Of corporate cheats and pedophile priests
Given the media barrage of news about corrupt business leaders and the pedophile priests, it is difficult to keep these matters in perspective. Fortunately, these scandals are the work of a tiny number of corporate executives and of a miniscule minority of Roman Catholic priests. Unfortunately, the vast majority of decent business leaders and faithful men of the cloth are being tarred, in the minds of some, with the same smelly brush.
So, what’s the answer to these twin problems which share a common link? That common link is a failure, on the one hand of a few corporate executives to adhere to a largely unwritten code of conduct and the failure of the pedophile priests to adhere to a code of conduct that is not only written down but codified in Church doctrine and law.
Recently, almost a dozen high-profile corporate executives have been seen on television in handcuffs as they were “perp-walked” off to jail. Now, corporate chief executive officers are required under penalty of law to attest that their corporate financial statements and balance sheets are accurate. This is refreshing. The accounting firms who, prior the government crackdown, were all too willing to do the bidding of corrupt corporate executives, must now do what they should have been doing all along: accurately report the financial status of their clients for the benefit of the general public.
Yet, despite the fact that the way priests are supposed to behave in both public and private is clearly spelled out by the Church, the problem of the pedophile priests is going to prove more intractable. We are unlikely to see a parade of pedophile priests being “perp-walked” to jail. Why? Because of the way the Church is governed.
Each member of the College of Cardinals has a great deal of authority. For that reason, the administration of justice can vary widely from archdiocese to archdiocese. The Pontiff can pontificate against the pedophile priests; however, their removal from office depends upon how strongly or how weakly the Cardinals enforce the Pope’s desires in this matter.
Some Cardinals have always had a zero-tolerance policy toward pedophilia and removed errant priests from their offices. Others, such as Bernard Cardinal Law in Boston, have looked upon pedophilia as a mental disease capable of treatment and have allowed pedophile priests to remain in positions of trust and responsibility -- to the detriment of a number of young parishioners. And, one must say, to the Church itself.
But the Church has seen even worse scandals. In The March of Folly, Professor Barbara W. Tuchman provides a shocking example from the years 1492-1503 when Rodrigo Borgia served as Pope Alexander VI. The Borgia Pope presided over a banquet to which 50 courtesans were invited to mingle with the Pope’s guests. “…while the Pope, Cesare [his son] and his Lucrezia his [daughter] looked on …Coupling of guests and courtesans followed with prizes in the form of fine silken tunics and offered ‘for those who could perform the act most often with the courtesans’.”
In fact, between 1470 and 1530, the Church had a succession of six Popes whose personal and corporate behavior was so outrageous that the Church, by all that is good and Holy, should have folded back then. Every Church office was for sale. For a price, even boys too young to be Confirmed, were made Cardinals. Eventually, this betrayal of the good and pious priests and monks who were out with the common folks preaching faith, love, charity and the need to walk in the footsteps of Christ led to the Protestant Reformation.
But those darkest hours in the life of the Church took place before the Communications Revolution. Now, in these times of electronic journalism, the Cardinals would be well advised to expel any remaining pedophile priests and let them be tried along with the corporate cheats. Otherwise, the Church risks another Reformation.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy by William Penn – a novel about terrorism in the Colorado high country.
©2002. William Hamilton