Penn & Teller Take On the Vatican – Part 2

Back to Part 1

After the first few minutes of the 30-minute episode, much of the rest was devoted to speaking to a few people who had various criticisms of the Church and her leadership. Also, this portion dealt not so much with facts regarding the Papacy, but of opinions regarding specific teachings of the Church on homosexual behavior and society.

An Italian comedian/satirist (Sabina Guzzanti), who was apparently charged with religious slander by Italian authorities for insulting the Pope was interviewed. The gist was that she told a joke about the Pope, and was threatened with jail time because of it. The implication that she was simply exercising her free speech by telling a joke, and that she was punished by the power-crazed Vatican as a result. The reality is that she slandered the Pope by saying he was going to Hell to be sodomized for all eternity, ostensibly for being against the concept of “gay marriage”. Whether or not the Pope directly intervened in this is unknown, as it is against the law to offend the honor of the Pope in Italy; their free speech laws are not the same as those in the USA. Though there were legal grounds to continue, charges were dropped. This one isn’t so much a falsehood, as it is just silly attempt at making a point about the alleged influence of the Vatican, when it was actually known laws in Italy that were run afoul of. What I find interesting as what she said was cast as “a joke”, even though she was at an anti-government political rally, clearly lending political support to one side of this debate. The double standard here is that it’s okay to “joke” about such things when it offends Catholics and their beliefs, but if it were against just about any other group (think: Muslims or Jews), people the world over would be calling it not a “joke”, but a “hate crime”. I do not necessarily agree with the laws as they pertain to this case in Italy, but I think everyone must be held to the same standard, and it is apparent that anti-Catholicism is one of the last acceptable prejudices.

An Englishman from one of the prominent secularist (read: atheist) organizations in the UK was interviewed, and he talked about how they (“they” being the organization, I suppose) previously thought that Pope John Paul II was the worst Pope ever, until the wretched Benedict XVI was made Pope. Insert allusions to Benedict’s allegedly Nazi past. What I find interesting is that most groups who oppose the Papacy have adopted the idea that the last Pope, whomever he may be, was a “good” one — now that he is dead — but that whoever the current one is must change or leave. This was a slight twist on that tactic, in calling Pope John Paul II the second worst ever. I wonder, exactly, why he deserved such demonization? After all, Pope John Paul II did more than any previous Pontiff to reconcile groups that have had tension or animosity against the Church, such as Muslims, Jews, and Orthodox Christians. He included more diverse ethnic groups into the calendar of Saints than any previous Pope. He made no statements that were anywhere near as “inflammatory” as some Popes from the Middle Ages or Counter-Reformation. My guess is that hyperbole is the only tool that this man can use in an attempt to blacken the image of the Papacy and of he who sits in the Chair of Peter.

Another man, from the lay organization Dignity USA (an organization that does not have approval of the Church, as it does not support the notion that homosexual activity is sinful) was interviewed on his opinions regarding the stance of the Church on same-sex marraige. This was again essentially complaints against the doctrines regarding marraige being reserved only to one man and one woman, an idea as old as time, and established as a sacrament almost 2000 years ago by Christ Himself. This was merely a call for activism, to try to change the teachings of the Church. This would also be an affront to almost all other Christians, as relatively few Christian communities support the idea of same-sex marraige. Also, Muslims, most flavors of Judaism, and non-Abrahamic religions such as Hinduism have never approved the idea of same-sex marraige; virtually all of those recognize this effort to be an attempt to redefine what marraige means.

