What Would It Take to Remove This Pope? April 10, 2010

What Would It Take to Remove This Pope?

The latest on the Catholic Church Childraping scandal is that the Pope didn’t do anything about the problems when he had the chance:

The future Pope Benedict XVI resisted pleas to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually molesting children, citing concerns including “the good of the universal church,” according to a 1985 letter bearing his signature.

Matt Taibbi asks an interesting (and very Taibbi-esque) question:

What’s it going to take for them to get rid of this cat? Is it going to take catching him boarding an airplane with his cock in a six year-old Little Leaguer? Prognostications welcome: what would have to be the “last straw” for this Pope?

Is there anything that would force him to resign? Anything that would show he’s fallible? Or is that too much to ask of Catholics?

Richard Dawkins had his own memorable words about Ratzinger:

“Should the pope resign?” No. As the College of Cardinals must have recognized when they elected him, he is perfectly — ideally — qualified to lead the Roman Catholic Church. A leering old villain in a frock, who spent decades conspiring behind closed doors for the position he now holds; a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part; a man whose preaching of scientific falsehood is responsible for the deaths of countless AIDS victims in Africa; a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence: in short, exactly the right man for the job. He should not resign, moreover, because he is perfectly positioned to accelerate the downfall of the evil, corrupt organization whose character he fits like a glove, and of which he is the absolute and historically appropriate monarch.

No, Pope Ratzinger should not resign. He should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice –- the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution –- while it tumbles, amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears.

What I don’t get is why people are arguing that the media is treating the Catholic Church unfairly or that people are making too big a deal about this.

I remember reading this AP report that three children a day are inappropriately touched by public school teachers. And yet we don’t seem to see commensurate media coverage. Partly that’s because it’s more difficult to pin a “conspiracy” charge on the public school system. Partly that’s because we hold clergy to higher standards. I’m sure there are many other reasons.

The fact that other groups of people do these awful things doesn’t detract from the real heart of this issue — the Catholic Church has systematically tried to cover this mess up.

(Side note: Did anyone listen to This American Life last week? Here’s the main story’s summary:

Patrick Wall was a special kind of monk. He was a fixer. The Catholic church sent him to problem parishes where priests had been removed because of scandal. His job was to come in, keep events from going public and smooth things over until a permanent replacement priest was found. But after four different churches in four years, after covering up for pedophiles and adulterers and liars and embezzlers he decided to make a change.

It was really an incredible story. Go listen to it.)

I’m shocked that anyone would still want to be a part of this Church — sure, they may not support the way the Church is handling this issue, but they say they still love the culture and the tradition and the services. That’s the problem. They support the institution and don’t do enough to criticize them for their faults.

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  • Michael

    The thing that bothers me the most is the power that all of these euphemisms seem to have. Hitchens tends to emphasize the word “rape” over “abuse” or “scandal.”

    I can understand why. People tend to forget and dismiss these facts more easily when they’re talking about “Scandal” instead of the word Rape.

  • Erp

    Popes are generally removed by God (aka death) alone.

    Given what some previous bishops of Rome have gotten up to the current one is relatively innocent (there are reasons why Dante stuffed quite a few into Hell).

    Also though most of the current news is about the coverup of child rape, the Irish church scandal also includes non-sexual physical and mental abuse.

  • What I don’t get is why people are arguing that the media is treating the Catholic Church unfairly or that people are making too big a deal about this.

    I totally agree. With Catholic parent’s who are often around their Catholic friends. I hear this all the time and it really frustrates me!

    Thanks for the TAL tip. I used to listen weekly, but TAL has recently fallen through my google reader cracks.

