We interrupt Reality to bring you this message from Anne Rice:
When I left the RCC last year, I still had faith in the "people in the pews." I thought they were good people. But from what I've seen in these discussions, I think I was sadly mistaken.
When are rank and file Catholics going to stop supporting the worldwide crimes of the RCC against children and victims of clergy abuse?
If you support the Mafia, are you not complicit in its crimes?
What does it take to get Catholics to
1- apologize personally to the victims of clergy exploitation.
2- refuse to support their diocese unless the diocese comes clean about complicity with abusers, and efforts to shelter them and enable them.
3- Publicly demand that the Vatican come clean on clergy abuse, and begin some worldwide moral reform to see that this kind of blatant criminal behavior is never enabled and protected again?
Some of the posts by Catholics in these discussions are positively nauseating. You'd think these people didn't belong to one of the biggest criminal organizations in the world.
The utter failure of the Vatican to admit its own wrongdoing is appalling.
The Pope and his assistants have zero credibility.
The idea of moral leadership by this church is very simply outrageous.
That was posted two days ago by Rice on an amazon.com "Catholic Discussion" under the heading of "Are Rank and File Catholics just as guilty as their hierarchy of worldwide sexual abuse?" (ht: J.V.). There's plenty more to read in the discussion, and some of the key points ("accusations", really) are, in summary:
• Very few Catholics care about the priestly sex scandals, except to defend accused priests. Rice, in another post, writes, "It would be so easy for Catholics to stand up and say, 'We deplore this scandal, and we too want the truth.' But they really just don't do it." I'm not sure which is more mind-boggling: her omniscience or her ignorance (how about "omnignorance"?). Which leads to:
• No matter what the Pope or bishops or other Catholics do, it is never enough, it is never good enough, and it is seen as either implicitly or explicitly intended to cover up sins, crimes, and failures. After all, if the Catholic Church is just like the Mafia and is "one of the biggest criminal organizations in the world", it will surely continue to find ways to do what Rice and Co. insist it exists to do: molest, abuse, lie, and destroy.
• Catholics who defends the Church and who see bias or worse in the media when it comes to the scandals are either unwitting dupes or devious hatchetmen. Rice grudgingly admits that while some Catholics may have stood up and complained at some point, "the Catholic press is filled with defensiveness, attacks on the papers, attacks on the critics, excuses and platitudes. These discussions are filled with defensiveness and attacks on critics. I wonder: wouldn't the rank and file feel better if they stood up for the victims? Can't they be loyal to their pastors and their parishes and still speak up against people like Fr. Donald McGuire, and Marcial Maciel and other abusers?"
At this point there are already a couple big breaches in logic—the sort of breaches that Rice seems given to whenever she attempts to piece together her various "arguments" against the Catholic Church. One, for example, is that she insists the Catholic Church is essentially rotten and criminal in its very nature and that most Catholics are complicit in some way or another, but then insists that those same Catholics should be able to stand up against said criminal activities while remaining loyal to "their pastors and their parishes". Apparently she doesn't grasp that if she says that the Catholic Church is rotten through and through, it follows that every parish and priest (as well as lay person) is either tainted or corrupted and should be abandoned immediately.
Benedict XVI has addressed the scandals at many points in his pontificate (and was deaing with it years prior) and he has done more to directly confront the issue than anyone else (given his position, but also his awareness of the seriousness of matters). He has met with victims on several occasions; he has uttered very strong words about "the filth" that has been a vile cancer in the Church for several decades. He has dealt directly with specific situations, as in his letter to Catholics in Ireland just over a year ago. There is much more to it, as you can see here. But, of course, that will never be enough—not even the start of enough—for folks such as Rice. After all, she says: "The utter failure of the Vatican to admit its own wrongdoing is appalling."
In this, Rice sounds very much like another artistically-inclined, theologically-confused ex-Catholic, the singer Sinéad O'Connor, who recently wrote a piece with the modest, cautious title, "We Need a New Catholic Church". O'Connor refers to the Pope's 2010 end-of-the-year address at the Vatican to the Roman Curia, an address that she has both badly misunderstood and misrepresented before:
I thought the Vatican might be moved eventually, if enough people kept up the pressure. But after over 30 years of knowledge and pressure, at Christmas pope Benedict addressed his cardinals on the matter using the following words: "in the 1970s it was theorized that pedophillia was fully in conformity with man and and with children." He went on to say "nothing was considered either good or evil in itself." I can tell you that's not what the chemist told my granny when she asked for condoms.
