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Vatican Diverts Attention from the ‘Hide-the Pedophile’ Scandals by Attacking Women’s Ordination

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

The New York Times recently reported that the Vatican, while revising its laws on disciplining pedophile priests, simultaneously pronounced “…that ordaining women as priests was as grave an offense as pedophilia.”

This move also appears to be designed to obfuscate just how little has been done to punish predator priests.

The great abolitionist and suffragette Sojourner Truth once remarked, “[That little man in black says] woman can’t have as much rights as man because Christ wasn’t a woman. Where did your Christ come from? . . . From God and a woman. Man has nothing to do with Him.”

Her point is clearly lost on the traditionalists of the Catholic Right and all-male Vatican hierarchy, which has revealed itself to be so threatened by female priests that they wield the threat of the excommunication most severe form of censure, over proponents of the cause.

The traditionalists’ explanation for not ordaining women is that Jesus only chose men as his Apostles. This explanation has been effectively refuted by theologian Father Charles Curran. The men Jesus chose as his first disciples, he noted, were exclusively Semitic. Therefore, a logical extension of traditionalist rationale would mean that only Semitic men may become priests. (European men need not apply. And that means you, Ratzinger.)

But the equation of women’s ordination with clergy pedophilia is also a red herring.

As the aforementioned New York Times piece reported regarding the new rules on accountability for priests:

Those measures fell short of the hopes of many advocates for victims of priestly abuse, who dismissed them as “tweaking” rather than a bold overhaul. The new rules do not, for example, hold bishops accountable for abuse by priests on their watch, nor do they require them to report sexual abuse to civil authorities — though less formal “guidelines” issued earlier this year encourage reporting if local law compels it.

This was not lost upon The Women’s Ordination Conference. In a tersely worded denunciation, Executive Director Erin Saiz Hanna observed, “”The Vatican’s decision list women’s ordination in the same category as pedophiles and rapists is appalling, offensive, and a wake-up call for all Catholics around the world.”

Saiz-Hanna further noted, “The idea that a woman seeking to spread the message of God somehow “defiles” the Eucharist reveals an antiquated, backwards Church that still views women as “unclean” and unholy.”

She also highlighted a bigger issue:

Furthermore, we are extremely disheartened that the Vatican did not appropriately use this opportunity to meaningfully address the handling of sexual predators in its ranks. While some strides were made in this revision of the 2001 sexual abuse policy, it does not go far enough. We are calling on our members to take action: express their concern and call for real accountability by demanding that the hierarchy release the names of all accused Catholic leaders; reach out to survivors and take steps to make sure children are protected now; and, discontinue all financial contributions that benefit the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.”

In a related statement, David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), cut right to the heart of the matter:

The crisis isn’t due to inadequate church policies. It’s due to reckless, secretive and self-serving church officials, who seem to consistently value their own comfort and reputations over the safety of their flocks. Tweaking existing church policies won’t have real impact on bishops’ behavior and won’t make the changes that kids need to be safe.

“We suspect,” Clohessy continued, “that thousands of dangerous clerics are in parishes today, not because defrocking guidelines are inadequate, slow or confusing, but because bishops are timid, fearful and callous.”

Clohessy’s analysis is spot on.

The Vatican’s pronouncement is timid because it fails to compel bishops to cooperate with secular government in prosecuting predatory clergy. Instead, a culture of secrecy and avoidance is not only continued but is further enabled.

It is fearful in its misogynistic attempt to wield the anxiety of eternal damnation as a means of thwarting a more inclusive Church while simultaneously leaving vulnerable potential pedophile victims.

And it is callous in its utterly transparent attempt to use the issue of women’s ordination as a smokescreen to cover up just how little the Vatican has actually has done to address the long-festering wound of sexual abuse.

While I am sure that many Catholic prelates are sincere in their beliefs about these things, it is possible too, that their beliefs are propped up in part by scriptural interpretations of convenience. Maybe an important reason why they fear women as equal members of the clergy is because they would be less able to play the old shell game of “hide-the-pedophile.”

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2 Responses

  1. Outstanding commentary, Frank. I especially like the conclusion, analyzing precisely how the response of the hierarchy to the abuse crisis has been and remains timid, fear-driven, and callous.

  2. I don’t for a second believe that the primary reason for the horror of women priests is any deeply held and shared conviction that women are somehow unfit to be priests. Rather, it’s about people who are breaking the rules, and upsetting dearly held ideas of absolute central control.

    The reason that this issue is treated as sacramental is that it involves eucharistic celebration by those who have not been properly ordained – ordained by themselves, that is. So it is not really about women, but the fear that if women celebrate the Mass without official sanction, and if other Catholics go along with it, then we could get others being ordained and saying Mass without central control.

    They could easily get out of the trap by facing up to the truth that other denominations have already done, and begin to train and ordain women themselves – but they cannot (for the time being), as that would show up the shallowness of their previous intransigence.

    It cannot last. In time, probably sooner rather than later in my view, they will be forced to swallow their pride, and recognize that in an authentically Christian spirit, the Church must be fully inclusive, and all will be equally eligible to serve – women, married men. or gay.

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