  • martin

    The thing with every other group that may be involved with high child abuse numbers is that they are responsible under the law, and they end up having to fall under it. Teachers get fired, and sent to prison. If a school was found to be covering up even 1/10th of what the Pope has been discovered to cover up, heck even cover up a teacher talking sexually to one student, and no actual physical touching involved, the media would be covering the cover up as well until something was done. The reason the media is so forthcoming with the ongoing coverup coverage is because nothing has been done yet. Heck with the past few months of Tiger coverage, where nothing illegal was even done, I am surprised that people are gullible enough to think its some type of media conspiracy and the media is picking on the pope for no reason!

  • Tiffany

    As a survivor of child sexual abuse, it really irks me to read coverage of the Catholic abuse cases, because they are labeled “sex scandals.” This is NOT a scandal. These are cases of child rape.

  • muggle

    I don’t know if a pope can be removed or not but I do know he certainly should be. He should also be arrested and tried whether the Catholic Church takes steps to remove him or not. We all know he won’t be.

    I never understood how they could choose a former Nazi to begin with. When I said as much at the time, people would always say he was a kid, it was scary times, many people were Nazis because they were afraid. I’d look at them and ask, “And your point?”

    Like being afraid is a valid reason to abuse other human beings.

  • I have to agree with martin in the comment above. There are people who do wrong things in every other profession, but they are not considered to be above the law, unlike religious groups.

    I’ve also often wondered what it would take for Catholics to leave the Church? What would the Church have to do? Perhaps a better question would be: What has the Church not done? There are people who say they disagree with the Church (perhaps they have more moderate views on certain issues) but still stay in the Church. Why doesn’t the Church’s history of making really slow and ineffective improvements not make them suspicious?

  • Jen

    I was talking to a 60-ish coworker the other day and we were talking about the Pope and she told me that she didn’t believe that he was involved in any of this. Eventually, she told me she didn’t believe a Catholic priest had ever molested a child. She agreed with me that there are parents and teachers who have done such things. But she did not believe anyone could go through seminary and molest a child, and called me “negative”. I asked her what she would say if one of her children had approached her, either years ago as children, or now as adults, and said they were molested, would she believe them? She said she would listen very carefully, and that she probably would not believe them. She said she hoped the Catholic Church would sue everyone who ever got a settlement and get all their money back.

    The thing that gets to me, here, besides all the flaws in reasoning, is that she is not now, nor has she ever been, a Catholic. If even she has been brainwashed into supporting them, how could we ever get the Catholics to push the Pope out?

  • Epistaxis

    What Would It Take to Remove This Pope?

    Divine intervention.

  • I’m not sure of the diplomatic implications but can’t the DAs of the appropriate areas just issue a warrant for his arrest. I mean isn’t there enough evidence to prosecute him for a crime? Diplomatic immunity can be withdrawn can’t it?

    At the very least that should get him to resign.

  • Good post.

    How could anyone not defrock that priest is beyond me? Essentially, it suggests he considers belief in Jesus as sufficient in outweighing despicable action.

    It’s also interesting to note the somewhat tempered condemnation of these priests as compared to regular child abusers, such as those on Dateline awhile back. I imagine this has to do with religion being off limits.

  • llewelly

    Popes are generally removed by God (aka death) alone.

    In other words, those who believe in God must accept that God, like the pope, is choosing to do nothing about the monstrous cover-up of child-rape by the RCC.

  • What I don’t get is why people are arguing that the media is treating the Catholic Church unfairly or that people are making too big a deal about this.

    I also agree. In fact I would say that the media is being too kind on the catholic church. All organizations have or have had bad apples in them. The key is how the the organization handles the bad guys. Usually, as far as I can tell, when a teacher abuses a student, they at a minimum lose their job, and more than like will go to jail. The catholic church on the other hand, hid and shuttled these predators around. Quite frequently dumping these perverts on poor and disenfranchised communities. And then when the crap hit the fan, the catholic church complains about persecution and blames the victims. Personally, I am more disgusted by the hierarchy of the church than by the individual pedophiles.

