Let's start off with the silver lining. At least, the "Catholics, Come Home" campaign ads make a change from the endless lies about health care that the airwaves have been carrying.
But, is it just me? Or is there something grossly wrong here? The church that couldn't rub two dimes together to compensate victims of its pedophile priests suddenly has a media budget lavish enough to displace health reform ads? How can this be?
We're not talking ancient history here. Just last October, a Catholic diocese in Delaware filed for bankruptcy in a move to fend off the claims of 140 people who testify that priests sexually abused them. A month later, a diocese in Alaska, ahem, followed suit.
In doing so, the dioceses of Wilmington and Fairbanks joined the ranks of other Catholic precincts across the nation, from Portland, Oregon, to San Diego, California, to Tucson, Arizona, to Davenport, Iowa, to Dallas, Texas, and pretty much every corner of the country where abuse victims have been coming forward to demand justice.
In case you've been on an interstellar voyage for the last decade, here's the scoop. Catholic priests, who are required to take a vow of celibacy, face immense sexual frustration. Some of them succumb. Some of those who succumb have taken advantage of their power as priests to sexually abuse children, usually pubescent boys.
Now, some readers may, at this point, believe that I am writing out of anti-Catholic bias. Not so. There is much to admire in the Catholic church, and I know it first-hand. Although not a member of any faith, I have occasionally attended mass with friends since college days. I spent a summer in seminar with a Jesuit priest for whom I have nothing but warm and admiring regard. If I have a bias, it is to respect a church that has its own scientific academy. That does not, however, stifle my readiness to criticize the many irrational, unjust, authoritarian, and outmoded facets of the church. Among the worst is its continuing dodge of moral responsibility for abuse of young parishioners.
The Catholic hierarchy has been repeatedly adjudged in court to have not only failed to take action against molesting priests but to have conspired to shield and to foist them on new congregations where the cycle of abuse could begin afresh. Consequently, juries have awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in judgments against various U.S. dioceses.
It's not as if the Catholic Church denies the claims against it. The Pope himself met with U.S. victims on a 2008 visit and reportedly apologized for the church's complicity.
Yet, bankruptcies continue to prevent the church's abuse victims from claiming their due. So, you tell me: how is that the church can bankroll this glitzy media campaign? Even if the donor funds are bypassing church coffers, doesn't the Vatican have a moral duty to ask donors to meet the church's legal and honorable obligations before paying for TV ads? Something about this stinks.
However, if there is one thing that the airwave debate about healthcare has shown, it's that advertising works. No matter how absurd the lie, if it is repeated often enough people fall into line.
So, returning Catholics, I have a plea for you. As you return to the pews, give some thought to what is best in your church -- and what badly needs reform. The very idea that God appoints people to rule over your spiritual life deserves questioning. Does God really want a self-perpetuating, celibate, male-only hierarchy whose dictates are in the main beyond questioning? Or is it more likely that this earthly idea took shape out of the power struggles that naturally occurred in the early days of the church? In today's world does such a structure do more harm than good?
In religion as in life, any rule you are forbidden to question is suspect. So, come home, Catholics, to question, struggle, reclaim and remake your church. I pray you may succeed.
Follow Clay Farris Naff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/claynaff