His point apparently was to say that there was no more of an accepting attitude of pedophilia within the church than there was in secular society. Nonsense of course to suggest that after laws against pedophilia were enacted in the late 1800s anyone theorized it as acceptable. And there can never have been a child on earth who felt even slightly in conformity with pedophilia. Hardly needs stating that Jesus Christ would never have been in conformity either
This both misses the Pope's obvious point—that moral relativism, wherever it exists, leads to evils such as pedophilia—and the obvious fact that there have been several movements, in both Europe and the U.S., pushing for pedophilia to be accepted as normal and healthy. (It also ignores, strangely, this statement by Benedict: "We were all the more dismayed, then, when in this year of all years and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime." The entire address is necessary reading.)
O'Connor, apparently unable to understand the Pope's basic point and quite clueless about what has been going on in the world for the past few decades, jumps on her straw high horse to swipe at the Vatican straw man:
When I heard those words I knew there was no point fighting any more. There is no hope of morality or a fiery cleansing of the Vatican from within on this issue of respect for Christ. Only a headset entirely bereft of morality could have made such an astounding remark. And clearly a phalanx of lawyers added to this lack of morality means those of us who were fighting for a cleansed Vatican may as well throw down our arms. My dead mother has more chance of releasing her debut album.
However, while there are zillions of us who do not identify with the current Vatican's manifest definition of Catholicism, we still identify with the beautiful essence of the Catholicism we grew up with. But the child is being drowned, and the bathwater needs to get thrown out. And no one at the Vatican is going to do that. So we're going to have to run in and rescue the baby and raise it ourselves.
This appeal to the "the beautiful essence of the Catholicism we grew up with" is curious, as it's not entirely clear what O'Connor's experience was with Catholicism while growing up in the mid- to late-Seventies. Her life has been, to put it delicately, complicated: several marriages, several children by different men, admission and then partial retraction of being lesbian and/or bi-sexual; being "ordained" as a "Catholic priest"; a suicide attempt, etc. But there is no need to succumb to psycho-analysis; just look at the bottom line for O'Connor:
We must now start a provisional alternative Catholic Church for all, including present Catholic clergy, who have been let down and disillusioned and who want to see a Catholic Church which honours Christ with truth, honours the sacraments and the people's spiritual needs, has no hierarchy and does not dictate who God can love or not love. Nor whom can be in or out. Nor whether a woman is fit for Christ to make himself manifest through in priesthood. Nor whether the sacrament of sacred marriage and the comfort of children and grandchildren should be denied to priests. ... I don't know how, or what, I just know we need a new Catholic Church. If we stick to the sacraments and honor them fully, the rest will follow.
Two related notions stand out in O'Connor's essay: the distrust of and disdain for hierarchy and Church authority, and the conviction that Catholic beliefs about sexuality and the roles of men and woman must change to fit the times: "In history, people move. They create what they feel they deserve. Times change." The Church's beliefs, in other words, are malleable and should be at the service of our feelings of entitlement. Perhaps it is not so strange, after all, that O'Connor doesn't understand how Benedict's address was a direct denunciation of this deadly form of moral and cultural relativism.
The same two notions are in abundance in Rice's various posts and essays. She writes, "... I do think that the structure of the Roman Catholic Church has involved a particular kind of corruption. And other institutions no doubt have similar problems, related to their structure and their power. This is a worldwide monarchical organization that mixes ideas of religious virtue with its rules and regulations. And a system like that is bound to breed considerable corruption."
Of course, structures of governance can be abused, and its not as if Catholics are immune to corruption and sin; not at all! But Rice is saying something far more problematic: that "a worldwide monarchical organization that mixes ideas of religious virtue with its rules and regulations ... is bound to breed considerable corruption." I wonder: is it the worldwide nature of the Church that botheres her, or the combination of "religious virtue" and "rules and regulations"? I suspect it is more the second, which begs the question: is she opposed to religious virtue or to rules and regulations? (And, while we are at it, does she hold the same strong perspective about the U.S. public school system, which is filled with rules and regulations—and in which close to 10% of children are abused in one form or another?)
The answer, I think, can be found in Rice's strong support of "gay rights" and "same sex marriage". Her Facebook page describes Rice as a "Supporter of gay rights, and Same Sex Marriage" and says she is "Committed to defending the rights of women, children and gays against traditional religions that target them for special persecution and oppression." Now, it might be that Rice has written a great deal about, say, Islamic oppression of homosexuals and women, but it seems she is mostly focused on "one of the biggest criminal organizations in the world", the Catholic Church. It is also fairly obvious that she believes the Catholic Church, by its very nature and structure and beliefs, is focused on molesting children, oppressing women, and persecuting "gays" (incuding her son).
