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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/31/15

Tapsell analyzes the international priest-sex-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Will the Catholic Church face the truth about their cimes and open the door to change?
Will the Catholic Church face the truth about their cimes and open the door to change?
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) May 31, 2015: Because the news media gravitate toward sensationalistic stories, the news media have amply covered the international priest-sex-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. On the one hand, the scandal involved certain abusive Roman Catholic priests as the perpetrators of the alleged abuse. On the other hand, the scandal involved the priest-perpetrators' Roman Catholic bishops as their enablers of the alleged abuse.

To help us better understand how the international priest-sex-abuse scandal developed in the Roman Catholic Church, the retired Australian lawyer and judge Kieran Tapsell researched and wrote the book POTPHAR'S WIFE: THE VATICAN'S SECRET AND CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE (2014). He was a seminarian for the priesthood as a young man, at which time he studied the church's canon law. He centers his attention on the crucial role that the church's canon law played in contributing to the church's world-wide priest-sex-abuse scandal.

Tapsell's thorough book includes a lengthy three-column chronological table of relevant key events in church history (pages 9-48), an index of subjects (pages 353-358), an index of names (pages 359-362), and illustrations of certain popes placed in various places in the book. In the index of names, there are two separate entries for the names Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Pope Benedict XVI, who is still alive and is now known as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Both index entries show numerous page references to him, as does the entry for Pope John Paul II.

For a discussion of some of the other mischief of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, see Matthew Fox's book THE POPE'S WAR: WHY RATZINGER'S SECRET CRUSADE HAS IMPERILED THE CHURCH AND HOW IT CAN BE SAVED (2011).

In the book of Genesis (39:6-20), we find the story about how Potiphar's wife attempted unsuccessfully to seduce the slave-boy Joseph. But Joseph resisted her. As a result, she accused him of attempting to rape her. As a result of his wife's accusation, Potiphar had Joseph thrown in prison. However, as the result of his ability to interpret dreams (he was an early Freud, eh?), he eventually got out of prison and went on to avenge himself on his brothers who had sold him into slavery out of their jealousy of him (he was their father Jacob's favorite son).

However, young victims of priest sex abuse do not characteristically go on subsequently to live such happy lives as Joseph did, because it is usually hard for them to recover from the psychological impact of priest sex abuse.

As Tapsell notes (e.g., page 309), in the Gospel According to Mark, the character known as Jesus is portrayed as saying of whoever who cause little ones who believe to stumble, "It would be better for him to hang a millstone Around his neck and be thrown into the sea" (Mk. 9:42; Willis Barnstone's translation in THE RESTORED NEW TESTAMENT [2009], page 177). However, it would be against American civil law today to throw either abusive American Catholic priests or their enabling American Catholic bishops into the sea with rocks tied around their necks.

As a legal alternative, however, it might be a good idea to throw both the perpetrators and their bishop-enablers in jail. To counter the church's canon law, certain civil governments have instituted laws mandating reporting sexual abuse -- or facing time in jail for breaking those reporting laws. Evidently, certain civil governments have figured out a way to get through the church's culture of clericalism -- threaten to throw the church's clerics in jail for breaking laws requiring them to report sex abuse.

Now, Pope Francis, who has been a hit with the media, is on record as urging his fellow Roman Catholic bishops and priest to give up their culture of clericalism. Tapsell thoroughly delineates the culture of clericalism that Pope Francis has criticized -- and the exalted theology of the priesthood that is also involved in it.

But how realistic is it to imagine that the bishops and priests whose clerical identities have been so deeply attuned to the culture of clericalism and the exalted theology of the priesthood that Tapsell ably delineates are going to change voluntarily? If you think that the bishops and priests who have been formed by the church culture of clericalism and the exalted theology of the priesthood are going to change voluntarily, you should remember how Oedipus gouged out his eyes. The bishops and priests who have been formed by the culture of clericalism and the exalted theology of the priesthood do not want to take the log out of their eye, figuratively speaking, and face the truth about their status of being above civil law in the church's canon law -- in effect, a Roman Catholic version of Nietzschean supermen.

Tapsell repeatedly refers to the "privilege of clergy" in the Middle Ages as a kind of touchstone and leitmotif throughout his book (the index entry for "privilege of the clergy" lists 37 specific page references).

In the book THE THEOCONS: SECULAR AMERICA UNDER SIEGE (2006), Damon Linker rightly alerts progressives and liberals to watch out for certain American Catholic theocons. No doubt the anti-secular religious zealotry of American Catholic cultural warrior bishops and cultural warrior priests fuels their opposition to legalized abortion in the first trimester and their opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage.

But Tapsell calls attention to the deep cultural conditioning of Catholic bishops and priests in their church's culture of clericalism and exalted theology of the priesthood.

For a discussion of the history of the Roman Catholic priesthood, see Garry Wills' book WHY PRIESTS? A FAILED TRADITION (2013). Wills, a former Jesuit seminarian for the priesthood, is a practicing Catholic.

Now, toward the end of his book, Tapsell also invokes Sophocles' play OEDIPUS THE KING (pages 349-351).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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