    Should the pope step down? No. Should he go to jail, for aiding and abetting? Yes. It would change much of anything. He would go from being pope Benedict the sixteenth, to pope prisoner number 156223. I’m sure they make funny hats in prisoner orange or classic black and white stripes.

    On a lighter note, the longer version of the tale of Noah

  • Richard Wade

    I don’t think that a video of Ratzinger himself enjoying sodomizing a choirboy and waving at the camera would be enough to get him removed. Popes are the closest thing we have to Pharaohs, who were considered gods living on earth. People just don’t seem to be completely over wanting that yet.

    While I think that in principle he and the rest of the Cardinals and Bishops who were accessories and accomplices to these rapes deserve to be thrown in prison, I agree with Dawkins that if the Pope stays on his golden throne, he’ll continue to discredit the evil empire. He is one of the more efficient sources of Catholic apostasy.

  • http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article7094310.ece

    In today’s paper there is a story about a private measure sponsored by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to launch a criminal case against the Pope when he visits England later this year.

    “The pair believe they can exploit the same legal principle used to arrest Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998.”


  • Greg

    The people who think the Pope should resign, or be retired by the Catholic church are missing the point.

    The Pope is meant to be “God’s representative on earth”, with a direct telephone line to on high. By saying that the Pope should step down, any Catholic would be saying at least one of:

    * God is fallible. (For choosing him to be Pope in the first place)

    * God is not only malevolent but they also disagree with it. (It actually wants all this child rape to take place and they don’t)

    * God is not omnipotent. (If it were, they would be unable to thwart his wishes by preventing the Pope from being Pope)

    * Their God does not exist. (And it was all the clergy’s idea that this was a good thing)

    And does anyone really think the Catholics are going to do that?

  • Kaylya

    Is Ratzinger any more complicit in the cover up than anyone else who might be considered a candidate for pope? I get the impression it’s significantly widespread that anyone who’s been in a high enough position of leadership for long enough has made some decisions in the past that don’t look so good in today’s light.

    Secondly, it’s not always fair to apply the standards of how we expect something to be handled today to how something was handled 20+ years ago. These days, it seems like swift action is taken at the first allegation of abuse. But in the past? I don’t think the Catholic church was alone in trying to keep it quiet. If we start arresting people for decisions made years ago on such things, there’s probably an awful lot of people from all manner of organizations who could be arrested.

  • “Other groups do it, why are they picking on Catholics?” Because other groups aren’t placing themselves as the ethical and moral leaders of the world who decide how other people should live. Other oranizations aren’t deciding that abortions and ESCr are evil, that contraception is evil, that divorce is evil, etc etc. If they weren’t so moralistic about my life, I wouldn’t be so angry about the rapes and the cover-ups.

  • Carlie

    Secondly, it’s not always fair to apply the standards of how we expect something to be handled today to how something was handled 20+ years ago. These days, it seems like swift action is taken at the first allegation of abuse. But in the past? I don’t think the Catholic church was alone in trying to keep it quiet.

    Wow, no. This is an organization that holds itself up as the only true arbiter of morality, period. Their only claim to authority is by virtue of being the direct line of GOD HIMSELF, carrying out his wishes here on earth, such wishes being unchanging and immutable and infallible and the true definition of morality.

    Sure, they can use the rationale of “standards used to be different”, or “people are fallible”, or “we just didn’t understand the problem”. But then they have to relinquish their sole reason for existence.

  • “What would it take to remove this Pope?”

    –A skilled sniper could do it, I think.

  • Alex — No. No. No. No. No.

    This is a systemic issue, not the fault of just one person. Even if it were, no level of violence should be justified as retribution.

  • Dawkins is right in that the problem is the religion, not just the people in it.

    The problem beyond that?

    People don’t believe they have an alternative.

    Until non-theists/humanists start building and promoting something that gives people what they get in churches, what they’ve been hard-wired to need since time immemorial, they will remain a fringe element.

