Pray, Pay, Obey and Don’t You Dare Think

Something I forgot to mention in my previous entry on the loves and hates of the conservotrad blogosphere/message board world is the fixation on perceived anti-Catholicism. The Catholic Answers group was originally founded as an apologetically organization to defend Catholicism against the critiques of Protestant fundamentalists, but now they’ve also branched out into defending the church against the so-called “New Atheists.” Consequently, the posts that aren’t about sex or liturgical abuses tend to be about how an erstwhile conservotrad can defend the Catholic church against the latest ecclesiastical scandal. Having participating in many of these threads, I think that the Catholic Answers Forum (CAF) moderators need to just pin a sticky thread entitled, “How do I respond to scandals in the Church?” that would have a single post that reads, “There are no scandals in the Catholic Church; the secular media is anti-Catholic and wants to make you think there are scandals to damage your faith.”

This may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not. Whether the topic is the clerical abuse scandal, the Galileo Affair, or the not-so saintly life of Mother Teresa, the answer is that the scandal was manufactured by the anti-Catholic media. For example, I once went to CAF trying to sort out the truth about the a fore-mentioned Mother Teresa, and all I got were replies chiding me for daring to question that great lady’s sanctity and snarky comments about the perceived moral failings of Christopher Hitchens. But the core issues —  whether Mother Teresa neglected the patients in her care and mismanaged funds — were never addressed. Rather, the character of the person who had made the accusations, Christopher Hitchens, was attacked. But even if Hitchens was this terrible, immoral person, it doesn’t discredit his assessment of Mother Teresa if his critiques have been found to be empirically true (focusing excessively on the person of Hitchens also ignores the fact that he was neither the first nor the last person to criticize Mother Teresa, although he was the probably the most famous).

A similar tack is taken is taken on the clerical abuse scandal, where posters assure each other that there is no problem with pedophilia among Catholic priests, and that the whole thing was concocted by the anti-Catholic media. Either that, or they claim that the real problem is that post-Vatican II, the priesthood became overrun by gay men who engaged in consensual relationships with teenage boys (I guess they think that teen boys can’t be abused and were just “asking for it”) not prepubescent children, meaning that the real problem is one of homosexuality.  The latter view is really popular with, because it ties in gay panic, the decline in priestly vocations, and Vatican II hate all at once; you may have seen Bill “Catholic League” Donahue parroting this line in public, causing a collective eye roll from the non-conservotrad members of the public.

If you’ve read anything about the history of the American abuse crisis that hasn’t been written by a conservotrad, then you should know that the media was actually reluctant to report on instances of Catholic priests behaving badly, because they didn’t want to make religious groups look bad in general, and didn’t want to run afoul of the Catholic church in particular, which was and still is the largest denomination in the United States (see Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal by David France for an excellent history of the situation in Boston in particular, as well as Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II by Jason Berry, Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church also by Jason Berry, and Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church’s 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse by Thomas P. Doyle). I would go as far to say that the American media had all of the information it needed to expose the clergy sex abuse scandal in the 1980s, but chose not to act on it out of sheer cowardice. Even today, the American media is reluctant to give voice to people with alternative narratives of those giants of twentieth century Catholicism, Mother Teresa and John Paul II, even though the latter cheerfully enabled the predatory behavior of Marciel Maciel, one of history’s greatest monsters. Far from being “anti-Catholic,” I think that the media is too “pro-Catholic,” or rather, too “pro-religion.”

Ultimately, I think the real goal of CAF is not to provide apologetics that will show a die-hard Protestant or secular humanist the error of their ways, but to keep Catholics who are doubting safe in the fold. The general atmosphere at CAF discourages people from thinking critically about the Catholic church and the role that it plays in the world at large. Many posters on CAF dream of going back to the days when the church acted as a shadow government or kingmaker in the political process, but then get distressed when outsiders bring up the unsavory things the church did when it had this kind of power.  Call me old-fashioned, but if you don’t want to be accused of, say, selling babies, don’t sell babies in the first place (in Spain: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2011/10/spains-stolen-babies-an-ugly-past-on-a-staggering-scale-2/; in Chile: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/15/chile-catholic-priests-investigated-stolen-babies; in Ireland: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/sep/19/catholic-church-sold-child). At CAF, skeptical users are told to take a page from the pre-Vatican II playbook and “pray, pay, obey” and not worry about what the “haters” are saying. After all, the truth has a tendency to paint the church in a negative light, and we can’t have that.

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