Sometime in the early '70s we came back from summer recess to find that the sisters at St. John Villa Academy on Staten Island, like nuns across the United States in those years, had been liberated from their head-to-toe black wraps, suddenly donning skirts and short little veils. Exciting times! For a boy like me, who knew I was gay for as long as I could remember, there was something hopeful about the nuns finally being able to kick that oppressive habit. Maybe this church was actually making a change for a more enlightened, modern direction on a whole host of issues.
But things didn't exactly go that way. And recent events have underscored what we've known for a long time about the Vatican. Men in the church who act out are protected and even rewarded, and lying is acceptable if it's in the service of covering for the church. Women, however, are slammed for espousing compassion and truth if it deviates even slightly from what the men in charge have decided. And homosexuals are blamed for everything.
The Vatican's doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spent more than two years reviewing Sister Margaret Farley's book Just Love. She advocates a healthy sex life, including women pleasuring themselves, and makes an argument for accepting same-sex marriage. It's not a shocker that the office's Cardinal William Levada recently rebuked Sister Farley harshly, slamming the book and its positions as "not acceptable."
But what should be shocking is how this contrasts with the Vatican's response to the recent revelation that Cardinal Dolan of New York lied about having paid off pedophile priests. He called the charges "false and preposterous" years ago when they were first made, but tax documents obtained by The New York Times reveal that he paid $20,000 to hush up one priest and make him go quietly. Dolan refused to respond to the facts of the story, saying it was "useless and counterproductive" to do so because The New York Times is supposedly biased against the church. And there's been no official response from the Vatican, which seems perfectly fine with lying if it's in the service of protecting the church's own horrendous actions and abdication of responsibility in the face of the child-abuse scandal. Let's not forget that only a few months ago New York's prior archbishop, Cardinal Egan, rescinded the church's apology for the child-abuse scandal.
The rebuke of Sister Farley came weeks after the rebuke of the largest order of nuns for spending too much time helping the poor and not enough time speaking out against same-sex marriage and abortion. The church claimed the nuns espouse a radical feminist point of view, and clearly it is their deviation on the issue of homosexuality, which the church has been obsessed over, that has the Vatican infuriated. Sister Farley was reminded that the church calls homosexuality "intrinsically disordered" and that same-sex relationships thus can never be condoned. It was none other than Pope Benedict himself who used that phrase to describe homosexuality back in the 1980s, when he, as Cardinal Ratzinger, ran the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Gays are the scapegoat of the church, blamed for the child-abuse scandal as the Vatican perpetuates another ugly lie, linking homosexuality to abuse of children despite the fact that the vast majority of pedophiles are heterosexual, and despite the fact that the church leadership -- the bishops and the cardinals, with the pope's knowledge -- shuffled around the criminal priests without bringing them to justice. And that's exactly what Cardinal Egan did, and then covered it up, while now refusing to address it, with the Vatican apparently backing him entirely.
For years at Catholic school, there was something else besides homosexuality that we were told the church views as "intrinsically disordered": lying. But at the Vatican that's obviously not a cardinal sin when it's a cardinal doing it.