This moment does not arrive unheralded. There are warnings along the way—shocking encroachments, unguarded moments, slips, near-misses. These are covered up, excused. There are phony apologies, scapegoats, favors called in, threats. Each time that there is a close call where the followers have the opportunity to glimpse the man behind the curtain, but where they fail to interpret correctly what they are seeing and fail to respond appropriately, the tyrant grows more confident, his ego more distended.
Sometimes, the peak of hubris is preceded by a near brush with self-awareness, a close call with accountability... a notable move in the right direction... and then, like a rubber band stretched taut, the backlash into grandiosity: the moment—the spectacle—of full-blown, unmistakable self-revelation. No more disguises, no more concessions. A display of raw power and virulent hatred.
In Mel’s case, there was his DUI, his sexist and anti-Semiitic rant, the mug shot... followed by an apology, an admission of "belligerent behavior" and "despicable" remarks." There was even a stint in outpatient rehab.
It was short-lived sanity. This week, there has been a public disclosure of a series of verbally violent phone calls to his girlfriend, with whom he is co-parenting a baby girl. The phone calls appear to acknowledge a physical assault. The language is racist, pornographic, and deeply misogynist. He may not have known his calls were being taped, but most celebrities of Gibson’s caliber would have exercised some vigilance to protect their assets and their reputation. This time, there are no apologies, no rehab. This time there are counter-attacks, a retaliatory restraining order. This time there is no excuse.
And yet... and yet... There was that moment of seeming sanity. In June, the Pope finally made an apology that appeared sincere. He spoke of his shame and sorrow to the victims. From St. Peters itself, he begged forgiveness from God and from the victims... and he promised to do "everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again." Wow... asking forgiveness...? "Everything possible...?" That sounds like some serious change. But, as with Mel, it was just enough of a taste of reality, of right-sizedness, of accountability, to send him scampering back into the fortress of infallibility.
These new revisions have no mandate to report the abuses to civil authorities. This is the touchstone of the priesthood scandals: being above the law, family secrets, privileging the prestige of the institution over the safety of the children. Earlier the Pope had begrudgingly issued a directive to report cases to the police in localities where the law mandated it... which seemed to signal a new openness on the part of the Vatican. These revisions make clear that the bottom line is still "what happens in the confessional stays in the confessional."
The second glaring omission is the "one strike" policy that victims have been demanding. "One strike" means that after one offense, a priest would be removed from office. Doesn't seem to be a lot of ask in light of the fact that we are talking about a criminal assault on a child... but, no, the Vatican's new policy is pretty much the old policy. Pedophilic priests can be moved quietly to new parishes, to new countries, to new and unsuspecting communities.
These Vatican revisions are a huge F-you to the thousands of victims and their families… as well as to the faithful members of the Church who drop their hard-earned wages in the collection plate every Sunday, and who have had to bankroll the settlement of these child abuse cases to the tune of several billion dollars. They can now understand that their donations will continue to enable crimes against children and protection of perpetrators. The Vatican has decided that, steep as these settlements are, they are still more expedient than turning the criminals over to the police. Because, of course, the safety of the children is not factored in. The cost-benefit analysis is all about loss of prestige vs. cost of protecting prestige.
Okay, that’s blatant enough, but, in a breath-taking display of hubris, the Vatican revisions go one better than their “stay the course” policy on protecting pedophiles. They lump the ordination of women priests in with the raping of children. That’s right. Recognizing the spiritual commitment of women who feel called to the priesthood is considered by the Vatican to be as heinous and as morally bankrupt, as damaging, and as dangerous as raping a child. Wow. The Church will deal as harshly with ordainers of women as they will pedophilic criminals. Well, actually, more harshly. Because, of course, they protect the pedophiles.
Honestly, it does take my breath away. I don’t know why, because this is the Church that brought us the witch-burnings and the Inquisition, that murdered people for reading the Bible in English, that tortured Galileo for attempting to explain Copernican theory... The church that banned divorce, abortion, birth control. The church that, in the brilliant words of Stephen Frye (yes, check out his speech!) is run by "extraordinarily sexually dysfunctional people" who label gays and lesbians perverts. Really, nothing they do or say should surprise me. But this did.It really took my breath away. Women consecrated to spiritual leadership are on a par with child rapers. Wow.
The cards are all face up on the table now. For Mel and for the Pope.
Mel Gibson’s ex-wife has come forward to support her husband. She is supporting him, even though he left her for a younger woman, left her after nearly three decades of marriage and seven children. Left her after her standing by him through the DUI, through allegations of infidelity, through all the controversy around his bizarre religious practices. She wants the world to know that there was never any physical abuse in the marriage, that he was a wonderful husband and father. She tells us she is coming forward for the sake of her children. In other words, she is protecting what is left of her investment in those three decades.
Will the women of the Catholic Church, including the mothers of potential rape victims, also want to protect their investment? Will they be remembering the cherished rituals and rites of the Church, their hours of devoted service, the relationships and the community of the Church? Will they be willing to overlook the hatred of these revisions, and to see them as having no relation to their experience?
Because there is nothing more to wait for. The façade has been removed. The naked, gloating face of misogyny and child-hating is staring the world in the face, defying interference. They don't even have to pretend anymore. Celibate men are entitled to sexually exploit children, and women will not be allowed to interfere.
It’s not about Mel Gibson anymore. It’s about the people who would continue to hire him, support him, defend him, see his movies. It’s not about the Pope anymore. It’s about the people, and especially the women, who would continue to believe in, to support, to belong to, and to contribute to the Catholic church.
There is nothing more to wait for. Really. This is the bottom line. Believe it.