The real church scandal

I have faith that the pope reads my On Faith blogs because he followed my advice in a column in … Continued

I have faith that the pope reads my On Faith blogs because he followed my advice in a column in 2010. “Popes sometimes choose the name of a previous pope whose reign they wish to emulate. Whether coincidental or not, Pope Benedict XVI can take the same action as a morally challenged namesake. In 1045, Pope Benedict IX resigned.”

However, since the pope has never taken any of my other advice, perhaps I shouldn’t rely on faith to justify a conclusion devoid of evidence.

How much faith do I have that the next pope will be significantly better than the current one? Not much, because Benedict appointed more than 57 percent of the cardinals who will choose his successor. Nevertheless, I remain optimistic, but only because the papal improvement bar is set so low.

Why should I even care who the next very fallible pope is? Thanks to the HBO documentary Mea Maxima Culpa, and other revelations, the world is finally paying attention to pedophilia within the church, and the next pope won’t have as much cover-up freedom as previous popes.

If Catholics choose to be counseled about marital or sexual difficulties by celibate priests, that’s their right. But I’m amazed by a church that opposes both abortion and condom use that reduces the number of abortions; that requires celibacy before marriage, yet opposes masturbation, which makes it easier to remain celibate; that requires married women to be fruitful and multiply regardless of circumstances, but prevents church leaders from being fruitful and multiplying; that encourages monogamous marriage to avoid promiscuity, yet opposes monogamous marriage for committed gays.

I especially worry about an increasingly politically engaged Church that tries to impose its religious prohibitions (contraception, gay marriage, stem cell research, etc.) on non-Catholics. If a pope can ignore the evidence and argue that condom use increases the risk of AIDS spreading, I can argue against a church that is helping to spread a virus that infects the rest of the world, not just its faithful sheep. I wish Catholics would ignore the pontiff when he pontificates theologically, and even more so when he pontificates politically.

Liberalizing any of these prohibitions by a new pope would be an improvement, but I must admit that part of me wants the next pope to be even more severe, and not because I’m a sadist. The scandals, cover-ups, and misogynistic views of the church have significantly damaged its reputation and reduced the ranks of those who adhere to Church doctrine. What if the next pope were the Catholic equivalent of Pastor Fred Phelps, of Westboro Baptist Church, whose views make the current pope seem like a gay rights activist? Fortunately, Phelps has a tiny following. Not so, the pope.

My concerns about Catholic Church doctrine affecting the world are mostly sex-related. Morality should not be viewed through the narrow prism of sexual conduct. Although sex is an important part of life, there is much more to life than sex, and much more to morality than sex. Ethical and moral behavior is about treating others with respect, dignity, and compassion.

A lot has already been written about what the next pope should do, and probably won’t do. While I don’t expect “miracles,” I hope for a modest papal change on a position that hasn’t received much attention: the church’s opposition to the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS adopted by the UN General Assembly—“The Holy See does not accept so-called ‘harm reduction’ efforts related to drug use.”

There is conclusive evidence that needle exchange programs are a valuable component in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. I challenge the church to produce even a mustard seed worth of evidence that addicts would stop using drugs if they lacked clean needles. Further, some who enroll in needle-exchange programs develop relationships with their providers, who sometimes assist them in giving up drugs.

If the next pope really wants to help the least among us, he could begin by revising policies that endanger drug-addicted people without the wherewithal to obtain clean needles. The church might choose to believe that telling gays and drug addicts to repent for their sins has been effective, but health professionals who live in the real world recognize drug addiction as a health issue that requires realistic preventive and treatment programs.

The church can cry “abstinence only” until the sperm come home, but lives are being destroyed by this faith-based approach. Drug addicts have been burning while Nero-like popes have fiddled in Rome. It’s time for a change, of popes and of at least a few of the damaging policies that place more emphasis on abstract doctrines than on suffering humans.

Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America, author of “Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt,” and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston.

Herb Silverman
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  • fnwy

    I disagree with Silverman (because, yes, I am Catholic) but he does get major credit for stating one thing — “My concerns about Catholic Church doctrine affecting the world are mostly sex-related.” is how he says it.


