If the Pope Were an Atheist

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The current set of sex scandals afflicting the Roman Catholic church are located in Germany, Ireland, and Wisconsin, and it at least appears that the current pope was related in some way to some of the disciplinary failure involved. As time passes, there will be other scandals in other places. But, with issues of this nature, it is necessary to keep and maintain certain careful distinctions.

There is the issue of celibacy, there is the issue of sexual discipline, there is the issue of enemies of sexual standards using these failures to attack inconsistent defenders of the standards, and there is also a comic element. Sinead O’Connor and Christopher Hitchens have both called for the pope’s head. He’s in trouble now!

The high dudgeon on display in Christopher’s comments is a typical example of the way that atheists borrow ethical standards from the group they are attacking. But

suppose the pope were to take Hitch aside and whisper in his ear that he “was a (secret but fellow) atheist, that in twenty years he would be enjoying the nirvana of nothingness with countless others, where absolutely nothing would matter, not even this, thanks for the arguments in your books, which I have found most persuasive, keep up the good work, and of course if you try to tell people that I told you I was an atheist, I will just laugh. What’s a few hundred boys in defense of a pretty cushy position? You need to follow your arguments all the way out, Hitch.” And then the pope would slap him between the shoulder blades, bestowing on him an atheistic blessing, sending him on his muddled and inconsistent way. When people like Hitchens attack people like the pope, it is not that he is snatching ethical standards out of mid-air (as it appears), but rather that he is snatching them from the group he is going after, always a fine technique for putting someone back on his heels.

To show the inconsistency, let us change the scenario a bit. Let us suppose that the waster of a priest who was molesting boys was not skulking around about it, and his misbehavior was not being covered up by a conservative establishment that was responding in embarrssed, inconsistent, and hypocrtical ways. Suppose instead that the priest in question was a presenter at Yale’s Sex Week, and he was showing porno films to the young scholars there, and the films in question contained high laudatory praise for all the perversions known to man, and then some. Suppose that praise included praise for priests copping a feel in the vestry. And suppose the local Catholic bishop tried to reprimand the horny priest, who was just trying to be “open, frank, and  honest.” What would Hitch write about it then? The question answers itself.

Of course, having said all this, I am a Protestant, and believe that enforced celibacy for tens of thousands of priests is a Really Bad Idea (RBI), and is just asking for trouble. As a general rule, God wants ministers to be married men (1 Tim. 3:2). But even with that acknowledged, the central problem that the Catholic church has in this area is a corruption of the will to discipline, a corruption that they share with a number of Protestant churches who are open to married clergy. And the availability of marriage that doesn’t seem to be helping them any.

Take, for example, the Anglicans. The battle lines about homosexuality are currently drawn at the absurd (and pathetic) line of the bishopric. Openly homosexual priests — okay. Openly homosexual parishioners — that’s okay too. We draw the line at bishops! Good grief. Why not draw the line at archbishops? Godly communions require all the baptized to live in terms of their baptism, which requires all believers to reject the devil and all his works. If you have no commitment to discipline in terms of the Word of God, then letting clergy marry won’t help you out at all. Marriage for ministers is only a blessing if the marriages are conducted in accordance with the Scriptures. In the evangelical world, marriage was not being withheld from Ted Haggard, or any of the other notable malefactors among us.

In order for the Roman Catholic denomination to respond to these sex scandals appropriately, they need to submit their communion to the authority of the Scriptures across the board. And yes, there are a number of Protestant churches that need to do exactly the same thing. The difference is that in this area, the Protestant churches are being hypocritical — they are ones saying that this is what they must do, but they don’t do it. The Roman Catholic communion says (openly) that this is not required of them (at least in the sense I am describing). But being open about what it is that gets you into trouble does not keep you from getting into trouble. As long as the Roman communion keeps that up, these sorts of scandals aren’t going away anytime soon.

In short, evangelical Christians need to call the Roman communion back to the Scriptures (having called ourselves back first), and we need to tell the secularist critics to butt out. If they want to talk to us about this, they should go find a secularist paradise, find out how young boys are treated there, and bring us a report back. Then we might talk about it.

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