Finally, what Rice, O'Connor, and Co. don't seem to fathom is that many "rank-and-file" Catholics are able to make some basic distinctions that are necessary for comprehending why they remain Catholic. First, they believe the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ, is necessary for salvation, and is both the holy Bride of Christ and on earth a communion with members who are sinners—sometimes horrific and even unrepentant sinners. The Catechism states:
"Christ, 'holy, innocent, and undefiled,' knew nothing of sin, but came only to expiate the sins of the people. The Church, however, clasping sinners to her bosom, at once holy and always in need of purification, follows constantly the path of penance and renewal." All members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners. 300 In everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time. 301 Hence the Church gathers sinners already caught up in Christ's salvation but still on the way to holiness:
The Church is therefore holy, though having sinners in her midst, because she herself has no other life but the life of grace. If they live her life, her members are sanctified; if they move away from her life, they fall into sins and disorders that prevent the radiation of her sanctity. This is why she suffers and does penance for those offenses, of which she has the power to free her children through the blood of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. (CCC, par. 827)
Secondly, this means that Catholics can (and should!) be both outraged and horrified by the sins of certain priests and love the Church. Some Catholics, sadly, have been burned and badly wounded by their instictive trust in the innocence of this or that priest. But most Catholics that I know understand that pedophilia, homosexual acts, and other sins committed by priests are not caused by Church teaching or "the structure", but by free, sinful choices made in a fallen world. (In a similar way, they understand that the traditional, true understanding of marriage should not be ditched because so many people commit adultery, get divorced, etc.) They understand the parable of the sheep and the goats; they know about the wheat and the tares. And many Catholics have and do stand up to demand accountability, from bishops who have failed to deal rightly with guilty priests, with bishops who fail to call sin "sin", and bishops who would rather appease the critics than say, "Marriage is between a man and a woman. Homosexual acts are disordered and sinful. Fornication is a grave sin. Adultery is evil. Abortion is murder. Using contraceptives is a sin." And so forth. It's not that some of us Catholics fixate on those sins because we ignore the sins of molestation, abuse, stealing, and ignoring the poor; no, it's because everyone agrees those sins are evil—even while a whole swath of Catholics refuse to acknowledge the sinfullness of abortion. homosexual acts, fornication, and using contraceptives.
Thirdly, this is part of the reason many serious, practicing Catholics are so frustrated with the way the Catholic Church is portrayed in the media; they tire of hearing how celibacy or the male priesthood or "traditional attitudes" are somehow responsible for actions are that, put bluntly, the evil acts of men who trangress God's law, Church law, and natural law when they engage in homosexual acts or pedophilia or fornication. As Philip Lawler shows in his book, The Faithful Departed, there is indeed corruption—but it is not the product of a system of governance or hierarchy but of a failure to admit and repent of sin, very often that involving homosexuality. Of course, in a culture that celebrates homosexuality as not just normal but the pinnacle of evolution and enlightenment, such facts simply cannot be allowed. Alternative explanations, both convenient and unconvincing, must be given: Church teaching is repressive, celibacy is unnatural and leads to molestation, chastity is a quaint stupidity, following Catholic moral teaching is for nostalgic, puritanical fascists.
I'll conclude this overly long post (yikes!) with something I wrote about Rice many months ago, which I think sums up many of the serious problems with her opinions about the Catholic Church:
So, in addition to being fairly clueless about Catholic history and theology, Rice is equally clueless about the uneasy and complex relationships between Church and State, Christianity and secularism, and tradition and modernity that have shaped the culture we swim in, the society we live in, and public square we meet and debate within. And, in fact, she has become the very thing she sincerely but wrongly caricatures: a judgmental fundamentalist (secular in perspective, with a subjective sprinkle of magic Jesus dust) who damns the Church for not sleeping with the secularists, embarrassed that some Christians won't bow and worship the State that would be and wishes to be lord, life, and eternal ruler.
Related Insight Scoop posts:
• Anne Rice: Catholic Church is "dishonorable...dishonest...an immoral church..." (Feb. 7, 2011)
• More Anne Rice: "Christians have lost credibility in America as people who know how to love." (Aug. 17, 2010)
• Anne Rice blasts Benedict XVI; says Bishop Olmstead was "the very last straw" (Aug. 11, 2010)
• Yep, earth-shattering, cosmos-quaking (side-splitting) news (Aug. 10, 2010)
• Fr. Barron on Anne Rice and a proper ecclesiology (Aug. 6, 2010)
• Anne Rice talks about "final straws" (Aug. 3, 2010)
• A Cautionary Tale: Augustine, Aquinas, and Anne Rice (July 29, 2010)
• "Revert" Anne Rice: Pro "gay marriage," pro women's ordination, and pro contraceptive. What gives? (Jan. 3, 2006)