    Sex is pretty much the only area where the Catholic church gets serious opposition — from anybody, left or right, including Silverman. Almost no other issue is ever mentioned by anti-Catholics. Considering how little the Catholic church (or the pope) actually talks about sex, I wonder if it really is the only motive. I bet there is something else. Yet people don’t mention anything else.

  • inreasonitrust

    Pope is the symptom not the cause. As long as there are sheep there is a need for shepherd.

  • patriot1

    IN the 1970s, I left the Catholic Church. I believed in “pro choice,” gay marriage, premarital sex, etc. If it wasn’t a crime and didn’t affect me, I didn’t care. Today, I’m in my 60s and I find these issues haven’t changed and neither has the Church. I’m more mature, may be not wiser. I realize that the Church has laws for a reason, just like our fed., state, and local gov’t. The laws of any institution are there to protect people against themselves. I may not like or agree with every Church or civil law. I follow the laws of both, nonetheless, because we need order in our life and in society. The Church is not a country club and the Mass is not a social dance. They are there to spread the Gospel, to worship the Lord, and to do His work. Jesus died for our sins, so that we may obtain heaven and everlasting life. The path to heaven is narrow, while the road to hell is wide. We make the choice where we want to go. His pain for our gain. He doesn’t reject us we reject Him.

    I have grandchildren today. I find myself more conservative. When I’m with them, I have to be alert to what’s on television, on the radio, what’s on a billboard, etc. The language and sexual innuendo has become more and more blatant. Children are becoming more knowledgeable, in this regard, before their time. So today, I see how these things affect me because I have a family.

    For those who want the Church to change, I suggest you go somewhere else. I’m sure you can find a church which accepts the latest fads, doesn’t acknowledge sin, and makes you feel good. Will you be better off?


    Over the years great damage has been done to the RCC by the RCC administration by the silence of the truth as well as their means of control of the RCs through a guilt complex to seek the RCC forgiveness for the violation of their man made rules resulting into sin for many RCs from their RC indoctrination. What is needed in the RCC is truth in all matters by a honest pope without a fairy image of the fancy costumes that Christ never had or would want. Truth is what is needed, not control.

  • veginpost

    February 23, 2013

    We as a people, secularist, religious moderates, agnostic, and atheist, whatever ignore the “Church” the Pope, Pat Robertson etc. at our own peril. Many of the angriest letters below written in response to Dr. Silverman’s observations concerning the Catholic Church condemn him for his astute criticisms. It’s obvious to any one who participates in our national dialogue that issues affecting all of us are being formulating by the conservative religious right. In recent decades the “Church” has manipulated to enter into a power grab of the general electorate and place itself at the very heart of our lawmaking institutions in order to further its institutional desires to control the social and political process in our country. The church has even buried the axe with some of its most vocal critics, the Protestant Religious Right, to achieve many of its goals. Hence many of our leaders and judiciary appointments have been secured by the Catholic/Religious right movement. If anyone needs an example look at the SUPREME COURT. It’s almost a mini Vatican. Again we ignore this at our peril. All free thinkers should extend kudos to Herb and others that recognize this very real danger to our Democratic Republic. To think that we can’t lose our freedoms and liberties to a dictatorial theocracy is beyond naive.

  • TrueLies2

    Sex sells, hon.

    But the RCC has failed the poor, blatantly and willingly.

    RATsinger counseled JP2 on social justice and the plight of the refugees in Central & South America.

    RATsinger’s direct actions led to the assassination of Fr Oscar Romero. Romero wrote, asked, begged, pleaded for assistance and influence to end the power of the right-wing death squads.

    The Vatican could have put pressure on the US (which exports training to the para-military groups) via WHINSEC- School of the Americas. He didn’t and the Vatican didn’t.

    Sex sells but bullets kill.

    There is decades of blood on the Vatican’s record.

  • [email protected]

    Is there something bizarre and even pathetic about anti-Catholics such as Herb Silverman being glued to the television eagerly awaiting who the next pope will be?

    Catholics should be flattered with the attention. I feel for the Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Unitarians, and United Church of Christ members who must resent that their churches and leaders are usually ignored by the secular left and atheist groups.

  • jjlc125

    “Herb Silverman is founder and President Emeritus of the Secular Coalition for America…”

    Since when did secularists like Herb Silverman get to dictate the doctrines of the Catholic Church or other faith traditions?

