The Holiness Myth
|Was Pope Benedict fired by the Knights of Malta?|
By Mary Shaw
So now Pope Benedict XVI has retired, and the cardinals will be choosing a new leader.
Meanwhile, sentimental Catholics and others have been praising the now-former pontiff. They call him a holy man. However, in looking back through his record, I see much that is downright unholy.
Perhaps most obvious is his role in the cover-up of clergy sex abuse.
Back in 2001, when we still knew him as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the British press leaked a confidential letter from Ratzinger to all Catholic bishops ordering that "the church's investigations into child sex abuse claims be carried out in secret," and asserting "the church's right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood." In other words, keep it all under wraps until the statutes of limitations expire. How "holy" is that?
In 2002, he discounted the whole issue, referring to the media coverage of clergy sex abuse as a plot to discredit the Church. How "holy" is that?
In 2005, after he had assumed the papal throne, he asked then-President George W. Bush to grant him immunity from prosecution for covering up clergy sex abuse allegations in a Texas diocese. (Bush complied.) How "holy" is that?
Priests who molested children were not disciplined, fired, and turned over to the appropriate legal authorities. Instead, they were transferred to other parishes, where they were free to molest a whole new crop of young people. Victims were told to remain silent under threat of excommunication or hellfire. How "holy" is that?
Child sexual abuse is a crime, and Benedict knows it. Covering up a crime is also a crime in itself. But, instead of being held accountable, the former pope is praised as a holy man. Meanwhile, the victims of clergy sex abuse are left to suffer emotionally for the rest of their lives. How "holy" is that?
And then there is this ex-pope's reckless stance on condom use, which could result in unnecessary illness and death.
During a visit to Africa in 2009, Benedict said that condoms are not the answer to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In fact, he said condom use "increases the problem." This reminds me of the Catholic church of four centuries ago, which persecuted Galileo for his belief that the earth revolves around the sun. He apparently won't let science get in the way of his outdated ideology. How "holy" is that?
Fortunately, most practicing Catholics I know tend to reject the nonsense and embrace only the components of the religion that work for them and for the greater good. They use condoms and birth control pills. This former pope would probably call them sinners. But I think they're a lot holier than he is. They are, after all, taking responsibility for their actions.
Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views appear regularly in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites.
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