JESUS VS THE VATICAN: On Child Abuse and Women Priests
I would like to propose a thought experiment:
Just suppose there was a TV debate tonight between Jesus and the Pope. The topic of the day is: Should ‘child abuse’ and ‘women priests’ both be considered as grave crimes to be punished by excommunication?’
Suppose there is also a ‘worm’ which records, in real time, the reaction of the audience to what Jesus has to say and what the Vatican has to say on these two current issues. What do you think is most likely to happen?
Well, to find out we can first check the record to see what Jesus has had to say about child abuse and compare it to what the Pope says. And, on women priests we can also check their record to see their different viewpoints.
Second, you can imagine how the worm reacts as we track their viewpoints during this debate. When the Pope is in sync with Jesus the worm goes up and when the Pope is out of sync with Jesus the worm goes down. It will be interesting to see what happens.
Why bother? What is the purpose of this thought experiment? Many people are now saying that the Vatican has lost its moral authority because it no longer represents the views of its founder, Jesus. The purpose of this thought experiment is to allow you to do some fresh thinking to see if this claim is valid.
Background notes: In The Age Saturday (July 17) Religious Editor Barney Swartz wrote, “Catholics around the world were in shock yesterday after the Vatican linked the ordination of women with pedophile abuse by priests as both being “grave crimes” … the same document of “grave crimes” now lists the attempted ordination of women in the same category as a matter for excommunication.”
Swartz went on to write about the crisis of faith among Catholics and wider society regarding clergy sexual abuse of children saying, “The fury is not because the church has had a few bad apples but because many bad apples were right at the top—lying, covering up, moving abusers to reoffend, denying or intimidating victims and more.”
Paul Collins, former priest and Catholic commentator was reported as saying, “The Vatican is living in a parallel universe. They live in a cosseted world isolated from ordinary Catholics and their actions, thoughts and feelings. It is spectacularly stupid to link these two issues that have nothing to do with each other.”
I have done my own thought experiment and here’s my transcript of the imagined debate between Jesus and Benedict. Let us begin the debate with the first question to be put to both Jesus and the Pope by the Moderator.
By the way, I’m not making this all up. It is well-researched in biblical and contemporary records. In this debate all statements made by Jesus and Benedict will be based on their direct quotes from the written record and referenced in each quote.
MODERATOR: To Pope Benedict first, “On many occasions you have claimed that the ordination of women as priests is a crime to be punished by automatic excommunication from the church. Did you say that and, if so, why do you say that?”
BENEDICT: Yes it is true that I have said that many times. For example, my decree in 2008 says, “Both the one who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order, incur an excommunication latae sententiae, or automatically”. This decree was also published officially in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano on Thursday 29 May, 2008.
Why do I say that? The reason I say that is because the Church does not feel authorized to change the wishes of our founder, Jesus Christ.
MODERATOR: We will ask Jesus what his wishes are in a moment but why do you say that Jesus, your founder, does not allow women to be priests?
BENEDICT: My predecessor, John Paul II, made this clear and binding to all the church in his letter which he sent out from the Vatican on 22 May 1994 to all the bishops of the Roman Catholic church. In Pope John Paul’s letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: On Reserving Priestly Ordination To Men Alone he said, ” I declare that the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women”. In his letter he quoted what he had written in his previous Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem that “in calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner.” The pope also wrote, “in fact, the Gospels attest that this call was made in accordance with God’s eternal plan: Christ chose whom he willed, and he did so in union with the Father, “through the Holy Spirit”, after having spent the night in prayer”. End of story.
MODERATOR: So what you and your predecessor are saying, Benedict, is that the church cannot make women priests – has no authority to do it – because this is what Jesus wanted. One can only assume that women priests would be OK by you if only it was OK by Jesus, if only Jesus had not specifically prevented the church from ordaining women as priests. Is this your position?
BENEDICT: Yes that is exactly our position and our predicament.
MODERATOR: I do remember how awkward it was for John Paul II when he was in Australia to make a women a saint a few years ago yet he felt that he could not make a woman a priest. Again, we will come to Jesus shortly to seek his opinion but how do you know, Benedict, that Jesus is so strongly against the ordination of women that he views it as a grave sin and a matter for excommunication?
