It’s always the cover-up that’ll get you in the end. As ugly as whatever deed was done, the avoidance of accountability and truth is forever the last nail in the coffin.
As a few examples, just review the scandals that befell Marc Sanford, John Edwards, Watergate and my topic today, the Catholic Church. In the case of the two individuals mentioned, they thought they were above the law, both legally and morally. Sanford and Edwards misappropriated funds and then thought that nothing would come of it. So far, that has been true: Sanford is still Governor of South Carolina even after having used public, state money to fund his overseas trips to see his soul mate. Edwards, although being investigated, has not yet faced any formal charges for his alleged embezzlement of campaign funds used for the upkeep of his mistress and new daughter. That is the legal status of these crooks; I am not even touching on the moral interpretation of their behavior.
As if the exploits of these individuals were not bad enough, the acts carried out by larger bodies, hiding behind their institutional and bureaucratic firewalls, are even more deceitful and hypocritical. President Nixon lied repeatedly about the break-in at the Watergate but it was his cover-up that was his swan song. He truly believed that since he held the highest office in our land, he could hide behind the collective sheath of government.
The Catholic Church similarly is using its millenia-old structure to shield itself from the fallout of the rampant pedophilia that runs through its rank and file. As a percentage of the total clergy, these abusers represented only a small number. But the past and present cover-up of actions not taken to reprimand these offenders encompasses the entire Church, including the Pope. That is the ultimate betrayal of the Church. This is especially harmful because the Church was and is not ceding to those principles that are the backbone of its very existence.
Listen to Bob Schieffer’s commentary. He puts the issue in perspective:
There are bad people in every walk of life. Thank goodness the good ones outnumber the ones with bad intentions. The test of one’s worth, whether an individual or an institution, is whether or not these people of dubious deeds will be brought to justice. Thus, the cover-ups. For people or institutions to sit on the sidelines and avoid measures to bring the guilty to their rightful punishment simply because of the public outrage and embarrassment that will ensue, is just as evil as the initial deeds. It is a sharp break with the covenant that guides the entire Catholic infrastructure.
Pope Benedict is not a pedophile. The controversy surrounding him has to do with his efforts to bury the evidence of pedophilia within the clergy. We have all read about Father Murphy at the school for the deaf in Wisconsin. Complaints of his acts landed on Ratzinger’s desk over a period of decades. And that is where the complaints stayed. Father Murphy was never punished or booted out of the clergy. In fact, he was sent back to the same venue where children were once again placed at risk. Father Murphy died a priest of the Catholic Church.
This weekend, news came out about a like story in Arizona:
Once again, Pope Benedict, then a cardinal, ignored the pleas of clergy to remove Rev. Michael Teta from the Tucson clergy community. No dice. The papers never found their way to affirm closure on Teta’s acts.
Honestly: unlike such institutions as our banks, caught red-handed selling financial instruments that were overly risky with no real value underlying them, the Church’s product, its stock in trade, is morality and faith. While not excusing the despicable behavior of our banks, they were selling money in order to make more money. The Catholic Church is selling morality and faith, their two main “products”. How can the Church maintain an institution based on these beliefs when they exempt themselves from those very principles? Thus, the Church is facing an uphill battle, confronted with significant headwinds, in the process of re-affirming their flock’s faith. To hide behind the adage, “we are responsible to no one except God” is a cop-out, an effort to perpetuate their status of “above the law”. Naturally, the world’s Catholic population has caught on to the Church’s double standards, one for their adherents and another for the ruling clergy. This rift will only widen until the Church can face its demons head-on.
A cover-up is a cover-up is a cover-up. The Church has acknowledged to a wide extent the many incidences of pedophilia in its past. Kudos. Now it has to act on those accusations and actually remove from their parishes the clergy who carried out these heinous acts against children, and also follow-up on the members of their highest hierarchy who ignored the incoming reports of abuse and chose rather to take no action at all, enabling the abusers freedom to continue their crimes against children.
The fact that this scandal involved a collective cover-up, which included but also superceded those on an individual level, is even more reason to complete this process of moral cleansing and renewal. If the Church is truly interested in cleaning up its act rather than protecting its leaders, the time is now to abandon the cover-up. Look: they admitted many of those acts of pedophilia and they survived. Once they address their as yet absent efforts to bring to justice the offenders, i.e. the actual pedophiles and those who protected them, their Church will continue to thrive. The truth often hurts, yet without it, there is no redemption or growth.
It is time to end the cover-up. Otherwise, the Catholic Church itself will become the next victim of its own hypocrisy.