    (Of course, a lot of non-religious people are that way because they LIKE being a fringe element, but that’s another rant.)

    The gap in “our” understanding is that we forget this is the ROMAN catholic church, and Rome (as recalled by Nietzsche of all people) was supposed to be something so grand in itself that no Cesar could undermine it. You get the same thing when you ask most military families if a bad president makes them want to immigrate, or even quit the service.

  • “Alex — No. No. No. No. No….”

    –There I go, either taking things too seriously or not seriously enough. So if it is a systemic problem, why isn’t this called “What would it take to completely discredit the Catholic Church” or something similar?
    I’ve said before that for most of the religious if it is good, God didit, and if it is bad, someone else didit. And that is the end of the story for them. This is the extent of their cognitive frame on the issue. We are using up many, many more brain cycles than believers trying to understand this scandal than they are. Sad to say this is going to blow over like every other atrocity committed by the CC.

  • Autumnal Harvest

    Is Ratzinger any more complicit in the cover up than anyone else who might be considered a candidate for pope? I get the impression it’s significantly widespread that anyone who’s been in a high enough position of leadership for long enough has made some decisions in the past that don’t look so good in today’s light.

    The second statement is probably true. However, I think many in the Catholic Church would be less complicit in covering up abuse than Ratzinger. Before becoming Pope, Ratzinger was head of the CDF (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly the Holy Inquisition), and as such, was the main author of a letter to bishops world-wide ordering them to withhold the results of their child molestation investigations from civil authorities, under threat of excommunication. In terms of heading cover-ups and criminal conspiracy, it doesn’t get any worse than that.

    Secondly, it’s not always fair to apply the standards of how we expect something to be handled today to how something was handled 20+ years ago. . . But in the past? I don’t think the Catholic church was alone in trying to keep it quiet.

    Yes and no. Schools and day care centers were able to act this way in the 50s and 60s with relative impunity. By the 80s, and certainly the 90s, it was widely recognized that institutitons that dealt regularly with children had a responsibility to have procedures in place to protect children from abuses by their employees, swiftly investiagate allegations of abuse, and report them to civil authorities. And furthermore, that failure to do these things could result in civil liability or criminal charges. Most organizations that dealt with children had made according changes by the 80s. The Catholic Church did not.

    (I refer here to U.S. law and practice. No idea how it worked in other countries.)

  • TWX

    People remain members of this organization because they believe its message, even if they disagree with parts of the structure or are horrified by what individuals in the structure have done.

    Most Catholics are brought in to the church before they’re old enough to understand- learning basic principles of the world and how it works while learning early concepts of the religion. The two are solidly mixed from the beginning of learning to talk, to read, and to write. They’re there the whole time one learns to constructively reason. In many instances, the priest is actually not interacted with all that often; there are religious education teachers, sometimes nuns, there are deacons, there are lay people who help organize and operate things. On top of that, most priests aren’t abusing children, so falling back on attributing the problem to individual priests is easy. It’s only fairly recently that the true width and breadth of the problem is known.

    Also remember, it’s only fairly recently, in terms of the history of the Roman Catholic Church, where the church organization itself lacks enforcement powers. I would venture a guess that in the long history of the organization, those frocked members with a penchant for abuse were put into the inquisition, where their perversions could be interpreted as God’s work rather than as criminal actions of a perverted, antisocial individual. Plus, in situations where victims were ultimately killed then there was no victim’s voice either.

    Remember, when one holds a belief for literally for all of one’s life, it’s difficult to sever that, even when it’s shown to be a farce. Also remember, this is the first time that the scandal has made it all of the way to the college of cardinals and to the sitting pope; previously it stopped at archbishops, who are more easily recalled or replaced. Lastly, remember, these people who believe do so because they feel that it’s good, right, and just to believe what they will, even if the messenger is corrupt. Ultimately any choice to renounce religion is the personal decision of the individual, and only their personal experiences and judgement will lead them to that.

