Monday, July 16, 2007

Church, Scandals, and Money

Read this this morning on The Huffington Post:

The Business of the Catholic Church
Bill Maher

Posted July 16, 2007 | 10:35 AM (EST)

In this great and diverse country, one is always proud to see their own city on the front page of the national newspapers, so you can imagine my pride yesterday when Los Angeles turned out to be the place where the Catholic Church has had to pay the largest fine ever for diddling kids, $660 million. (Full disclosure: I was raised Catholic and I was sometimes alone with priests, although none ever tried anything. Which is a little insulting.)

Cardinal Mahoney announced that to help pay for the deal, the church would sell a building it owns on Wilshire and about 50 other properties they weren't using, which reminded me, oh yeah, the Catholic Church owns more property out here than Bob Hope did -- and why? Oh, yeah, because it's a business -- and not just a business, really, the greatest business in the world, in that, like all religions, it's selling an invisible product. It doesn't really get easier than that, unless you count Edgar Bergen, a ventriloquist on the RADIO.

The total payouts for abuse cases in dioceses all over America is now over $2 billion, and I imagine much of it came from people who went to Church and bought the invisible product by dropping their hard earned money into the basket (Full disclosure: when I was a child, that was my favorite part of the mass, and my father often let me put a quarter in). I wonder what those people think when they see that their money got spent on buying the privilege of touching and fucking kids. I was reading a week or so ago about Aga Khan, a very rich man who leads some tiny sect of Islam, and it's a good one to lead, since lots of the followers just send the dude money for being him.

It's the Ultimate Hustle.

Happy belated birthday to our dear editor -- thanks for letting me vent on that, it was on my mind and I'm doing Leno tonight and did not want it to come out there! Also let me plug my stand-up special this Saturday night on HBO -- I've been on the road, and it's ready and then some!

In cases like this, one must always filter for sensationalism and the quest for the joke, and having done so I mostly agree with Mahrer's sentiments, though not his tone (and I have yet to figure out why people seem to be so annoyed about the Catholic Church owning property. My only complaint--and it's directed at all churches and all religious organizations--is that I think the enormous tax breaks they receive violate the intent of the First Amendment). But I felt he, and most other observers/critics of the issue, are missing an important point. And so I told him that, in posting this comment:

Mr. Mahrer misses an important point: Long-range, this is good news not only for the victims but also for the Catholic Church.

Disclosure: I am a Catholic, although that strain that some insist cannot exist, viz., bleeding-heart liberal Democratic pro-choice Catholic. I am sickened and angered by the thought of priest pedophiles (like Mr. Mahrer, I spent a lot of time around priests--went to a Catholic college--and met some profound jerks, but no criminals), and even more sickened and angered that some bishops knew their crimes and protected them. (Why are they not behind bars?)

That's where "good for the Catholic Church" comes in.

If anyone learns anything from this atrocity, I hope it will be that cover-ups don't work. Ever. The accessories-after-the-fact who felt they needed to "protect" the institution from "scandal" created greater "scandal": the revelation that they covered up crimes, and then attempted to obfuscate and obstruct justice as the crimes came to light.

Now that dioceses are being hit where, as they say, it hurts, one hopes--perhaps naively--that some in leadership positions will learn a lesson: You can sweep it under the carpet today, but sooner or later the bulge will start to show and it will cost you a good deal more to clean it up later. In a perfect world, people who purport to be working on God's behalf would not have to be hit in the wallet to be made to understand this principle, but it ain't a perfect world.

P.S.: When I throw a few coppers into the collection plate, I am not buying an "invisible product": I'm helping in a small way to finance the good things that the church does--education, health care, poverty and disaster relief, etc. Another terrible side-effect of church "leaders" covering up priests' crimes is that the people who benefit from these services have been and will be victims of the fallout.

Meanwhile, my indignation extends to prosecutors and district attorneys in various jurisdictions who have inexplicably failed to prosecute the bishops who knowingly covered up priests' crimes. They are, as I assert above, accessories after the fact and should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. That, too, would be good for the church in the long run.

But since when is anybody interested in the long run?

No comments: