Why am I taking off on the Vatican, or at least using my BLOG the past two weeks to list grievances? One thing is certain. There was justifiable cause to criticize the Vatican for a spate of priest child molesters in the past few years. The criminal justice system dealt with most of those cases and the offenders were convicted, though the victims were destined to live with their pain and humiliation. Had I been blogging back then, a relevant subject would have been the hypocrisy of the church’s rule of celibacy. There were numerous examples of priests, and nuns, I might add, whose celibacy was an invitation to clandestine affairs, rape, pedophilia and a slew of other unpleasant sexual activities. To list a few, nuns and priests had affairs, babies were often born and given to a good Catholic agency for adoption, or on several occasions abandoned on doorsteps or left in airplane lavatories. The more mundane stories involved priests and parishioners who fell in love and married which of course ended with the holy man leaving the church and finding another job. Then, of course, there were the cases mentioned above of priests seducing alter boys or little girls.
Generalizations are dangerous. Those who choose to be celibate do not automatically turn into rapists or pedophiles. However, when one’s entire life, beliefs, profession, emotions, and passions include the vow of celibacy, breaking that vow destroys everything that person stands for and believes in. That kind of pressure certainly could make people thrash about or act out in ways that perhaps they wouldn’t had they not been forced to eliminate such a normal biological aspect of their existence as human beings.
Last week, I wrote about the controversy of elevating Pope Pius XII to sainthood, notwithstanding the very real accusations that he aided and abetted the Nazi regime before, during and after the war. This week, I read an article about a book, sanctioned by the Vatican, and written by the Vatican official responsible for the process of sainthood. The book maintains that the beloved Pope John Paul II flagellated himself regularly to imitate Christ’s suffering, a ritual known as mortification that allowed him to feel the suffering of Christ. This self-inflicted pain is meant to make the potential saint feel closer to God. According to the book, Pope John Paul II kept a leather belt in his closet so he could whip himself at will, apparently not wanting to call upon one of his minions to fetch his weapon of choice. The book also reveals that when Pope John Paul II was a Bishop, he would regularly sleep on a hard wood floor in order to practice self-denial and asceticism.
If anyone is wondering if I am comparing pedophile priests, and Nazi Popes to the curious habits of Pope John Paul II, they are mistaken. I am of the belief that anyone can do anything to themselves or to another consenting adult in the privacy of their room, home, trailer, or hotel suite. My concern, or rather what perplexes me is why the Catholic Church would make stringent rules about celibacy for priests and nuns that obviously cause such terrible strain on their psyches. And, why would the Church sanction a person (a Pope or simple village girl) to beat themselves to a pulp in order to have a better chance at sainthood ?
Here we are in the 21st century and yet medieval practices, such as sexual abstinence, are still in place within the Catholic Church, despite the criminality that could be construed as a by-product of some of those rules. Equally disturbing, though perhaps not criminal, the Church condones at best, and encourages at worst, other barbaric practices such as self-flagellation in imitation of what Christ suffered at the hands of the Romans. The pity is that extremists in every religion ruin God and faith for the average believer.