For many years, it seemed that the institutional Church was content to ignore the unfolding stories of widespread sexual abuse by priests, or at best to address only the specific problems of individual perpetrators and the pain of victims. Recently, as the scale of the problems expands (Switzerland is the latest country reported to be investigating complaints) numerous observers have remarked on how swiftly the tone has changed, with an increasing number of high ranking prelates starting to talk about the real issues contributing to the enabling environment. Just in the past few days, Cardinals from Austria (Schonborn) and Brazil (Hummes) have been calling into question the rigid rule on compulsory celibacy.
“Times have changed, and society too, and the Church will have to consider how this type of life can be maintained or what it has to change,” Salzburg Archbishop Alois Kothgasser said on Austria’s ORF television on Thursday evening.
In a diocesan newsletter, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn of Vienna said the Church had to ask difficult questions about the abuse scandals. “That includes the issue of celibacy and the personal development” of priests, he wrote.
The Catholic Church is studying ways to loosen the centuries-old requirement that priests abstain from sex in an effort to rebuild its image in the wake of pedophile scandals, Rome-based la Repubblica reported today. Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, who once said “celibacy is not a dogma,” is in charge of the project as head the congregation of the clergy, according to the report.
Outside the ranks of the powerful others have been calling for greater lay participation in the selection and oversight of their bishops.
Now, right at the heart of the Vatican, the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano is suggesting that it is time to revisit that other church bugbear – the place of women.
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One of the funniest books I have ever read was “The Book of Heroic Failures”, written by the founder of the Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain. The background to this is that Stephen Pile was a fairly ordinary Englishman who believed that the world was becoming obsessed with “success” – bigger, better richer, brighter, faster, and all the rest – when most of us are pretty ordinary, like himself. So, reasonably enough, he formed a club for people who were NOT very good at anything, and especially for those who were very bad at something – who used to meet, and tell each other stories of spectacular failures. These were later collected and published under the title “The Book of Heroic Failures.” I read this nearly thirty years ago, and still snort when I remember some of the anecdotes: of a hard of hearing military quartermaster who incorrectly heard a request for several hundred brass taps, and bought bra straps instead (for an all0male camp), or the nervous amateur actor who had a few drinks to calm his nerves before his first night as the Prince of Denmark, then a few more – then passed out just before the curtain. In the best theatrical tradition, the show duly went on – without Hamlet.
The book itself was a story of staggering failures:
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From the Washington Post, Desmond Tutu on Hate in Africa:
No one should be excluded from our love, our compassion or our concern because of race or gender, faith or ethnicity — or because of their sexual orientation. Nor should anyone be excluded from health care on any of these grounds. In my country of South Africa, we struggled for years against the evil system of apartheid that divided human beings, children of the same God, by racial classification and then denied many of them fundamental human rights. We knew this was wrong. Thankfully, the world supported us in our struggle for freedom and dignity.
It is time to stand up against another wrong.
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In an effective analysis at the Times, Richard Owen argues that the whole clerical abuse saga may well turn out to be Pope Benedict’s defining moment. For far too long, the church authorities appeared to totally ignore the problem and brush it under the carpet. Even as recently as the visit of the Irish bishops, the impression created was that he was totally underestimating the problem.
“Papal Whitewash” ran one headline in the Irish press after Pope Benedict’s encounter with the Irish bishops. No bishops were sacked, no abuse victims were heard, and the Pope — who is to visit Britain in September — announced no plans to visit Ireland to apologise and to mend fences.
More recently, there has been some grudging recognition that more may need to be done, but this still does not go beyond absolute basics. Instead, they have gone on the defensive, trying to argue (against all the evidence) that the Vatican response has been “decisive” and that other institutions are equally guilty.
(Continue reading this post)
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Last year, Sweden approved full marriage equality, including church weddings if desired, for gay and lesbian couples. Up to now, this has been the only country where it has been possible for same sex couples to have a full religious wedding in a major denomination, and have it recognized by the state. (The other countries which recognize gay marriage, do so only for civil marriages). However, support for full religious marriage has been building steadily, among voters and in some of the churches themselves. It now seems likely that Denmark will soon follow Sweden’s example. This is not surprising – they have similar religious traditions, and similar social outlooks. Denmark was the first country in the world to approve civil unions, but has been slow to convert to full marriage. However, 1997 the bishops approved church “blessings” of civil unions, as long as the words “husband” and “wife” were omitted, so there’s not a long way to go.
Now the government is considering a proposal to go the whole way, and allow full religious weddings. With almost two thirds of voters expressing support for the measure, and six out of ten bishops also ready to agree, it looks like an open goal just waiting for the final push.
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I’ve been reading Martin Duberman’s anthology, “Hidden From History“, and in particular James Saslow on Homosexuality in the Renaissance. One of Saslow’s key points is that at this time, men who had sex with men were not exclusive – in modern terms, they would more likely be described as “bisexual”. In a passage about how the rich and powerful freely made sexual use of their subordinates, I came across this throwaway reference:
Similar patterns prevailed among the clergy and educated humanists. Charges against Paul II and Julius II centred around their seduction of much younger men; Cellini’s autobiography records a beautiful and talented youth, Luigi Pulci, who made a career out of service to Roman bishops.
Now, I knew about Julius II – and for that matter, Julius III – but this was the first sexual gossip I have come across concerning Paul II, so I explored further. This is what I found: it seems he died while being sodomized by a page boy.
Paul II died, on July 26, 1471 of a stroke, allegedly whilst being sodomized by a page boy.
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