Sunday, January 30, 2011

How the Catholic Church Survives Scandals

While this post focuses on the Catholic Church and its recent troubles, you will find that the general principles are applicable to all churches.  The Catholic Church has much more experience using these tactics, however, and uses them almost as a matter of habit (no pun intended).

My observations have led me to think that there is something truly rotten at the heart of the Catholic Church.  This is really not surprising.  As Lord Acton said with regard to the decision to assert Papal Infallibility in 1870 (just as the Church was losing its lands and thus its status as a truly independent principality):

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

The Catholic Church has possessed incredible power for more than a millennium.  Even Kings were forced to obey it.  Such a history can only result in corruption.

I have not reached any kind of judgment based solely on news reports of priest pedophilia.  Likewise, I do not reach these conclusions based on my disagreements with the church over political and religious matters.  I can and do disagree with people and institutions without coming to negative conclusions about their character--though I have noticed that many religious people can't seem to do the same.

I do not think that all Catholics are bad.  I have numerous friends and relatives who are Catholic.  I have gotten to know a number of Catholics both in my personal life and at work.  I have met Catholics who seem very decent people.  Like any large group of people, some are good and some aren't.

Unfortunately, I have met a number of others who could teach Machiavelli a thing or two.  I don't think that is an accident.  I think they are taught, both explicitly and implicitly, to be that way.  I think that is the very nature of the Church, and its character is passed on to its members, many of whom are completely educated by the Church.

I have also read a great deal about the Church's official attitudes on things like free speech and free thought.  The Church is against both--officially and publicly--though it doesn't say so in such blunt terms.  But, what can you expect from such an avowedly authoritarian, totalitarian organization?

In fact, there are so many indisputable facts about the Church, such as its complicity in the actions of the Nazis, that are shocking and repulsive, that those seemingly decent Catholics I have met leave me wondering if they know the truth about the organization.  Are they just deluding themselves, like they delude themselves about the priest pedophilia?  Or worse, are they fully aware of these things and choose to remain in the Church?  Personally, any of these things would be enough to make me want to leave any organization to which I belonged.

Like many dark things in the Church's character and history, the pedophilia scandal has been covered up for decades or even centuries.  The prevalence of pedophiles amongst the priesthood has been common knowledge for a very long time.  Only those who could not face the truth denied it.  The "recent" scandals are only recent in the sense that the public and the authorities are no longer willing to let the Church cover it up.

The Church can no longer cover it up because of a confluence of several factors with the internet and mass media playing a large role.  We now live in a global village. It is no longer possible for the Church to simply ship the miscreants somewhere else and keep it quiet.  In the current situation, that is comparable to sending the offending priest to a church across the street and expecting people in the neighborhood not to notice.

Combine that with increased knowledge of the nonsensical, immoral and intolerant nature of religion and you have a much larger group of people who are no longer willing to be bullied into silence.  It all comes down to power. The Church (all churches) is losing it.  They can't victimize people and then hide from justice anymore.

The Catholic Church, like many religions, uses some very basic, tried and true tactics to maintain its membership.  First, convince as many members as possible that they are threatened by outside forces.  External threats are perhaps the most classic way to improve group cohesion. 

How does one accomplish that?  Well, simply lying to your members is one way.  Tell them things that are pure lies such as the allegations that the Nazis were atheists who persecuted Catholics.  Then tell them about any real or imagined slight and twist all such "incidents" into egregious examples of "persecution" or "intolerance" by exaggerating and re-interpreting what was done.

Like so many religions, their definition of tolerance incorporates the notion that we atheists are not allowed to criticize their beliefs or their churches.  In other words, they accuse us of intolerance simply for disagreeing with them.  (One of the first things fascist movements do is convince their rank and file that they are being persecuted--even when this allegation is objectively ludicrous.  Psychologists call this projection.  It has the effect of arousing the passion and anger of the believer while simultaneously justifying--in his mind, that is--"retaliation" against the "persecutors".)

Second, protect the reputation of the Church at all costs.  All conflicts are to be "interpreted" and presented as persecution.  Never tell the congregation (or anyone, for that matter) about anything that the Church or its members might have done to provoke an incident.  If such knowledge comes to light, then explain it away.  This should be easy to do because the church members are more than ready to believe that no Catholic would do anything bad and if he did, then he must have been the one who was provoked.  Dig up dirt on the victim to "prove" this provocation or at least prove that he deserved it--whether the person who victimized him knew it at the time or not.

Convincing your members that they are being persecuted is very effective because it becomes a type of self-fulfilling prophecy.  Once the members have become sufficiently paranoid and hostile (and nothing beats cloistering them during their formative years in parochial schools for this purpose), they will go out and persecute others in "self-defense".  This, of course, will result in a great deal of long-term hostility in the hearts and minds of those outsiders, which will seem like prejudice to members of the church because they have been blinded by deliberate misinformation to the real causes of such hostility.

Then, when a real scandal comes along, like the pedophilia scandal, it will be easy to pass the whole thing off to true believers as "prejudice" based on objections to the Church's moral teachings, which is exactly what the Church is now trying to do.

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