Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Catholic blackmail isn't the real papal news

Catholic blackmail isn't news, but the level it has verifiably hit is. As someone who once worked within the structure, let me explain.

Blackmail runs rampant throughout the church. In our day of high public standards and behavior that falls below even the most private ethical realms of the confessional, the number of supposedly chaste and celibate clerics caught with their fingers in the sexual cookie jar is high.

Years ago, I did everything in my meager power to prevent the elevation to cardinal of one archbishop who had long been blackmailed by one then-prominent Catholic layman. Although -- deo gratias! -- the weakness in that case involved adult women.

We don't yet have a good handle on the number of clerics who died of AIDS linked to sexual contact, but I suspect that will one day shock the world.

What did you expect, that "Father" was a saint? He's just a guy. Even Joseph Ratzinger put on his Hitler Youth uniform pants one leg at a time. There are trousers underneath the ceremonial clerical dresses and underneath the clothes a full complement of testosterone.

Think you're far away from that? Next time you go to church watch the people who collect baskets. Is there one who has been doing this forever? That man, it usually is a man (just like Catholic priests are usually men), is probably skimming off the collections protected by knowledge of a sexual indiscretion committed by the pastor, or one of the priests in the parish staff.

Oldest scam in the book. Those candle- and incense-smelling men who are always in church, who are long-time church employees although they seem to do nothing. They're blackmailers.

Notice priests coming out to collect the baskets at the offertory? A countermeasure. Grab the dough before anyone else gets it.

Corruption is highest, of course, in the rich countries, where the Church is rich: in the United States and Europe. As bank robber Willie Sutton reputedly said, that's where the money is. And let's be fair, this happens in other churches, although usually it's more naked larceny.

The national office of the  Episcopal Church had a classic accountant-skims-off-millions scandal a few years ago.

But how can you embarrass the Catholic Church after the Borgia pope? A Nazi pope? Done that and seemingly no one except me wondered what the cardinals were smoking that day.

What appears to have shocked even Ratzinger out of the papacy is not mere corruption, but corruption involving bishops and those who could be pope, cardinals. Of course, corrupt bishops and even popes are not new. Any more than corrupt politicians.

What's new is that more get caught out publicly and that the public expects them to fall on their proverbial swords. Especially if the cookies in the forbidden sexual jar are boys.