Every few weeks, usually on a Friday, a
group of Catholics stands outside the Roman Catholic Chancery just west
of Columbus Circle to protest the behavior of the church’s hierarchy.
The issue is Bishop James Moynihan’s decision to close down St.
Andrew’s parish, a church building on the East Side which Moynihan has
decided is no longer viable and that the people who worshiped there
have come to cherish.
Understandable. The distress of change
is something we can all relate to. Ask anyone at New Process Gear and
they’ll tell you how they’d be willing to do anything just to keep the
place open. Well, bad example.
Anyway, I have to ask a few questions of
the good people who have taken to the streets to question the behavior
of the Catholic church. Is that the best you can do? Have you been
paying attention lately? Here’s what the record of the Catholic church
has been in the past few weeks.
At the state level, the church has
dedicated itself to preventing the government from enacting legislation
that would extend the statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims.
The law would give children who have been sexually abused by priests,
many of whom repress such memories energetically, five more years to
remember what happened to them and press charges. The church opposes it.
Of all the causes that the power of New
York’s Catholic lobby might take on, they choose to spend time and
energy on this one? Last month busloads of Catholics, including
recruits from Syracuse, descended on Albany for their annual public
policy day, and were instructed to spend political capital on this
self-serving bill. Apparently, church leaders fear that so many of
their dioceses could be bankrupted if all the traumatized children
remember what happened to them and gather the courage to seek redress.
The state Catholic Conference has also
been at the forefront of many positive things, including an insistence
that the current budget crisis not be resolved on the backs of the
poor. Well done, but you do not excuse the rape of a child by
mentioning that you helped his mother get food stamps. It seems to me
that the clerics who have had no part in the scandal would want the
church to go out of its way to be sure that every case was investigated
and every guilty priest’s sins redressed to the victim’s satisfaction.
Elsewhere in the nation, the Catholic
church in San Francisco has distinguished itself in leading the fight
for Proposition 8, the ballot referendum that denied legal status to
gay couples seeking to get married. The bishop of Fresno went so far as
to remove a local priest who announced his opposition to Prop 8. Now
that equal rights activists are challenging Prop 8 in the courts, the
bishop of San Francisco has taken to the airwaves to rally the public
to deny gay people the right to choose whom they will share their life
Then (sorry if this is getting painful)
there was the trip of Pope Benedict to Africa, during which he advised
the faithful of the continent with the highest rate of AIDS on the
planet that condoms were only going to make things worse. It is fully
understandable that the pontiff would be a leader in promoting
abstinence—that is his religious belief. But denying the effectiveness
of latex in preventing the transmission of a killer virus? Ptolemy
would smile. The legions who have worked long and hard to educate about
safe sex in a suffering continent will not.
Almost done. Three weeks ago the diocese
of Syracuse held a retreat for men. A big retreat, filling the Civic
Center. One of the speakers they chose to bring to the “Ignite”
Conference was defeated U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.). Santorum is
known for his anti-abortion views, and spoke energetically about them
at the Ignite gathering. Diocesan leaders must also be aware of the
pain he has caused among gay and lesbian people, including gay
Catholics. It would be hard to find someone in the Catholic firmament
more energetic in his persecution of gay people than Rick Santorum, who
delights in likening gay sexual practices to bestiality.
in a series of statements between 2002 and 2005, Santorum affirmed his
belief that the blame for the epidemic of sexual abuse by Catholic
clergy lies with the liberal sexual mores of the 1960s. So it was
Woodstock, not a medieval attitude toward sexuality, that caused
thousands of children in this country to be sexually abused by priests
(sorry kid, Hendrix made me do it).
This stunning position would be as
laughable as Dan White’s “Twinkie Defense” in the Harvey Milk murder if
it weren’t so serious and painful to many. Santorum’s nonsensical
revisionism doesn’t even match up with the church’s belated but welcome
recognition that the church itself must take responsibility for the
abuses that occurred within the institution. Just exactly what were the
organizers of this conference hoping to ignite by bringing Santorum and
his anti-gay agenda here?
I understand the pain of parishioners
who don’t want to see their parish closed. I’m just wondering, in times
like these, if maybe their protest is a bit too narrow. The people of
St. Andrew’s will no doubt find a new place to worship. Then the real
work will begin.