yourself to supporting the constitution sounds simple in a civics class, but in real life people tend to follow people. (Consider the case of Ollie North, whose dedication to Reagan trumped his legal responsibility to uphold the constitution and its legally binding requirement that he obey congress.)
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1. Cheney lied; Iraqis and U.S. soldiers died. As Vice President, Cheney lied about (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s (nonexistent) ties to the 9/11 attack as a way to justify a war with a country that never attacked us. Thanks to Cheney and company, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and over 4,000 American soldiers perished in a war that should never have been fought.
2. Committing War Crimes in Iraq. During the course of the Iraq war, the Bush/Cheney administration violated the Geneva Conventions by targeting civilians, journalists, hospitals, and ambulances, and using illegal weapons, including white phosphorous, depleted uranium, and a new type of napalm.
I came back from a weekend getaway, and my inbox had a large number of messages from some group I’d never heard of, the Nation of Change. I was suspicious, especially given my recent unsolicited addition to the Christian Coalition mailing list. Also they were using an email contact that has been dormant for a decade that they could only have found by scanning whois data or buying some old spammer contact lists.
I was curious enough to read one of their messages. It appeared to be some sort of addled parody of a liberal call to action newsletter. I immediately did some Googling to try to confirm my suspicion that it was a conservative group attempting to make liberals seem a) Loonier than thou, and b) Abrasive and annoying by pushing subscriptions on undesiring readers. The clearest description I found was, “Nation of Change”, who are you and why are you spamming me? at the Daily KOS.
In essence, this organization is a fairly new web site with stealthed contact information. They claim to be a legitimate registered not-for-profit, but one cannot look up their bona fides anywhere to confirm it. Although they don’t appear to break any laws in their published documents, they do violate several BBB standards. Read the KOS article for more details.
But I could not actually confirm that this is a conservative group posing as liberal in order to sow dissension and disaffection. As with religion and Poe’s Law, it can be hard to tell sincere political extremism from parody. But this one trips my irony meter.
When you have a dream about an argument, maybe it has some weight and should be written about. Recently, I posted a photograph on my Google + page. This one, in fact (click on the photo for high-res version):
My caption for it was “What more is there to say?” Partly this was just to have a caption, but also to prompt potential discussion. As symbol, the photograph serves a number of functions, from melancholy to condemnation.
It did prompt a discussion, between two friends of mine who do not know each other, the core of which centers on the divergent meanings of such symbols for them and a question of sensitivity. I won’t reproduce the exchange here, because as far as I’m concerned the question that it prompted for me was one of the idea of “sacredness” and the appropriate use of symbols.
Which immediately sent me down a rabbit hole about the private versus public use of symbols.
Essentially, we all have proprietary relationships with certain symbols. Since I already posted the image, the sign of the cross is one, and not just for Christians. As a symbol it has achieved that universality advertisers dream of. It is instantly recognizable as the sign for a faith movement just about everywhere. It’s possible some aboriginal tribes in the beclouded valleys of New Zealand don’t know what it is, but on the level of international discourse it carries across all lines.
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Back in 1978, Justice William Renquist wrote a dissent that is extraordinary reading today. This nugget of jurisprudence was dug up by Linda Greenhouse, who write an excellent NYT Op-Ed titled “Over the Cliff.”
This dissenting justice did not take issue with a corporation’s status as a “person” in the eyes of the law (as Mitt Romney recently reminded a heckler at the Iowa State Fair). But corporate personhood was “artificial,” not “natural,” the justice observed. A corporation’s rights were not boundless but, rather, limited, and the place of “the right of political expression” on the list of corporate rights was highly questionable. “A state grants to a business corporation the blessings of potentially perpetual life and limited liability to enhance its efficiency as an economic entity,” the dissenting opinion continued. “It might reasonably be concluded that those properties, so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere … Indeed, the states might reasonably fear that the corporation would use its economic power to obtain further benefits beyond those already bestowed.”
Noting that most states, along with the federal government, had placed limits on the ability of corporations to participate in politics, the dissenting justice concluded: “The judgment of such a broad consensus of governmental bodies expressed over a period of many decades is entitled to considerable deference from this Court.
NORML asks where your police officers are, and the answer is revealing:
A local St. Louis judge recently told one of my co-workers that prosecutors are finding it almost impossible to convict someone for mere possession of marijuana. The people are apparently speaking, in the form of jury nullification. Perhaps they too think that their limited numbers of police officers should be focusing on violent crimes and other serious crimes such as burglary.