  • phk

    Why would you want this pope to leave? He’s doing a great job so far.

  • raisedbybadgers

    [lurk mode=”off”]

    Well, here’s one Catholic who’s going feral. Obviously I can speak for nobody other than myself, but the behaviour of Christian leaders did much more to push me onto the fence than all the ‘New Atheist’ spokespeople put together could have done to pull me up there. (Granted Dawkins’s TGD makes some (to me) surprisingly good points, and I personally find Stenger very persuasive). If I do end up leaving the Church–as appears uncomfortably likely–it’ll be for non-theistic Humanism, not for some other subset of Christianity.

    All of which is just contextual framing for this comment, so I’ll forego any more details.

    As far as I know there is no provision for involuntary removal of a Pope. Only one in history has resigned, and that was to end a schism (I forget the details, and at the moment am too lazy to go look them up).

    Secondly, papal ‘infallibility’ is a lot more constrained than most non-Catholics–and, unfortunately, a non-trivial percentage of Catholics–think. In ecclesiastical lingo, the definition of that word has very little relation to the obvious secular meaning. I could be more specific, and it would only take one or two sentences, but I’m pretty sure that nobody here would want to read that.

    [lurk mode=”on”]

  • The most infuriating thing, to me, is that we see that the pope and others are guilty of being accessories after the fact. That is a felony but not one publicly elected and paid prosecutor has had the nerve to state this and take appropriate action. That is, an indictment and request for extradition.

    Everyone that molested children betrayed a position of trust as did those that participated in covering for the guilty instead of reporting a crime to law enforcement. If it were anyone other than priests and the pope, they would be in prison now.

    The free ride on taxes is a disgrace, but this is far beyond that.

  • Thegoodman

    “Partly that’s because we hold clergy to higher standards.”

    This is wrong. If Priests were regularly dismissed and arrested for their inappropriate behavior this whole thing would be just another blip on the newscast. But rather than doing what was right, the Catholic church has covered up and transferred countless Priests who should be behind bars.

    If 3 teachers inappropriately touch students each day, I would go on to say that at least 1 teach is dismissed each day for inappropriate behavior. How many priests are dismissed each day?

  • Amanda

    The problem with arresting the pope either in Italy or outside it is he is actually a political leader. The Vatican is its own country and he is the figurehead. He has all the political trappings that go with such a position. You can do it, but it’s tricky.

    Now speaking as a child of a recovering Catholic, I can’t point to the exact thing that lead my mother to leave the church, but I think the nuns threatening her with cannibals and devil dogs was a big part of it. I know a few former Catholics, but most of them are still theists and go to other churches. Still, it’s enough to make anyone wonder why Catholicism has any followers at all.

  • Actually the Vatican isn’t recognised as a state by the UN. It was unilaterally granted statehood by the fascist Mussolini government during WWII. The UN has granted them a ‘special status’ but it is not the same as a state and the Pope is not the head of any recognised state.

    Of course this has never been challenged in a court.

  • Zogmoose

    As long as you truly believe in Christ Jesus, you will be saved. Even if you rape a child. Heck even if you rape a whole bus-load of children and then urinate contemptuously over their weeping mothers, truly , if you BELIEVE then the kingdom of heaven shall be yours. Say three hail Mary’s and two “how’s your Father’s?” and you shall be forgiven. Just don’t say that the Devil made Ducks – that’s a mortal sin you know – you can go to hell for that.

    God is imaginary – unfortunately The Catholic Church is not.

  • SayBlade

    Here is a link to another interview by Anna Maria Tremonti with Patrick Wall on CBC Radio One’s The Current.


    Something he said in this interview was that the majority of sexual abuse victims by married or unmarried clergy are girls. I contend that it was when boys who experienced abuse came forward as adults with accusations that the media paid more attention. The picture of clergy abuse we get from the media is skewed and tries to point to homosexuality as part or all of the problem.

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