PRUDEN: Theologians at the United Nations

The Vatican asked for it, with its stalling on what to do about pedophile priests, and putting off what the pope and his bishops know is inevitable. But neither the Roman Catholic Church nor, God knows, the United Nations, comes into the court of public opinion with what the lawyers call, with no intended irony, “clean hands.”

There’s little the Vatican can say about the scandal of its priests except to say it’s sorry, and the Roman church has done that. More than that, the Vatican has taken some steps to make sure that scandal will be resolved and certain amends made. But there’s a lot more to do, as the Vatican concedes.

The U.N.'s Committee on the Rights of the Child, based in Geneva, scorches the Vatican for its transfers of errant — and in many cases, criminal — priests from one parish to another, in some cases giving a predator a virgin field for exploiting rapacious lust.

If Pope Francis wants a few pointers on how to resolve this scandal permanently, I could offer the obvious tips. If priests must suppress the most compelling of natural human instincts, Rome will continue to recruit a large number of undesirables, men who are constitutionally unable to live up to the teachings of the church, no matter how hard they try.

The cruel irony is that little boys, struggling through the tender years of childhood, will suffer most. That’s not what Christian teaching is about, and the pedophile scandal hurts every Christian congregation, Catholic and Protestant alike. A priest, like every man, needs the civilizing influence of a woman.

But nobody in Rome has asked for a Baptist critique of a Catholic dilemma, however well-intended such a critique may be. The self-righteous tone of the U.N. panel’s report is obviously not so well-intended.

“The [U.N.] committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed,” the report chides, “[and] has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by, and the impunity of, perpetrators.”

All somewhat true, and the Vatican has not denied its complicity in abuse, and promises to take the report to heart, further study, and perhaps action. But the U.N. gives its game away when it criticizes the Vatican for its “attitudes” on homosexuality, contraception and abortion, and piously says it should change its doctrines to make sure the rights of children, and their access to health care, are not abridged.

The U.N. is obviously less concerned about the children than about taking shots at one of the important institutions of Western culture.

If the members of the U.N. panel were actually as interested in the children of the world as they pretend to be, they would have stirred themselves, consistently and steadily, to identify the greatest and worst offenders on earth.

Pedophilia is a crime with neither justification nor defense, and neither are honor killings, female genital mutilation, gassing of children or recruiting children to fight wars that entertain imams and ayatollahs in certain benighted precincts of the Middle East. Where is the outrage?

Where is the outrage over the fact that Saudi Arabia, Syria and Uganda, where some of the worst crimes occur, have been members of the Committee on the Rights of the Child? If the United Nations wants to get in the business of rewriting the theologies of religious faith, it could start there.

The Koran’s sanction of dealing death to infidels has been subject to various interpretations; the United Nations might take it on its learned self to rewrite this catechism to make it plain that when the Koran speaks of death, it does not necessarily mean dead as in graveyard-dead, though the imam-sanctioned dead for religious “crimes” in the remote Islamic backwoods always look fairly dead to everyone at the wake.

The theologians at the U.N. could instruct, with the firmness and passion it seeks to instruct Rome about changing its doctrines on homosexuality and abortion, that every man and every woman have the God-given right to decide for themselves what to believe, or whether to believe at all, and to change beliefs whenever it suits without worrying about the official goon and his beheading knife.

The religious teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, and indeed of any faith, is nobody else’s business unless or until it violates secular law. The children of the world deserve better than lives as pawns in a sordid political game.

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