  • jjlc125

    I assure you that Anglicans who left the Episcopal Church over their leadership’s abandonment of the gospel of Jesus Christ have gotten plenty of attention. Just read the Falls Church News-Press, and other scandal sheets disguised as newspapers, which advocate positions similar to that of TEC’s leadership, especially on matters of sexuality.

  • sam1027j

    Since the RCC has tried for centuries to stick its nose into the business of others, with condemnations of all manner of life style choices. Since the RCC does more harm than any other organization of its kind.

    Yes, secularists, and every thinking person has a right, no, a duty, to object to the antiquated and ridiculous views that the church tries to impose.

  • Catken1

    Since when did they give up their First Amendment right to comment on said doctrines?
    If religions can use their right to speech to say that Silverman and other atheists are wrong, and deserve eternal torture after death for being wrong, surely he is entitled to express his opinion about their beliefs as well?

  • Catken1

    Unitarians don’t have a singular leader. Thank goodness.

  • brittania

    Lots of the comments are very unfair to the pope. He was picked by God so things like masturbating and sex are completely beneath him. Just because Catholic priests are pedophile sexual predators and work in an organisation with fascist leanings, as crooked and more powerful than the mafia, doesn’t mean they can’t do their job of saving people’s souls so they’ll go to heaven.

  • Wateva Wurks

    That’s sarcasm… right?

    Sometimes its hard to tell with the written word. No one can see you smirk or roll your eyes.

  • Wateva Wurks

    Ya know… people stayed glued to their televisions when there are car chases too.

    Sometimes it’s comforting to see that things aren’t as bad in their life as it is in the spectacle that is unfolding right in front of them.

  • calesuar

    LOL! And you know God picked him how? Oh, yes, ja ja, because he told you so, LOL! Wait, what? You say It’s because THE BIBLE said so? Oh, I see. And who wrote the Bible? People wrote the bible, 3000 year old desert nomads to be more exact, LOL! Wait, what you say? God told them what to write? Oh really? And who said that? LOL! Those who wrote it said so… well how convenient for them.

  • [email protected]

    One final point that needs to be made: If people such as Herb Silverman hate the pope, then he and the Church are doing their jobs.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    My mom once recalled to me that my grandmother used to say, “When the Pope starts paying for my children, then he can tell me whether or not to use birth control.” I think she had a point.

    There are certainly some stances which are held by the Catholic Church which (to my protestant eyes) seem unreasonable. And there are definitely some priests who have broken the law and should have to defend themselves against legal authorities. But Mr. Silverman goes too far in saying, “…lives are being destroyed by this faith-based approach.”

    If a young couple decides to ignore the Catholic Church’s advice to save sex until marriage, it does not become the Church’s fault when that couple find themselves deciding to have an abortion. He is suggesting that it is the the Church’s responsibility to hand out all the equipment needed to make our vices (even our sins) safer.

    Does he not remember the sexual revolution? Does he not remember the 1960s? That whole generation of left leaning activists basically gave the the church a collective middle finger. The entertainment industry has gone out of it’s way to insult and ridicule the teachings of the Church and use it’s bully pulpit to promote counter-cultural ideals. And the egg-heads in the ivory towers of our land have done all they can to convince everyone that the teachings and beliefs of the church are just so much superstitious foolishness.

    Now that the chickens are coming home to roost and there are 1.4 million abortions per year, sexually transmitted disease is rampant and marriages are in shambles, Mr. Silverman wants the church to abandon it’s “repent and sin no more” message in favor of dispensing condoms and syringes.

    I thought Obamacare was going to take care of all that.

  • Joel Hardman

    The church uses its political power to block policies it doesn’t accept because of faith.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    Corrections: The Church tries to block mandates which raise issue of conscience for church-run organizations partially for reasons I’ve listed above.


    “Picked by God”, where is your evidence? It time a pope was picked that would be 100% truthful in all things and with term limits.


    I (and I think Herb S. also) hate all facist religious groups. No other religious group has such a succint, all powerful, all immune structure as the Vatican. It’s easily the worlds largest criminal organisation. But oh how the Vatican and it’s poor adherants are the victim, right?


