A couple of weeks ago, there was a controversy at Harvard University when the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club (with the help of the Satanic Temple of New York) planned to put on a “Black Mass,” a ritual that inverts the Catholic Mass (for example, by desecrating a communion wafer).
Despite the fact that no consecrated wafer was going to be used in the ceremony, Catholics were furious that the campus was allowing this ritual to take place (even in an academic context). A Crimson op-ed dubbed it “Hatred at Harvard” and President Drew Faust attended a Catholic counter-Mass in response (while half-heartedly talking about the right to free speech).
No matter how you perceived the Black Mass, the truth was that no Catholics were harmed in the making of this ritual. Everyone that was done was purely symbolic. The only damage may have been to some peoples’ sensibilities.
Which makes you wonder what the hell Pope Francis was thinking when he compared a Black Mass to child molesters within the Church:
Francis used strong language to denounce the sexual abuse of children by clergy, calling it a “very grave crime” and saying that when a priest subjects a child to abuse, it is as if the priest has celebrated a “black Mass” as part of a Satanic ritual.
“We must go forward with zero tolerance,” the pontiff said.
Sexual abuse is a very grave crime. The victims are often scarred for life. The priests have too often been let off the hook or transferred to other parishes. People are hurt, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
A Black Mass? It hurts nobody. At worst, some folks are upset because people disagree with them and are making a mockery of a ritual they take very seriously. But even if a consecrated wafer was desecrated, it has no more of an effect than a rain dance. It’s pure symbolism.
For the Pope to compare sexual abuse of children to a harmless (albeit controversial) ritual belittles every kid who’s been raped by a Catholic priest.
To his credit, Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein, who opposed the Black Mass, was furious that the Pope would make such a comparison, writing on Facebook:
… such a statement is terrible and offensive. You can’t compare extended human rights abuses to one recent episode of misguided satirical activism. Not at all similar, & much, much worse.
I hope people from every religious & nonreligious community will call attention to this distasteful statement by #PopeFrancis. Hashtag him. Hopefully it trends. He should apologize & then find a very different way to speak about abuse if he really wants to address it.
I doubt the hashtag activism will change the Pope’s mind, but surely his staff or the reporters who see him on a regular basis can ask him to clarify and rectify his comments.
For a Pope known around the world for his kindness, this was a remarkably tone deaf thing to say.
(Image via Shutterstock)