Friday, April 2, 2010

Is Catholicism’s Greatest P.R. Strength Also Her Greatest Weakness?

Through the recent amass of commentary on the sex scandals sweeping the Catholic Church, I’ve noticed how the Vatican’s greatest “public relations” strength is also her greatest weakness. If the Pope coughs, the whole world finds out by way of the church’s global hierarchy of cardinals, archbishops, bishops, vicars, priests, then on to the domestic church, our families. We then donate boxes of tissues to our local parish as a way of reaching out to the Pope who has a cold. (Most of the time, this sort of thing would even reach the press.) This works to the Vatican’s great advantage when a message of morality is sent out into the world (i.e. peace, love, solidarity, etc). As we have seen in many other instances, but most recently, it also serves as the greatest disadvantage (with widespread criticisms of the Catholic Church popping up daily). Between calls for Canon Law reform and insulting political cartoons, I am frustrated by the amount of energy that is spent on the Vatican. When is the last time you watched CNN and saw breaking news flash across the screen: “The Archbishop of Canterbury Makes Decision to Divorce His Third Wife.” Or “Reverend Jacobs of ‘Middlebury Little Rock Church of the Christ, His Savior’ Molested Two 16 Year Old Boys in 1970s.” Or “Preacher Jane Accused of Hiding ‘Send His Message MegaChurch, Inc.’ Finances to Cover Up Gay Youth Pastor Scandal.”

Through all the cover-ups that have happened in the Church’s history there, gratefully, has also been more accountability in the world’s most globalized, organized institution than any other could provide. As much as it has saddened me to see a few of our (once) most beloved clergy fall and commit atrocious acts, it scares me to think how much more of these sorts of things are happening throughout the world in lesser-organized, more splintered institutions.

In the 30% of America’s Christian churches which are Catholic, victims of sexual abuse should be able to feel some sense of recourse (especially now, as new standards of liability have been set worldwide). But what about those victims in the other 70% of Christian churches in America who invariably suffer from the same sorts of scandals as ours? Who will a child tell? – His parents? The authorities? And even if it breaks the news – where is the accountability? Sure, the officiant may be fired and can even be sent to jail – but is that enough to deter others in his position in churches similar to his?

A small town church scandal (even one involving jail time) would never make it out of the local news.
On the other hand, a small town Catholic Church scandal would make national, perhaps even international, news as Catholics, globally, would demand an apology from the Pope himself. It is then that our breaking news headlines would read: “The Vatican Submits Apology to Entire World Amidst Recent Sex Scandal in Singleton, Alabama.”

Because of the Church’s global network, Catholic Clergy are linked as a body of one – when one falls, they all suffer. If Preacher Jane covers up a scandal at “Send His Message, MegaChurch, Inc.” unconnected protestant clergy are not portrayed in the news as corrupt pedophiles. Yet, Catholic Clergymen are.

I pray for justice for all victims of sexual abuse scandals -- including the thousands of ethical Catholic Clergymen who have been unjustly portrayed and the thousands of victims worldwide who have no one to turn to. May they find peace and hope in the Lord’s Passion, as all Christians will be reminded to do this Easter holiday.


Tim Ryan said...

It's not the press commenting on sexual abuse within the church that makes the church look bad. It's sexual abuse within the church that makes the church look bad. There seems to be a prevalent viewpoint amongst Catholics that this all boils down to some international press conspiracy to take down the Pope. The fact is, there is an inordinate amount of abuse going on within the clergy and not a whole lot of justice (of the earthly sense). I think a lot of outside observers are waiting for more than just apologies and prayers.

Andrea Watts said...

Caitlin: I enjoyed reading your thoughts-- between your post and Rabi's post on foreign diplomacy, I love that Lefty's Last Cry is branching out content wise. Kudos!

Caitlin Worm said...

Tim: I agree with you completely (“I think a lot of outside observers are waiting for more than just apologies and prayers"). Basically, I was commenting on the fact that there is virtually no way to track what other abuses are (most definitely) happening in non-Catholic religions.

Because the church has such a recognizable hierarchy, they are held accountable for these tragedies (this is a GOOD thing!); however, it frustrates me that Catholics are taking on the burden of all criticisms on this matter as if our clergy is prone to such behavior.

Andrea: I agree! Like a magazine with all different topics!

ShamRockNRoll said...

I recently read an article about how this kind of abuse is common in many other faiths, but I can't recall where I read it... If I stumble upon the link again I'll definitely post it.

ShamRockNRoll said...

P.S. See those Facebook & Twitter buttons at the bottom of the posts? ...Let's use them people! They work, and get lots of new readers! :)

Bill said...

The fact that people of all faiths will abuse their power in this way isn't surprising, but I would suggest that since most other Christian faiths do not demand that their preachers live a sexually repressed lifestyle, they might be less likely to resort to this kind of behavior as often as Catholic priests do.

Caitlin Worm said...

So, sexual repression results in illegal sexual deviance? Are rapists and pedophiles people who "just can't get any?" Many sexual deviants have families and very active sex lives.

If 1% of priests resort to this behavior – which I think I read somewhere that's what it is -- and you can even bump it up to 2% for the sake of those which do not get reported on – then it should definitely not be described as "often." Overall, the Church’s mandate of "sexual repression" seems to be pretty successful in that case. The clergy who have resorted to illegal acts of sexual abuse should not be overshadowing the rest of the Catholic Clergy who are honoring their vows to the Church and to society.

Tim Ryan said...

1-2% is pretty statistically significant. I'm not sure you'd find any other profession with a 1-2% pedophilia rate. I'm inclined to agree with Bill on this one.

ShamRockNRoll said...

I'm not sure how causal the relationship is between the sexual repression imposed on the clergy by the church and pedophilia... I'm sure there's something there... but I'd expect there to be more priests going out and hooking up with women on the side. Why do you think there is a pedophilia problem and not a Clergy Don Juan problem? I'm not sure.

Caitlin Worm said...

Tim: If 1-2% isn’t statistically significant then how significant is 98-99% of priests who DON’T engage in this behavior? 98-99% of priests are a-okay in this department yet an entire overhaul of their lifestyle is being criticized?
Let us say 1 or 2 doctors in America out of 100 have been part of a sex abuse scandal. Would the entire country to say that all doctors are sex offenders? Absolutely not. Doctors would not have their image plagued by the media (or anyone else) because -- unlike the priesthood which most people find mysterious and a deviant from the (Protestant) norm in itself -- everyone has a family doctor whom they relate to and can trust.

There is an extraordinary amount of anti-Catholicism out there. I didn’t grow up Catholic, I don’t go to a Catholic school, and most of my friends are not Catholic so maybe it is easier for me to see the discrimination.

ShamRockNRoll: “Clergy Don Juans” most certainly exist -- but it isn’t a social problem, only a Canon Law problem. Maybe this is because the “crime” wouldn’t have a victim (save broken hearts), especially not vulnerable children. (Well I guess the victim would be the dignity of their vows and their parishioners who trust them to live up the vows? Either way it doesn’t involve the general populace.)