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The Pope's Visit: Shame or Disgrace?

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Before I unload, let me set some markers down:

- I was raised Catholic.
- I went to Catholic schools.
- But no, I was not molested by a priest.
(In the interest of full disclosure it is only fair to note that I was not an attractive child.)

I mention all that only to nix charges that I am anti-Catholic. To be so I would have to be anti-my-parents and entire family. And I am not "bitter" because I was molested by some guy in a black dress. (Though I was a regular customer of Sister Superior's yardstick.)

Now, onto the meat of the matter.

We are such suckers for pomp and circumstance, and we got a TV full of the stuff last week as the Pope dropped by for a holy howdy-do. The cable channels, which can fixate on subjects large and small like nothing before, fixated on the man in the flowing gold and white robes and red slippers.

If there ever is a second-coming it would be tough to cover it more than CNN and MSNBC covered the Pope's visit. For four days there was no war in Iraq, the Taliban stopped winning in Afghanistan and the primarily elections called a time-out --or at least one would have thought so trying to find real news among the blanket coverage of all things Pope.

I don't mean to be a bad host. I just think the news coverage was decidedly one dimensional. Here's what CNN and MSNBC left out of their 100 hours of coverage and commentary:

- Why the Pope came:
Historically being Pope really did mean never having to say you're sorry. No longer. The Pope's visit was entirely an apology tour. He came to apologize for the priest abuse scandal. And he did so at every opportunity. He was soooooo sorry. Now.

But wait, the scandal has been raging for well over 15 years. Why now? The Church's initial response to the crisis was a combination of denial and Cheney-esk hide the evidence. (Even if that meant hiding the perps, which the Church regularly did.)

During those years (1981–2005) the current Pope, Benedict, headed the Vatican's ancient and powerful "Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith." That's the new name for the office. The Church had to change the name for marketing reasons. It used be called "The Holy Office of the Inquisition." But, apparently, the office was involved in some unpleasantness 800 years ago -- something about water-boarding, drawing and quartering, etc.

While the re-named office had long ago ended its "kinetic" operations against suspected heretics, it remains the Church's version of the NSA/CIA. If something is amiss in the Holy Force, Ratzinger knew about it and was part of the Church's response -- which initially was to vilify and stonewall victims.

That strategy backfired and backfired badly on the Church. I tried to find the total amount the Church has had to pay out to American victims of sexual abuse, but apparently no one has compiled a total. Maybe that's because it's too early still. The total must be approaching $2 billion dollars and cases continue to be filed. Almost weekly I read of an new multi-million payout.

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Children accused more than 4,000 priests of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002, according to a draft survey for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops...The survey, to be released February 27, found that children made more than 11,000 allegations of sexual abuse by priests. The 4,450 accused priests represent about 4 percent of the 110,000 priests who served during the 52 years covered by the study.

That's why the Pope decided he just had to see Washington and New York in April.

That, and the fact that, thanks to the stain on the clergy caused by all this kid-diddling, the Church was having trouble attracting new priests. That threatened to compound the Church's financial losses as priests are the Vatican's representatives at the point of sale. What good is it, for example, to have a classy department store but no check out clerks. Priests man the checkout booths and, collect the money. And we're not talking chump change. A recent study concluded that the Vatican and it's American dioceses collect at least $8 billion from the faithful in their pews each year.

That's why the Pope was here. He'd tried everything else to staunch the hemorrhage of funds and clergy and failed. He was left with only one remaining option... apologize and plead for "healing."

"Although it counts the number of children who have been abused, the number of priests who have abused children, the total financial cost to the church, it does not chronicle the number of bishops who knowingly re-assigned priests who had abused children," said Steve Krueger.

"Without that kind of investigation, there can be no accountability," Krueger said. The editor of the National Catholic Reporter agreed the church scandal is not just about sex. "This has long ceased to be just a scandal about sex abuse. It's a scandal about abuse of power and trust, and a breech of faith with people," said Tom Roberts. (CNN)

Here's one more thing no one in the media seemed to want to explore on this issue. America is unique in that we have a vital -- and often much maligned -- plaintiff's bar. They are the only reason we even learned that there was priest sexual abuse going on. These class-action pit bull lawyers moved right on from disemboweling tobacco companies to disemboweling the Church.

Nowhere in the rest of the world does this kind of independent judicial "punisher" exist ... especially in under-developed -- largely Catholic nations, like Mexico and much of Latin America.

Which raises an interesting question -- at least one would think it's an interesting question: are we to believe that sexual abuse by priests is solely and American phenomena?

No way. I suspect that it's been, and remains, rampant in the under-developed world. But those countries don't have our kind of laws or our kind of lawyers. Which is why you haven't, and won't, be seeing the Pope on an apology tour down there.

(A musing: Interestingly, the Church is having trouble keeping the Hispanic parishioners in Latin America from jumping ship to growing evangelical movement throughout the region. Maybe parents down there are something less than enthusiastic to put their kids into the hands of Father Way Too Friendly.)

Human Rights:
Another theme the Pope trotted out during his visit was the importance of promoting human rights around the world.

"The promotion of human rights remains the most effective strategy for eliminating inequalities between countries and social groups, and increasing security."

And, of course, everyone applauded like trained seals. I mean, who could be against promoting human rights?

Well, the Pope for one. It seems you get pass these days if your religion's doctrines demand fewer human rights. (Think of religious doctrine as the religious equivalent of presidential signing statements that allows religions a kind of cafeteria human rights policy. They're four square for human rights, until you get down to specific human rights.)

Let's examine which human rights the Pope and clergy are allowed to deny followers:

- The right of women to control their own reproductive functions.
- The right of women to hold any ruling posts within the Church.
- The right of poor families to the knowledge or tools needed to keep their family's size within sustainable limits. (This is especially troubling now that the earth has entered a period of food scarcity.)
- The right of priests to have loving life partners who are not made out of cold marble.
- The right of nuns to marry. (In my day nuns wore wedding rings because they were "married to Christ." How creepy is that?)
- The right to use condoms, not just to prevent unwanted pregnancy, but to protect against AIDS, even on continents like Africa where AIDs has already nearly wiped out one entire generation and is working on the next.
- The right to live as you were born, especially if that means you were born gay.

One would think that at least one of those "journalists" gushing all over the Pope during his visit might just have asked him a few probing questions about all that. And asked him how he jives his stated support for human rights with his Church's own rules against some of mankind's most fundamental human rights, like controlling how many kids they have.

I have to wonder if a few thousand poor Catholic families in Africa who, thanks to the Church's rules against artificial birth control, had unwanted children, children that suffered or even died of starvation, sued the Church and won. I wonder if that's what it would take to spur the Pope to change the rules against birth control and, of course, spark a Papal apology tour of Africa.

I'm betting it would.

Okay, I won't beat that horse any further. You get the point. The very week Texas officials were rescuing 400 kids from a Mormon cult that allows grown men to have their way with underage girls, the Pope got a total pass on his Church's own sins against the rights of humans.

But, clearly, if you're the Pope you get a pass for discriminating against women and running a well-oiled pedophile protection racket for decades. You can come to America and get royal treatment from politicians and the press.

Hell, no one less than the President of the United States himself picked him up at the airport!

Then again, why should that surprise me. After all, the George W. Bush and Benedict have a lot in common. They both prefer to keep the wings of the human spirit well trimmed.
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Stephen Pizzo has been published everywhere from The New York Times to Mother Jones magazine. His book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, was nominated for a Pulitzer.

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