BENEDICT: In his six-page Apostolic Letter Pope John Paul, using chapter and verse, quotes four specific sayings attributed Jesus to support his conclusion. I list these four sayings in the order that the pope refers to them in his letter:
- “Isn’t this why I chose you twelve? Even so, one of you is a devil?” (Jn 6:70)
- “Go and announce: ‘Heaven’s Imperial rule is closing in’. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. You have received freely, so freely give.” (Mt 10: 7-8)
- “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. You are to go and make followers of all peoples. You are to baptise them in the name of the Father and the son and the holy spirit. Teach them to observe everything I commanded. I’ll be with you day in and day out, as you’ll see, so long as this world continues its course.” (Mt 28: 18-20).
- “But I have prayed for you that your trust may not give out. And once you have recovered, you are to shore up these companions of yours.” (Lk 22:32)
MODERATOR: Presumably John Paul chose these sayings of Jesus in his letter because these are the strongest words that Jesus has to say on the subject of the ordination of women, is this true?
BENEDICT: Yes, that is correct.
MODERATOR: To my own way of looking at things, there seems nothing in these sayings of Jesus that specifically suggests ‘the church has no authority’ to ordain women as priests. However, the Vatican has chosen to interpret this as being the case. So let us now put these questions to Jesus. Did you say these things?
JESUS: It is true that these words are attributed to me in the gospels as quoted. It is also true that most biblical scholars dispute the accuracy of all of these selected quotes.
MODERATOR: So many words have been put in your mouth, Jesus, by so many people. When we look at the vast multi-billion dollar global Jesus industry we can see so many vested financial and power-based interests that we can be forgiven for wondering what your real point-of-view is. Here the big problem has always been that you, Jesus, left no account of your life or your teachings in your own hand. Your sayings, which you spoke in Aramaic, had to wait for many years to be written down in Greek and Latin. What we have to go on was recorded by your disciples and your disciples’ disciples so we can only make educated guesses about the accuracy of your sayings after their subsequent translation and editing. Do you see our problem?
JESUS: Yes, of course, I do.
MODERATOR: Did you ever specifically forbid the ordination of women priests?
JESUS: Nowhere have I ever said this nor have I forbidden it. In fact, in the gospels, you can see that my original disciples included women who were not just bystanders but important members of my group. My mother, Mary of Magdal and Veronica to name just a few.
MODERATOR: Did you ever excommunicate women from your group or instruct your followers to do so?
JESUS: Of course not. The only two members of my group that came close were Peter, who disowned me three times when the going got tough, and I suppose you know about Judas.
MODERATOR: Yes we do. But, what about the four sayings that Benedict has quoted? You have admitted that they are yours. Do they mean that you feel the ordination of women is such a grave sin that you want it to be punished by excommunication?
JESUS: These sayings, as quoted, are not only taken out of context but you would also have to draw a long bow to interpret them in that way. If I had so badly wanted women to be excluded from the priesthood I obviously would have said so. But I never, ever did.
MODERATOR: OK. Now let us proceed to the second issue of child abuse. I will put this question to Jesus first. Do you think that child abuse is a grave crime that should be punished by excommunication?
JESUS: No, I have never said that.
MODERATOR: Well, can you tell us what you have said?
JESUS: This is a subject on which I really have had a lot to say. You will not have to stretch a point to understand my views about the value of children. I have given very clear instructions to my followers. Benedict and his recent predecessor have squandered my reputation and that of the church by their procrastinations, dissembling and shortcomings on this real issue which is so close to my heart.
MODERATOR: You seem more passionate about child abuse than about women priests.
JESUS: Well aren’t we all? While Benedict and John Paul have been splitting theological hairs over whether or not they have my authority on the subject of women priests they have chosen to ignore the authority I have expressly given them about children and their abusers.
MODERATOR: What have you said about this issue?
JESUS: One day I was teaching my apostles. These were the first bishops–my own bishops whom I personally appointed. They were curious about rank and precedence in Heaven. Naturally, they wanted to know whom I thought would secure the most favourable positions in Heaven and I suppose they may even have been thinking of themselves. They kept asking me about who would be the VIPs? Who’d get to be in the inner sanctum? Who would be given the best positions? Who would sit closest to the Father Himself? They were all ears and I had their full attention. I saw this as a good opportunity to assert my authority. So, I didn’t avoid the subject but I embraced it and in no uncertain terms. I spoke to my bishops ex cathedra giving them one of my core teachings. Later these teachings were recounted first by Matthew and then corroborated by Mark and Luke.
