Pope(Weekly Column)

The sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is similar, in some respects, to last year’ financial meltdown. In both cases, powerful, arrogant abusers were shielded from the consequences of their predatory behavior, while the victims were offered pain, platitudes and empty promises.

Like the gargantuan firms in lower Manhattan, the Vatican believes it is too big to fail and demands a bailout from the faithful. However, the overpaid bankers and the clergy banking on infinite forgiveness from their flock are in grave denial. Major religions come and go — whether it is worshipping the unbridled corporate casino or a church that does not protect its most vulnerable members.

Alarmingly, new rules and systematic restructuring to prevent future catastrophes from occurring have still not come to fruition. It is breathtaking to watch these behemoths act so contemptuous of the law and reckless in their responsibility to those that they were created to help.

The United States is wealthy enough, for the time being, to withstand the fiscal fiasco. However, the same tax code and lax regulations are still in place that encourage irrational marketplace speculation. Unless substantive changes are made, history is almost certain to repeat itself. And, if it does, the public will be in no mood to play Santa Claus to these very naughty children.

Likewise, the Catholic Church and its surrogates believe that spin and slander can distract the masses from impious priests defiling children. I suspect the Church may be correct and barely weather the scandal — at least temporarily. They will blame gays, play the victim card and pretend that significant changes have been made to stop future child abuse.

It doesn’t take a genius, however, to figure out that the grotesque scandals will continue. As soon as the current crisis subsides, a new crop of equally shocking sins will emerge. The tragic fact remains that the rules for priesthood encourage sexually dysfunctional and emotionally stunted human beings to apply at disproportionate rates.

There are certainly many wonderful priests who feel called to serve the church. These individuals should be commended for their heroic work, such as feeding the hungry, helping the poor and providing guidance for young people. But one can’t deny that the institution is uniquely set up as a magnet for unhealthy men who view the priesthood as an escape hatch. The collar provides an effective way for sexual reprobates to command respect from society.

What better cover than celibacy for a child molester or tormented homosexual than joining the Catholic clergy? It ensures the adulation of friends and relatives who no longer ask pesky questions about sexuality or relationships. By ending the celibacy stricture, the church would no longer serve as an oasis from those hiding from their inner-demons. Quite simply, the question, “who are you dating” would once again be asked, thus ending a sanctuary for sick minds.

Exacerbating matters is the “good ole boys” club that is the priesthood. This insular world would immediately end if the Vatican allowed female priests and heterosexual priests to marry. It would also behoove Rome to allow openly gay priests, who would end the incentive of using the vocation as a desperate, last ditch measure to suppress homosexuality. Until these concrete steps are taken, no one should expect different results.

Still, the pit bulls and the bullheaded living in their bubble continue to defend the Vatican’ bumbling response. For example, a New York Times ad by the Catholic League criticized that newspaper claiming, “The Times continues to editorialize about the “pedophilia crisis”, when all along it has been a homosexual crisis.”

But most people aren’t buying this smear campaign because the fondling and fiddling is occurring in church confessional booths — not predominantly gay neighborhoods, community centers or churches.

What amazes me the most is the incompetent efforts by the Vatican to mitigate the fallout. They have an exorcist blaming the devil, a priest comparing the church’ predicament to the historic plight of Jews and another holy man confusing “gossip” with playing “grab ass” with minors.

Another excuse is that these cases are old news from another era. But just this week we learned of a priest in India who is still working after allegedly sexually assaulting a 14-year old girl a few years ago in Minnesota.

A friend of mine e-mailed this week saying his traditionalist father was heartbroken after a neighborhood Catholic school had shut down. He said parents were afraid to send their children for matriculation because they feared priestly ejaculation. What kind of future does such a church hold?

The Vatican pretends to be serious about ending the crisis. But, how can this be if there are 400,000 priests and only 10 people working on the avalanche of abuse cases?

Whether it’ groping by priests or greed on Wall Street — institutions that don’t change in the face of crisis and public indignation will eventually become irrelevant. If history has shown one truism, it is that nothing is too big to fail.