Sunday, August 12, 2007

Hey Pope! Pay Up!

Guest-blogging over at Sully's, Stephen Bainbridge links to this Right Coast post, fretting about the sexual-abuse litigation against the San Diego Archdiocese for its role in sheltering pedophile priests. It seems that the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy, and the federal bankruptcy court is now considering throwing them out of court, because -- surprise, surprise -- the archdiocese misrepresented its financial status to the court. Professor Tom Smith over at the Right Coast thinks that the judge in this case might be biased against the Catholic Church, because she's pro-abortion. Which might well be true, though he fails to provide any evidence that her rulings have been improper.

But Professor Smith's concern goes beyond that. He is worried that the case will prevent the Catholic Church from doing things like providing semi-decent schools for kids in San Diego:

Don't get me wrong; if anybody, priest or otherwise, rapes a child, I think life in prison is too good for such a miscreant. My late father, a judge in Idaho, sent a Catholic priest to the Idaho State Penitentiary for child molestation, from which he was lucky to emerge alive. But if you were a sexual abuse victim, would you really say, I should get $1 million (and my lawyer a third to a half of that) even if it means closing down the school at Our Lady of the Poor and dropping those three hundred kids into schools where they wont learn to read? I'm not sure what the word for that would be, some sort of reckoning perhaps, but justice it ain't.

The way Professor Smith puts it, there is a choice: either give money to the victims of the pedophile priests or shut down genuinely good things like the Catholic schools, which, unlike government schools, do a pretty good job of educating kids.

But this is a false dichotomy. Sure, it's true that each archdiocese is legally organized as a separate entity, but they are all a part of this great big thing we think of as The Catholic Church. Now, I realize that the current Pope is more interested in covering up allegations of sexual impropriety than in taking responsibility for his church's complicity in it, but, how is this for an idea: the Catholic Church could come up with the money to keep the schools going AND pay compensation to the victims of pedophile priests.

If it doesn't have the cash on hand, well, the Church could put a few of its rare manuscripts, tapestries, or paintings up for auction. According to this Wikipedia article, the Vatican Library has been collecting rare manuscripts for centuries, and the collection now includes the Codex Vaticanus, the oldest nearly-complete copy of the Bible known to exist. Likewise, the Vatican Museums -- plural -- appear to have a pretty extensive collection of valuable art, including what appear to be some very lovely tapestries.

I'm pretty sure raising $150 million would be a snap for the Catholic Church. Granted, the rules of how corporations are organized don't require the Catholic Church in Rome to take responsibility for the actions of an archdiocese in America. Legally, they are separate entities. And the Catholic Church has the legal right to take advantage of whatever rules are in place for organzing corporations.

But shouldn't we, maybe, hold the Catholic Church to a higher standard?

Apparently, the answer to that is no.


ssjessiechan said...

The local Archdioces apparently has quite a few very valuable properties as well. And while they like to claim that it's a choice between paying children and selling the orphanage, they're mostly offices and things, administrative buildings that were bought before values in the areas rose. They could easily sell a few offices and buy property in lower class neighborhoods... maybe learn how it is to be poor as well as serve the poor... but it strikes me as disgusting that they'd prefer to lie about it and play the victim. Oh the poor church. Think of the children!

Had quite an argument with my bf's mom the other day about it. I think the church is relying on the fact that a large proportion of the population (especially in southern California) cannot see the church in a negative light, so no matter how much evidence comes out that the higher ups were complicit and the Evil Leprechaun doesn't care, they just say "well it's the people, not my God, not my church." What wouldn't presidents and celebrities do for that kind of PR immunity?

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