    You say “Jesus died for our sins…”- got any proof for such a childish and phantasmagorical statement? No- didn’t think so.
    As far as you getting more “conservative” with age- that’s normal. A lot of us, although we’ll state the opposite, become less concerned with the out group abd more concerned with ou in group (i.e. your own grandchildren). How “Christian” is that?

  • PaulSpence

    Of being hateful.

  • leibowde84

    The problem is, dimitricavalli, is that you are in the minority of the Catholic Church in that most followers of the faith disagrees with you. You can claim that “doctrine is doctrine” and is unchangeable all you want, but it simply isn’t true. Church rules have changes continually and consistenty throughout history, and the church has admitted that it was wrong on many occasions. Look at the crusades for crying out loud.

    The Church is not the pope or the cardinals, it is the everyday followers like myself. Recently I’ve been troubled by the fact that the hierarchy tends to ignore the feelings of the Church, arguing that they know what God wants and the Church can’t cave into public pressure. This is a copout, especially considering the fact that the hierarchy has actively concealed criminal activity for decades all over the world.

    The hierarchy is attempting to hold onto power that it has lost thru its own poor-decision making, selfishness, self-importance, and denial of changing ideals regarding homosexuality and the women religious. In my humble opinion, the Catholic Church has, because of this truth, made its own survival next to impossible.

    It doesn’t take a genius to know that young people hate it when old people tell them that they “know what’s best for them.” Especially when, given today’s ethical situations, the old people have shown their dedication to failure.

  • Joel Hardman

    What about trying to influence UN policy on contraception and AIDS as mentioned in the article? Also, hasn’t the Catholic Church advocated against marriage equality? Your claim doesn’t seem to apply to those actions.

  • AgentFoxMulder

    I will call your attention to my second paragraph:
    “There are certainly some stances which are held by the Catholic Church which (to my protestant eyes) seem unreasonable.”

    It is not my purpose to defend, or even comment on, every single doctrinal, social and political position of the Catholic Church. I’m not even Catholic so I lack sufficient authority to do so. My focus is on the very silly position of Mr. Silverman’s that it is the Church’s responsibility to help people sin. For this position of Mr. Silverman’s is, by nature, not limited to the Catholic Church.

    Poverty is a problem which the Church tries to combat. Since some people end up in poverty because they spend their money on addictive habits, should the Church also dispense free porn, free alcohol, free tobacco and free illicit drugs so that the feeding of such habits does not impact one’s pocket book? Heart disease is one of the biggest causes of mortality in America. The Church warns against gluttony. Should it instead pass out free cholesterol lowering drugs to help with that problem?

    In my opinion, folks like Mr. Silverman want the Church (Catholic and Protestant) to approve everything and believe in nothing. They want the Church to move out of the way so the socialistic agenda can be ram-rodded into our society without any hindrance or critical examination.

  • LissaK

    I am not Catholic, but this article is in the rawest form of honesty. No matter how much the Church ‘wants’ to define ‘itself’, they still need to explain themselves. The Church needs to release ALL documents obtaining to those Preists’ who are being considered to be Pope.

    Before the Conclave embarks, those of the Catholic Faith MUST have the opportunity to review ALL documents regarding ANY Cardinal that is elected. I am not just talking about the Priests’, but the members of the Catholic Church.

    It should be their decision to appoint and vote for the new Pope. This business about an ‘absolute confidentiality’ of nominating and voting is extreme in these days (to say the least).

    I am not saying it is ‘only’ the Catholic church that has problems, because it isn’t. However, it is time for those Catholics to CHOOSE who they believe will be the best Pope.

    Let the Pope be elected by those who worship and not by those of influence of position!

  • IntellectOne

    Jesus elected the Very First Pope. It can never be left up to a bunch of heretics like yourself and like those that promote and voted in the Administration in America.. It’s Jesus’s Church not yours!

  • h5r2

    What an interesting concept. Turn the Catholic Church into a democratic institution with leaders responsible to its church members, instead of infallible dictators like the ones in Rome and North Korea.


    It be a God sent if the RCC received a truly honest pope in all matters. Other wise it is the same old song and dance in their fancy control costumes. The late Cardinal Martini hit it on the head saying the RCC is 200 years behind the time with their pompous ways.

