Having recently been exposed in these pages as something other than "a harmless nut" Ñ thank you, Mr. Weinberg; our people will get back to you Ñ I thought long and hard before deciding to write again about the Catholic church and its poor, molested choirboys, driven to a life of sexual slavery by wicked, Rabelaisian priests and apparently wrecked forever by the experience. So, at least, all the lawsuits pretend. In an earlier column, I suggested that adolescent boys aren't exactly the picture of innocence, and that, dedicated priests being as scarce as hens' teeth, it might not be the smartest thing for the church to toss all of its perverts out with the font water.
Well, forgive me. It now appears that the church is taking this matter very seriously indeed. Since I mentioned it last, the Bishop of Rome Ñ John Paul II, a 19th-century Polish prelate otherwise known as the Pope Ñ has summoned his American cardinals to the Vatican. Not, as you might think, in an effort to deal rationally and straightforwardly with the current crisis, but rather to command that all Catholic priests be "perfect" and further to instruct his hem-chewers about the nature of celibacy.
"The value of celibacy as a complete gift of self to the Lord and his church must be carefully safeguarded," His Awfulness declares. "The life of chastity, poverty and obedience, willingly embraced and faithfully lived, confutes the conventional wisdom of the world and challenges the commonly accepted vision of life." That is to say, it flies in the face of reality. That is also to say: His Decrepitude should don a hair shirt and go live in a cave Ñ if "poverty" had anything to do with it, which in his case it doesn't. A single chamber in the Vatican complex, even if you sold off all the gold and the art, would take care of all the lawsuits little boys from Massachusetts could bring in a lifetime.
For those who don't know Ñ and I expect there are many Ñ there's a difference between chastity and celibacy. Chastity means no sex, period. Celibacy, while it may discourage sex, specifically relates to "the condition of not being married." This difference is crucial and has a lot to do with the schisms that have rent the Christian faith over many centuries. This is why we now have an "Orthodox" church, whose priests can be married, although not after ordination; a "Catholic" church, whose priests can't be married under any circumstances; and a "Protestant" church, whose priests, generally speaking, can do whatever they like.
The one thing all these churches have in common is their certainty that "the Lord" has commanded them to do whatever evil thing it is they're doing. The same goes for that spectacular "Man of Peace," Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. His record of mass murder, repression and mayhem has been established since at least 1982, when, under Sharon's command, two or three thousand Palestinian refugees, all of them civilians Ñ or, in current parlance, "terrorists" Ñ were slaughtered by Israeli troops in Lebanese refugee camps.
Sharon's chutzpah is such that, coupled with American cravenness regarding anything to do with the state of Israel, the world-criminal has been allowed not only to get off scot-free, but also to win a "blood libel" award against Time magazine, which had dared to report truthfully on the facts about massacres in Lebanon. Now, 20 years later, we see the same again. Witness the Israeli response last week to President Bush's appeal that Sharon's troops withdraw from the West Bank Ñ immediately, permanently and irrevocably.
"I don't think that he meant exactly to say, Just get out,'" the Israeli defense minister told ABC News last week, sitting on the same panel as big-haired heartthrob George Stephanopoulos.
"But he said, without delay,'" Steph-anopoulos sputtered, or tried to.
"Yes, but I don't think that he meant that." Knowing full well that Israel has carte blanche to commit any atrocity it pleases in the Middle East, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice felt obliged to defend her boss, warning the world sternly "not to parse the president's words."
She said it Ñ I didn't. Just try "parsing" Ding-Dong's words and see how far you get. I give you only the most recent Bushisms that have crossed my desk:
"If the terriers and bariffs are torn down, this economy will grow!"
"[Those are] hypo-rhetorical questions."
"I understand that the unrest in the Middle East creates unrest throughout the region."
"Please don't look at part of the glass, the part that is only less than half full."
"Look, my job isn't to try to nuance."
"This administration is doing everything we can to end the stalemate in an efficient way. We're making the right decisions to bring the solution to an end."
Had enough? How about the Queen Mother, then, better known as the "Queen Mum," who went to her grave this month still fooling people into thinking she was a soft, cuddly grandmother with funny hats and a fondness for gin. In fact, she was the most ruthless, unbending, unforgiving member of a clan whose members were all born with pokers up their arses.
The QM's wicked vendetta against the Duchess of Windsor, whom she blamed for forcing her own drunken, stammering spouse, George VI, onto the throne of England, is a matter of historical record. So is her scuttling of daughter Margaret's hopes for marital happiness with Group Captain Peter Townsend in 1955. Townsend wasn't just a commoner, you see, but a divorced commoner. Which brings us right back to chastity, celibacy and the lunacy of churches. Domine, Domine, amen.