Origins of a Scandal


You're hardly in the rebellious fringe these days if you believe the Catholic Church is in need of some serious soul searching. No Catholic could be viewed as a maverick for advocating a thorough house cleaning. Whether in the area of unscrupulous or criminal behavior, or simple public relations, the church needs a cleansing transformation, and even the clergy knows it.

But the roots of its problems reach into areas the church has never cared to address, and that's the simple corruption inherent in all-powerful institutions.

I was born and raised a Catholic, with nuns and priests for aunts and uncles. I have watched this curious world from the moment my parents first set me in a pew and told me to hush. As a boy I both loved and hated it, and as an adult, little has changed.

My problems with the church go beyond acts of pedophilia and the shameful conspiracy of silence. I saw fundamental hypocrisy long before any of that horror came to light. I saw it the first time the nuns taught me about Jesus and then ushered me before a television set to view the pope speaking in St. Peter's Square.

From the beginning, something seemed amiss. Even to a young boy in Sunday school it was clear there was a conflicting message being passed along.

As a grade-school kid, the Jesus I was taught to embrace was unlike any adult I'd ever encountered. He was dirt poor, humble, and a bit shabby in appearance. He hung out with the poor, the sick, the outcasts, and pariahs, but he didn't lament their company. I didn't know a single adult like him in my parish.

The Jesus the nuns taught me to cherish did something no adult I knew could pull off with conviction: He didn't lecture the sinners or avoid them, but embraced them with breathtaking compassion. He seemed to genuinely treasure them, without judgment. As a child it was the most startling thing I'd ever encountered.

Too bad they had to temper it by shifting my attention to Rome.

To this day I remain stunned the church doesn't see what even a young boy could see the first time he was given the chance. A church that holds up a poor carpenter's kid as its ideal presents a leader who, symbolically anyway, seems to emulate the Roman emperors instead.

Doesn't the church find it incongruent that the world of the Vatican is so royal and opulent? Everything about it drips with abundance and authority. Where'd that broke Jewish guy go?

To find the source of the pedophilia problem making headlines these days you need look no further than this paradoxical image. In it you can find so much that has haunted this religion's hierarchy from the very beginning. Somewhere along the line, the power of power came to be revered as much as any power of love. Fortunately, it didn't always affect the grassroots. Millions of average Catholics over the centuries have traded an existence of ease and plenty for one of service and sacrifice. Many have given their lives in that pursuit. For them, the Jesus the nuns described always stayed front and center as the role model.

Such was not the case with the Vatican, however, which instead came to reflect the image of the late Roman Emperor Constantine, the man who first made the religion a sanctioned public office rather than a revolutionary way of life. In the fourth century, after 300 years of being outcasts like Jesus himself, believers were suddenly made part of the Roman confederacy. Abuse of power has been a problem ever since.

It's the kind of power that's capable of sweeping problems under the rug, power that's helped get 13-year-old boys to do what they're told and keep their mouths shut afterward, power that's allowed P.R. men to spin matters a bit more favorably, the kind of power a poor carpenter's son once sought to tear down and replace with something simpler but richer: brotherly love.

When looking for the church to address why its pedophilia problem continues to make headlines, year after year, as one story after another of secrecy, deceit, and irresponsibility comes to light, ask it to first address the question of power and how it's been wielded since the religion first went from being a poor man's salvation to a wealthy pope's office.   

Ask it what the point of it all was when there wasn't a single directive from its leader asking it to create anything akin to what we find today in the lofty imperial world of Vatican City. 

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