I left the Catholic Church in early 2002 in the wake of the sex abuse scandal explosion in the Archdiocese of Boston. I had not been a casual Catholic. I had been an altar boy for 10 years and was involved in the Knights of Columbus and achieved the 4th Degree. But on finding that bishops, cardinals - and yes, popes - had known of the abuse of children and youths for decades (if not centuries) and viewed it as no big deal but for the bad PR for the Church. With three children of my own, I cannot comprehend the callousness of the celibate, self-centered, power hungry clergy to whom the rape and molestation of children and youths was no big deal. Yes, coming out as gay was an added reason to leave a gay-hating church, but ultimately I believed it was the only moral thing to do. Over time, the balance of my family has followed suit. An opinion piece in The Week by a recent refugee from the Catholic Church lats out this moral argument. Here are excerpts:
Three months ago, I announced I was leaving the Catholic Church. My reason was that the latest revelations in the church's interminable sex abuse scandal had revealed "a repulsive institution — or at least one permeated by repulsive human beings who reward one another for repulsive acts, all the while deigning to lecture the world about its sin." Let's just say subsequent events haven't led me to regret the decision.
That would include Wednesday's news that the offices of the cardinal-archbishop of Galveston-Houston, who also happens to serve as president of the United States Catholic bishops' conference, were raided by "dozens of local and federal law enforcement officers … looking for evidence in a clergy sexual abuse case." A couple of weeks ago, the story was the Vatican's decision to nix plans by the American bishops to devise some kind of response to the scandal — on the grounds that it's mostly just a conspiracy drummed up by troublemaking right-wing clerics and laypeople. A week or a month from now, the story is bound to be something arising from the dozen or so investigations underway by the Justice Department and attorneys general around the country.
It's hardly surprising that writers deeply devoted to the Catholic Church would reject the reasons for my decision to leave the church. . . . . As I say, the response was unsurprising, even perfectly understandable. Though I do wonder whether any of these apologists for the church quite grasps why I left the church — and why so many others are likely to make the same move over the coming months and years.
The Catholic Church does make extraordinarily high claims for itself — not that its priests and bishops and cardinals and popes are angels but that the church as an institution is, of all the churches that follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, the one most fully and rightly ordered through time.
If I may be permitted some speculation of my own — this time of a psychological variety — I'd like to suggest that those objecting to the departure of fellow Catholics from the church may be moved to express those objections because they recognize how weak and frankly unpersuasive such ecclesiological claims really are. They are really arguing with themselves, in other words, trying to muster reasons to continue affirming something that, at a certain level, they fully recognize to be just a few millimeters away from outright absurdity.
What's absurd? The claim that, of all the Christian churches, the Roman church is the very best, the truest of all, the one most fully and rightly ordered through time. That would be not only the church of the great diabolical popes of the past (like John XII and Alexander VI and Boniface VIII and Leo X), but also the church that in recent decades has seen literally thousands of priests in countries across the globe accused of sexually abusing children — 271 of them in the archdiocese of Boston alone — with untold numbers of bishops covering it up year after year after year. The number is untold, by the way, because we are still nowhere near knowing just how many members of the Catholic hierarchy around the world — all the way up to popes themselves — knew exactly what was happening and responded like self-protective bureaucrats and PR flacks out to protect a corporate brand from bad press.
It's become commonplace for Catholic laypeople to ask themselves why the clergy has responded in the way it has to the scandal — how Pope John Paul II (along with Neuhaus) could have turned a blind eye to the myriad abuses committed by Marcial Maciel Degollado; how Archbishop Cardinal Bernard Francis Law could have been rewarded with a cushy sinecure at the Vatican as his "punishment" for basically overseeing a decades-long child-rape gang in Boston; and how Theodore McCarrick could have been promoted to one of the most powerful and prestigious positions in the Catholic Church in the United States after decades of alleged sexual predation with the full knowledge of (once again) untold numbers of priests, bishops, and possibly popes.
The behavior is only mysterious if you assume that anyone in their place would respond the way you and I would: with revulsion. But it isn't mysterious at all if you assume what should be obvious by now to everyone: They just didn't think it was such a big deal. Judging by the current stance of the Vatican to the pope's pesky American critics, the character of that response hasn't changed one bit down through the years.
[T]o believe that this particular church, of all the Christian churches in the world, is the one most fully and rightly ordered through time, over and above all of the others? You can't possibly be serious.
To react with anger and incredulity to this suggestion isn't to display unrealistically high hopes or expectations about the church. It's to respond reasonably to a claim that the church makes about itself — a claim that is flatly implausible on its face.
Decent and moral people should want nothing to do with this corrupt and disgusting institution.And that, my former fellow Catholic communicants, is why I have left the church — and why I fully expect quite a lot of the rest of you to be joining me in my unregretted exodus very soon.