Monday, October 19, 2009

Disgrace in the Moral Landscape

To say the pending Wall Street bonus feeding frenzy and the brazen use
of bogus “research” by the insurance industry in trying to kill healthcare
reform is troubling would be a gross understatement.  Both exhibit severe and shared moral compass
malfunction.  Giving them no slack,
which they surely don’t deserve, one still has to wonder why the captains of
industry should be held to such a high standard of morality when we see blatant
moral deficiency in religious institutions. Two such moral lapses could be
found in the pages of the New York Times
this past week.

The first, on October 14 was Paul Vitello’s report
that the Brooklyn ultra-orthodox Hassidic Jewish community is finally being
forced to let its child abusing rabbis and teachers go before civil
courts.  This is in effect a
follow-up on a previously covered story that, on a much smaller but nonetheless
equally disgraceful scale, mirrors the long running scandal of predator
Catholic priests. 

The second, on Oct 16 by Laurie Goodstein was something new, and no
less disturbing.  Goldstein reports
the story of Father Henry Willenborg, a Franciscan priest, his five-year romantic
relationship with religious retreat attendee Pat Bond and the resulting fallout, which
includes their son, Nathan, now grown and suffering terminal brain cancer.  The priest, supported by his order that
seems happily but stingingly to have tried paying Ms. Bond and her son off, not
only has kept his job, but has continued up the career track.  A relatively low level friar when
meeting Bond, he now serves as senior pastor of a 1,350 family Wisconsin church.  Do you detect a pattern here, one that echoes
the Church’s sex abuse saga, including cover-ups and consistent rewards for bad
behavior?  It appears that this
modus operandi remains alive and well and is more widespread than we might have

It shouldn’t be necessary to say so at this point, but as bad as a
crime may be, the cover-up, which is usually institutional and more pervasive,
is corrosive and often immoral. 
Sad to say so, but it seems standard practice in the billion- member
Catholic Church.  Let me hasten to
add, that bad behavior affects other religious groups of which the Brooklyn
Hasidic example is just one of many.

The Catholic Church seems to have a particular problem with sex.  That includes forcing its clergy to be
celibate (something not demanded by other churches) and opposing birth control
including the distribution of the condoms that consensus says can help prevent
the spread of HIV-AIDS.  To be fair,
many in the church continue to lobby aggressively for married priests and the
majority of Catholics in this country ignore their Church’s strictures
preventing safe, not to mention purely enjoyable, sex.  The problem is that the Church itself
not only exhibits a blind eye to infractions of its own rules, most especially
in its clergy, but goes to extraordinary lengths to both cover up the
wrongdoing and, most egregiously, to reward the culprits and punish the victims,
if only by outright neglect or delayed and inequitable compensation.   William Lobdell (Losing my Religion) gives a definitive
account of the sex abuse story and Ms. Goodstein opens our eyes to the
escapades of priests, a story that is probably but the tip of the iceberg.  Research she cites suggests 20% have
had such ongoing relationships and who knows how many Nathans and cover-ups are
out there.

There is no church that echoes corporate structure and hierarchy more
than the Roman Church.  It is run by
a Chief Executive and supported by a structure complete with vice presidents at
the executive, senior and regular level. 
It has its rules, which include severe caps on compensation, but the
higher personnel move up the executive ladder the greater the perks.  Perhaps the CEO and various vice
presidents don’t amass corporate millions and billions, but they live very well
indeed, especially in uppermost echelons. 
As to that moral compass in our society, and let’s not pretend it is
only off kilter on Wall Street, it seems that the “don’t follow what we say but
what we do” rule is in play.  One corporate
group follows another.  The
underlying problem is not only that the compass dial is running haywire, but
that those involved don’t even seem to understand something is terribly
amiss.  The Wall Street bankers are
clueless in the face of the widespread unemployment that can be laid directly at
their doorstep and the Church functions as if nothing terrible is hidden behind its
sacramental curtain.

At moments like this, we tend to excuse our behavior with the bad
defense.  Remember Abu
Ghraib, Enron and most certainly the events that precipitated this post.  Not so fast, there is disgrace in the
moral landscape, and it seems to have more to do with the tree than its fruit.

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