Something has gone wrong with the Catholic Church, and having a new Pope probably isn’t going to solve the problem. The priesthood, we now know, is basically a glorified refuge for extremely hypocritical pederasts, and an institution that has been accused of countless power-related transgressions is once again on trial for remaining silent in the face of widespread corruption. Like usual, other religions have somehow managed to avoid looking this bad. Nobody is talking about the illegal behavior of pastors of the Lutheran Church, after all. In fact, nobody who is not Lutheran is talking about the Lutheran Church at all. Still, the Catholic Church didn’t achieve this staggering level of corruption alone.
Christian church hierarchies, it needs to finally be said, have a lot in common with imperialist, authoritarian governments, and the Catholic Church is a standard-setter in that regard. This is not because some religions just choose to organize themselves that way, it is because religion asks us to make the same leap of faith that authoritarian leaders do – demanding blind belief in a figure that has been selected (or in the case of religion, whose will has been interpreted) by somebody else. Organized religion is, by its very nature, hierarchical because it assumes that somebody else’s connection to “God,” an undefined, easy to manipulate ideal, is more valuable than your own. You wouldn’t need church if you had a direct line to God yourself, would you? (To head off the natural complaint that follows this line of reasoning: People in California are attempting to convince the world that organized religion is only a tool by claiming to be independently “spiritual” all up and down this wild Western state. All of them have smoked too much pot and most of them have gone insane from too much driving. Their vague claims of “spirituality” are not the same thing as a defined “God” with a defined will.)
Anyway, you can’t have a meaningful “God” without an organization behind it because the concept of “God” would be next-to-meaningless if there wasn’t some widespread agreement concerning his goals, and this necessitates that somebody else to interpret His will and then tell you what it is. In most religions, after all, He has some very specific ideas about what you should and should not be doing. Catholics blindly believe that birth control is evil. Why? Because the Church hierarchy interpreted God’s will this way. You know who else blindly believed things? Every complacent citizen in every repressive regime in the world’s history. How many times, after all, have Jews been baselessly blamed for the world’s ills? How about Arabs? Communists in Hollywood? There basically nothing more dangerous than blind belief and religions asks that of its adherents as a prerequisite.
Blind faith generally accomplishes more evil (usually in the form of baseless hate) than good, and that that concept is not unique to religion, it’s a basic building-block that all religions share. The newly crowned Pope Francis may have kissed the feet of AIDS victims and been a vague champion of the poor (or living like the poor? unclear…), but he’s also helped enable people to baselessly hate gays, driven by the sheer power of belief in something he’s not even getting from the horses mouth. Until yesterday, after all, he didn’t even think he had a direct line to God.
This sort of blind faith, of course, allows crimes like those of the numerous pederast Catholic Priests because priests are moral leaders so they can’t be evil, right? Meanwhile, just this week we learned about the number of sexual assaults that the US military hierarchy has been failing to properly acknowledge and address. That’s an institution, like the Catholic Church, in which participants are asked to trust the word of their superiors without question and, as a result, it’s easy to cover up the crimes of said superiors. The same goes for sports team hazing rituals – those go largely unreported unless they become unduly dangerous, and this is because of the nature of being on a team. Somebody is in charge, and the rest of you take orders.
Organized religion is a forum for zillions of people to willingly submit to a similarly top-heavy dynamic - blind faith in the power of leadership, whether that be the leadership of a peaceful figure (Dalai Lama!) or a politically and economically motivated tyrant (any person associated with the Catholic Church). The Catholic Church’s leadership has certainly done a standout job of looking especially evil of late, but it’s not in this situation because it is uniquely corrupt, (though it is). It’s in this situation because the very nature of its purpose invites this kind of corruption.