  • IntellectOne

    To h5r2 Yes, what an interesting “Concept” The Administration is demanding and forcing the Roman Catholic Church to pay for abortion on demand full-term, sterilizations, sex changes all through insurance. This administration has a Vice President that claims he is a Catholic when, in fact, he is a heretic of the highest order. He and the President is ignoring the real definition of marriage. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and trying to ‘Redefine’ Marriage. Both of these ‘Moral Issues’ affect every Man, Woman, and Child in the United States. This administration is totally ‘Objectively Disordered.

  • nkri401

    If you live in US, go to school in US, run a business in US, you should follow all the laws of the land. Everybody else does it.

    Why are you bellyaching that somehow you deserve a special pleading?

  • Therese Z

    Thank you for the facts.

    I laughed out loud at his contention that masturbation makes celibacy easier. How stupid. Masturbation is never necessary. Self-titillation is akin to putting food in your mouth, chewing it and spitting it out. Both are immature reactions to physical urges.

  • dcrswm

    Appointed by god…..quits….

  • wellspring

    IntellectOne: “religious freedom” does not apply to the CEOs of the Roman Catholic Church. It applies to real human beings, women, who claim their freedom to exclude the state, the church (your church, any church), lawyers, and politican from their decision making.

    For the RCC to claim it’s ‘religious freedom is infringed upon, is ludicrous on the face of it. After the sex abuse scandal, the RCC and its pope and its bishops have NO moral authority. Stay out of the doctors office and the clinics. If you don’t want an abortion, don’t have one.

  • wellspring

    shows you what you know, you body hating person. Masturbation is how a young person learnd what his/her body likes and prepares him/her for a relationship with another human being.
    The prissy ones are every ready to insist masturbation is bad, evil, immoral. Get over yourself. You are not the boss of the world.

  • wellspring

    I heard “God knows who the next pope will be” which begs the question, did God know that thousands of parish priests would molest innocent children and thousands more of his bishops would shuftle them around to new parishes when they should have called the cops?

    If so, God has a lot of explaining to do!

  • wellspring

    since when do Catholic bishops get to dictate public policy on insurance coverage for women who work for their agencies? This at a time when 96% of American Catholics use birth control. The RCC is a dictatorship and the US is a democracy. When in a democracy don’t try to make the country over in your image.

  • leibowde84

    I don’t get why sexual activity is a bad thing. Sure it’s risky, but it’s not harmful if done safely.

  • ThomasBaum


    You wrote, “If so, God has a lot of explaining to do! ”

    Are you saying that God has to explain why God gave us free will when God knew what we would do this gift as opposed to God creating us as a bunch of puppets on a string?

  • ThomasBaum

    do with this gift not do this gift.

  • PhillyJimi1

    If you’re a believer you are a slave to the master in the sky. God is the master and you’re the slave. Do what he says or burn in hell forever. God isn’t interested in your feelings and having you question him. Why be a god after all if your peons can change the rules when ever it suits them. As a believer you obey there is no wiggle room.

    I of course fine the whole notion of god of the bible to be flat out evil and immoral. I don’t see even a spec of evidence that supports the existence of a over lord of the Universe. But it was proven to me that the god of the evil bible was real I wouldn’t worship the child killing monster. That would be immoral.

  • An-Toan

    Thanks for your outspoken and sensitive op-ed. Despite the Vatican, there is progress.

    Proposition 8: Brief for Foreign and Comparative Law Experts

    That predominantly Catholic countries such as
    Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil now
    allow same-sex marriages (either throughout the
    country or in some jurisdictions) vividly illustrates
    that religious freedom and individual rights can
    readily co-exist with respect to same-sex marriage.
    Those jurisdictions made deliberate choices—whether
    through legislation or though their courts—to implement
    same-sex marriages despite strong opposition
    from leaders of the Catholic Church. Their choices
    show an emerging global consensus that governments
    best ensure the dignity and autonomy of all people
    not by arbitrarily denying equal access to the legal
    institution of marriage, but rather, by respecting the
    religious freedom of some groups to grant solemn
    religious recognition in accordance with the particular
    tenets of their faith.