In the interest of transparency, I must confess I am not a Catholic. I am a lifelong Methodist who has assiduously stayed away from writing on the issues of another person’s religion. If someone wants to maintain his or her beliefs in a church whose edicts have led to wholesale criminal and moral misbehavior, that is his or her choice.
What I will say is that I am tired of being bombarded daily by the onslaught of attention given to Catholic news, while Christian news outside the Roman brand is practically ignored.
A significant amount of the attention comes from pedophilia in the priesthood, generating sensational coverage that other denominations wouldn’t want. But when you don’t make news, maybe it’s because you haven’t done all those bad things. I can only remember one instance in which a minister I knew was removed for having an affair with an adult choir member.
Of course, now and then there are instances where aberrant activities by some offshoot Protestant fundamentalist sect or official reaches proportions that merit journalistic notice — a 20-second spot on television or an inside blurb in the local paper. But that’s generally when a snake handler gets bitten or a TV evangelist runs afoul of the law or a spouse.
There was an occasion when fire-and-brimstone televangelist Jimmy Swaggart laid hands on more than the head of a professional woman and got caught, confessing tearfully to his thousands of followers. The episode got more titillating because the preacher was the first cousin of rock ‘n’ roller Jerry Lee Lewis, who briefly messed up his career by marrying his own 13-year-old cousin. Oh, well. Nobody’s perfect.
I suppose that it would be correct here to note that Protestantism was revived, newswise, by the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney, a Mormon — and not always flatteringly because of that church’s long-abandoned practice of plural marriage. (Yes, there are pockets of “fallen away” diehards.) But, mainly, Protestant activities are just too dull to report.
Then there are the movie stars like Tom Cruise who have put their bankrolls and prestige behind such institutions as Scientology, whatever that is. I’m not certain it qualifies as a church in the usual sense of the word; it’s more like a theology of Buck Rogers space travel. The presence of Hollywood always gets plenty of ink and airtime, however.
Certainly nothing matches the controversy over a sizable number of Catholic clergy whose indefensible activities, if not sanctioned, were tolerated and hidden by the church’s hierarchy all the way to the Vatican. Just when it seemed the pope’s reinforcement of dogma that defies human nature — on celibacy and a ban on contraception, for example — threatened revolution in some church quarters, he up and quit for “health reasons.” This brought about speculation that it was not only his physical limitations that led him to resign, something that hadn’t been done in 600 years. Was it the sex scandals and/or a scathing report of Vatican intrigue?
The resignation did come after it was revealed that the former archbishop of Los Angeles, the largest Catholic diocese in America, had ignored or covered up a horrific number of morally and criminally reprehensible acts by priests against young parishioners. Even then, Cardinal Roger Mahoney was asked by the Vatican to attend the conclave from which a new pope will be chosen.
Also, the pope’s butler wrote sensationally about financial intrigue and administrative infighting around the papacy, leading some to conclude that the butler did it — cause the resignation, that is.
So when the smoke rises from the basilica announcing the selection of a new pontiff, let’s hope that the church can begin to repair the fissures — and that my colleagues can give it a rest.
Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.