Just read your column ("Who Can Mock This Church?") and wanted to say that I agree with you here:
The Vatican believes that this newspaper and other news organizations have been unfair and overzealous in excavating the church’s cover-ups of child rape. I see the opposite. No organization has done more to elevate the moral stature of the Catholic Church in the United States than The Boston Globe. Its groundbreaking 2002 coverage of abuse by priests led to reforms and by most accounts a significant reduction in abuse. Catholic kids are safer today not because of the cardinals’ leadership, but because of The Boston Globe’s.
Yet if the top of the church has strayed from its roots, much of its base is still deeply inspiring. I came here to impoverished southern Sudan to write about Sudanese problems, not the Catholic Church’s. Yet once again, I am awed that so many of the selfless people serving the world’s neediest are lowly nuns and priests—notable not for the grandeur of their vestments but for the grandness of their compassion.
But not so much here:
I understand why many Americans disdain a church whose leaders are linked to cover-ups and antediluvian stances on women, gays and condoms—but the Catholic Church is far larger than the Vatican. And unless we’re willing to endure beatings alongside Father Michael, unless we’re willing to stand up to warlords with Sister Cathy, we have no right to disparage them or their true church.
Mockery has its role to play. The Catholic church, like all religions, is a bit of a numbers racket. The church recruits new members and hopes to retain old members because its moral authority rests not so much on the pope's kick-ass art collection, but on the hundreds of millions of Catholics the pope claims to lead and speak for. Mockery that targets church leaders for their moral failings makes it more difficult for the church to insert itself into current moral and cultural debates in the short run, which is valuable all by itself, while undermining the church's ability to recruit and retain new members over the long run. As the pope doesn't have an army (anymore), moral authority is pretty much all he's got, and fewer members means less moral authority. And the pope damn well knows it.
The exposes in The Boston Globe and The New York Times lit a fire under the church's ass. But mockery makes those flames burn a whole lot hotter. If church leaders don't want to be seen as contemptible laughing stocks—if they don't want "the true church" mocked and disparaged right along with its leaders—they will have to address the institutional and doctrinal rot that made the sex scandals possible. The church will have to ordain women, allow all priests to marry (not just priests who were smart enough to be Anglicans first, Roman Catholics second), and reconcile itself to what we know now about sex just as the church once had to reconcile itself to what we know now about the movement of the planets. (It sure would be nice if the reconciling-itself-to-modernity process didn't take the church four hundred years this time. I'm not holding my breath though.)
In the meantime the pope and his cardinals and bishops can't be allowed to use good nuns and priests as human shields. If church leaders don't want to be mocked, and if church leaders sense that the mockery is damaging Catholicism, well, then church leaders have an even greater incentive to make the kind of systemic changes that are necessary. And, again, no one is mocking those noble Catholic nuns and priests out there risking their lives in the Sudan. People are mocking those power-hungry, self-aggrandizing bigots in their stupid fucking hats back at the Vatican.
Now let's have a song.