HOW IS IT everybody's friend can have a story about a priest with a predilection for young boys, tsk- tsking the gossip over the morning's coffee, yet the recent molestation cases of the Catholic Church have thrown us into a frenzy? It's a wonder anyone is actually surprised to hear that an old-white-male-driven hierarchy is built solidly on willful ignorance—that most pernicious of American faults which has rewritten or completely dismissed so much of our history. The thing to consider is not that it's happened but that it's been happening; it's only another example of a corrupt American institution turning a blind eye to a horrific reality in the name of smug self-protection.
Like many other inviolable corporations in these United States, the Catholic Church has long been founded on the bad misuse of the good and honest faith of most of its people. Child molestation? Welcome to the official list. As Max Von Sydow memorably groaned in Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, "If Jesus Christ came back today and saw what was being done in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."
In fact, if we wanted to get into the same kind of blanket dismissals the church itself has regularly practiced against art, other religions, and freethinkers everywhere, we might say that the church has never been for the people. We're talking about the same church that brought us: the 20th century's first hate radio right-winger, Father Charles Coughlin, an anti-Semite who spent the '30s raging against FDR; the oppressive cinematic censorship of Will Hays in Hollywood; an embarrassing silence about the plight of Jews in Hitler's Europe; Francis Cardinal Spellman, FBI compadre and staunch supporter of the Vietnam War (and rumored closet homosexual—move over, J. Edgar Hoover); and, of course, the Pope, an old man living in secluded wealth and luxury who comes out of his bubble to discuss moral decay and tell women in Third World countries not to use birth control.
We can feel superior and horrified by this recent scandal, or we can recognize that the Catholic Church is us—and only with the knowledge that all American institutions are ultimately extensions of ourselves will the sacrosanct bodies that govern us be based more on loving faith and less on hypocritical dogma. When we stop shutting up in order to keep our country moving in a fraudulent, somnambulant peace, we may realize that it is not heresy but the refusal to see the sometimes dark complexity of each other's souls that will be the ultimate downfall of society.