Until last week, the predominant attitude of most of the American public about the problems of “predator priests” seemed to be that it was tragic, but limited in scope. A few bad priests in the river of faith, but hardly a tsunami!
But with the stomach-curdling landmark grand jury report out of Pennsylvania earlier this month, an entire moral, ethical and legal landscape within the Roman Catholic Church has changed profoundly, inside and outside the gates of Vatican City.
How does one cope with the reality of at least 1,000 victims of sexual abuse by at least 300 priests over eight decades in only this one state alone? How to excuse the $3 billion paid to keep people silent? How is the sincere Catholic in Youngstown, or Phoenix, or Chicago able to sleep, thinking about the “father” who injured the back of a young man while sodomizing him?
The report says there are likely thousands more victims. It has all become so very routine. Pope Francis, a beloved pope but a man now stained by ambivalence, feels “shame and repentance” and rightly criticizes “clericalism,” or an “excessive deference to church hierarchy,” but where exactly do such words lead?
Because this is no ordinary problem; this is a “Galileo Moment,” a moral replay of that other one in the 17th century when the Vatican stopped the great astronomer and physicist Galileo from proving that the Earth revolved about the sun — and almost burned him at the stake.
Now, I need to stress here that, while I am a Protestant, I have always found an enormous lot to admire in the Catholic Church; and none of us outside the faith or outside the law has the right to presume to wander too far in that tricky landscape of what-the-Vatican-should-do-next. Still, this is no time for anyone to be mute, for many of the policies of the Vatican directly affect us all.
The Catholic Church has been unable to react with any grace or imagination to the nexus of sexuality and faith; so let me step away from the “predator priests” question and propose an idea.
Let the Vatican stop telling the rest of the world how, when, where and by what means to procreate — or not to procreate. When it comes to birth control and family planning — and trying to create a humanely developed world — the Catholic Church has been deliberately, and often cynically, holding its flock back for years, preventing any modicum of family planning to those who need it so desperately.
Since Pope Paul VI’s 1968 teaching in the encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which totally rejected artificial contraception, the Catholic Church has employed every possible weapon at every possible national and international event to stop family planning.
International aid packages that included money earmarked for contraception have been consistently sidetracked by Vatican maneuvers. Most memorably, the Vatican worked at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1984 to water down an international family planning policy and program that could have made a great difference. Even as recently as the Obama years, nuns from the Little Sisters of the Poor fought a bitter battle against Obamacare’s birth control mandate.
It has had an effect: The United Nations states that every year, more than 88 million unintended pregnancies occur in developing countries.
This is no longer a question only for Catholics, the vast majority of whom in the U.S. already use birth control. Dark wars caused by overpopulation are spouting up everywhere — from Rwanda in the 1990s to Syria and Somalia today. The U.N. projects that, with 7.5 billion people crowding Planet Earth today, population will rise to about 10 billion by 2050 and perhaps as high as 16 billion by 2100. We add a billion every 12 to 15 years.
Meanwhile, masses of poor Africans, Asians, Afghans, Bangladeshis, Somalis and myriad others are throwing themselves desperately at the gates of Europe, which is hardly eager — or able — to give them succor or harbor. We are dealing with a worldwide uprising of the new homeless. And so, it is no longer enough to look the other way when yet another priest victimizes yet another child — or to just not say anything to our Catholic friends or neighbors because we don’t want to offend them.
One last thing: The Vatican did apologize formally to Galileo, whom the Inquisition forced to say he “abjured, cursed and detested” his scientific beliefs, thus saving him from being burned at the stake. But it took 350 years for the Vatican to do so.
Sorry, Pope Francis, but today we just don’t have the time to wait.
Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years.
Send letters to: email@example.com.