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Politics and Wordplay at the Vatican

by David Vest

Following two days of meetings at the Vatican, and after a two-hour delay blamed on the fact that “we are all wordsmiths” by Bishop Wilton Gregory, American Cardinals released a couple of documents and staged a press conference in Rome.

It was notable chiefly for the absence of anyone the media wanted to talk to. Cardinal Law, possibly the most hated cleric in America at the moment, was attending to “other obligations.” Those who did show up seemed unclear what the new documents actually said.

The participants sent out to deflect the heat were Gregory, of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Cardinal James Francis Stafford, an emeritus-class American who is president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity at the Vatican; Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Vall, who had nothing to contribute, he regretted, because he was not present at any of the meetings that were the subject of the press conference; and genial Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, who got things rolling by describing his boss, John Paul II, as a man who is “turned on by children.”

So much for trying to help. That the good wordsmith appeared blissfully unaware of his incredibly unfortunate choice of words only added to the impression that the hierarchy was woefully out of touch with reality. Bishop Gregory nattered on about how we have to “put all this in the right perspective” by noticing what a great job many archdioceses have been doing. (If they are all doing such a great job, why was this meeting called? one wanted someone to ask.)

Only twenty-four hours earlier Gregory had held forth on the duty to “make sure the priesthood isn’t dominated by homosexuals,” one of the viler things ever said in public by anyone wearing a collar.

That this whole sorry mess could lead to nothing more than scurrilous innuendoes against gay men in the priesthood is stupefying.

Neither the celibacy rule, nor the ban on women in the priesthood, not the resignation of Cardinal Law, were so much as discussed at the Vatican meetings, by all accounts. Nevertheless, one of the new documents went out of its way to declare that “a link between celibacy and pedophilia cannot be scientifically maintained,” raising the question of why a declaration had to be made on a subject that was not an issue.

That the church leaders neglected to observe that there is no greater link between homosexuality and pedophilia than between heterosexuality and pedophilia spoke volumes about the politics of it all.

In other words, it’s all the fault of the gays (but at least they aren’t women). It’s the fault of American sexual permissiveness (i.e., women). It’s the fault of the media who have blown it all out of proportion because they hate the church anyway. Maybe we were at fault too, mused the clerics, but only in that we tried to take on too much by ourselves, we didn’t consult enough experts, etc. etc.

“There is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young,” said the pontiff.

Well and good, but he pointedly did not say, “There is no place in the Catholic hierarchy for people who shirk responsibility, who tolerate sexual harassment and abuse, who cover-up wrongdoing and shuffle perpetrators from one assignment to another.”

To do so would be to raise the question no one in the Vatican wants to answer: while Cardinal Law was supervising the careers of serial offenders, who was supervising Cardinal Law?

David Vest writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He is a poet and piano-player for the Pacific Northwest’s hottest blues band, The Cannonballs.

He can be reached at:

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DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

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