At that time, I saw a little kid watching me so I called him over and sat the kid in the middle of them all and then I taught them the following important lesson and I quote: Listen! I’m telling you disciples the truth now. Unless you change and become like little kids, YOU won’t ever be getting into the kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, whoever makes himself as little as this little kid, he’s the one who is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. And anyone who welcomes one little kid like this one, in my name, also welcomes me.
MODERATOR: What did you say about the abuse of children? And, in particular, what did you say about the abuse of children that follow your group?
JESUS: Well, here I became most passionate and I tried to deliver my teaching by using the strongest possible language in this teaching. I said to them, quote: But if anyone is the downfall of one of these little kids who believes in me, it were better for him that he drowned in the deep of the sea with a great millstone tied round his neck.
MODERATOR: Did you really say that?
JESUS: Yes, I am on the record in Matthew, Mark and Luke in the New Jerusalem Bible which is the official Vatican version of the Bible. You can refer to Matthew, Chapter 18, Verses 1 – 10. My views on children are corroborated by Mark, Chapter 10, Verse 15 and also by Luke, Chapter 9, Verses 47 – 48.
MODERATOR: Child abuse can be emotional, physical or sexual and there have always been abusers of children in the world. What else did you tell them?
JESUS: I said to those gathered around me: It’s a great pity for the world that there should be such causes of kids falling. Causes of falling indeed there must be but pity help any person who provides them!
MODERATOR: Did you prescribe any preventative measures?
JESUS: Certainly. I was most animated on the topic. I said: If your hand or your foot should be your downfall, cut it off and throw it away: it is better for you to enter into life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.
MODERATOR: What about those, like your bishops, in positions of responsibility for the protection of children? What about about those who just turned a blind eye to the problem?
JESUS: I told them the following: And if your eye should be your downfall, tear it out and throw it away: it is better for you to enter into life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into the hell of fire.
MODERATOR: What about consequences from Heaven? Are those who have abused children likely to go undetected? Are those who have failed to protect children in their care likely to get away with it?
JESUS: Well, what do you think? I went on to say: See that you never despise any of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven are continually in the presence of my Father in Heaven.
MODERATOR: Benedict over to you. Recently you have had to face these issues during your own reign as Vicar of Christ. In many countries, there are reports of organized child abuse and the church has already paid out several billion dollars in damages. One of the most damning of these reports on the abuse of children has come out of Ireland. Around 2,500 men and women who were abused by Catholic clergy in schools and institutions across the Republic gave evidence to the government-backed Commission, led by Justice Sean Ryan at a total cost of £65m. This report has exposed the organized and institutional abuse of many thousands of children. You have heard what your founder has had to say, Benedict, so what can you now report to Jesus that you have done? What has been your response, for example, to the people of Ireland?
BENEDICT: I have sent my Pastoral letter to the people of Ireland. In this letter I wrote how surprised and upset I was by the report. I quote: I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious. I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.
MODERATOR: Yes, but what are you going to actually DO about it. You have heard from your founder. You have his authority to act. What is your plan?
BENEDICT: In my letter to the people of Ireland I have proposed and I quote: some concrete initiatives to address the situation. My two main initiatives stated in my letter were intense prayer and Apostolic visitations.
MODERATOR: That’s it? These are your initiatives: Intense prayer and Apostolic visitations?
BENEDICT: Yes. That is correct.
MODERATOR: What are Apostolic visitations?
BENEDICT: I will send over some cardinals as my representative to look into it.
MODERATOR: Jesus, are you satisfied with this response?
JESUS: What do you think?
MODERATOR: This concludes tonight’s television debate between Jesus and Benedict on the question: Should ‘child abuse’ and ‘women priests’ both be considered as grave crimes to be punished by excommunication? We thank you for watching at home and for your responses which were recorded, during the debate, by the worm.
DFQ: As part of this thought experiment you can try to imagine what happened to the worm during this debate and then you can think about it and draw your own conclusions. What do you think? Post your comment below …