Next a story about how HIV/AIDS efforts in Africa are allegedly thwarted by the position of the Church on condom use. This is probably, thus far, the most understandable objection to Church teaching, as it would seem to the mindset of most people that condom use would be a good thing when used for disease prevention (as opposed to just contraception). The problem here relates to two principles, one of which is held by most religions, and the other which is most visible only in Catholic teaching these days. The first is the idea that the ends do not justify the means. What this means, more explicitly, is that a person may not commit an evil act even if a good may follow from it. The reason that this principle exists is this: If evil acts are permitted, contigent only upon the proportion of good that may come from them, then theoretically any act, no matter how atrocious, is justifiable if the perceived good that follows is “good enough”. It is that false reasoning that allowed Hitler’s gas chambers to operate, as the evil was the killing of Jews (and other “undesirables”), but the good that would supposedly follow was a much-improved and strengthened German society, rid of its problems. No evil must be permitted, no matter what good may follow from it. The second idea is that condom use, being a barrier between spouses, separates both the unitive and procreative functions from marital intercourse. Since the purpose of intercourse is, according to Catholic teaching and the natural law, the twofold unitive and procreative function, purposefully separating either one from the marital act directly is considered to be inherently evil. In the case of disease prevention, the purpose of condom use is not contraception, but is only separation of bodily fluids. As a result, in the case of disease prevention, the contraceptive action of the condoms is not necessarily sinful (as it is not intended and falls under the principle of double effect), but the direct intention to separate the spouses is sinful. Since condom use is therefore considered to be evil, it cannot be recommended under any circumstances, even if a perceived good (prevention of HIV transmission, in this case) might follow from it. An acceptable choice, which would not only not involve evil action, but would ensure that the disease would not be transmitted, is abstinence. Aside from the inherent evil in condom use, to knowingly threaten the life of your spouse by having intercourse when you are infected with HIV is essentially attempted murder. Using a condom does not eliminate, but might only lessen such a risk. This is not an issue of specifically Papal teaching, this is embedded in the philosophical underpinnings of Catholicism, dating at least back to St. Thomas Aquinas (13th century), as well as similar prohibitions from the Old Testament (the story of Onan). What is not mentioned, by the way, is that all Christian communities — not just the Catholic Church — believed that contraception was immoral prior to the 1930 Lambeth Conference that legitimized contraception in the Anglican church. What is not mentioned, or lauded, is that the Church is even doing work to help those who do have HIV in Africa. The Catholic Church acts as the largest such charity in that AIDS-ridden continent, sending people to minister (both religiously and medically) to those infected with the virus and their families.

Lastly, claims (some true and some spurious) regarding an alleged smoking gun in the sex abuse scandal is a 1962 document called Crimen sollicitationis (Latin for “the crime of soliciting”) are made. This document was published by the Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — the department which Cardinal Ratzinger headed before he became Pope Benedict XVI) just prior to the Second Vatican Council, and dealt with the use of the confessional to solicit sins against the sixth commandment (adultery). It also covered the sins of homosexual sex, pedophilia, and bestiality. Its purpose was to maintain the “seal of confession”, but Penn & Teller (and many others) would have you believe that its purpose was to “shut up” anyone victimized by clerics. Some links on this document follow: here (article about the document) and here (unofficial English translation of the document). While it is certain that there was a cover-up by some perverted priests and various bishops (for various reasons), this document is almost irrelevant, in that most people weren’t even aware of its existence outside of Rome. Also, far from trying to prevent any victims from contacting law enforcement, the document appears to be trying to prevent unwarranted scandal (i.e., due to false accusations), to keep the seal of the confessional, and also to ensure that pervert priests are outed, not protected (since victimized penitents are required to report the offending priest to the local ordinary, not to just keep it to themselves). Also, for those who don’t know, all excommunications, not just these, are for life UNLESS they are lifted. ALL excommunications can be lifted — there is no such thing as an irreversible excommunication. Another point that is not highlighted by Penn and Teller is that excommunication does not send you to Hell, but is a canonical penalty that bars you from receiving the sacraments. That does not directly affect whether or not one’s soul is in a state of grace. Only God, at the particular judgement, can decide whether or not you go to Hell — based on whether or not your soul is in a state of grace.

The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) published this statement in 2003:

<<WASHINGTON (August 7, 2003) — The Department for Communications of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued the following statement:

Crimen sollicitationis, a forty-year-old document of the former Holy Office (now, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), issued March 16, 1962, is being portrayed by some in and outside the media as a “smoking gun” allegedly proving that there was a “ground plan” for “covering up” the crime of sexual abuse of minors by clerics.

The essential point in response to those making this claim is that they are taking the document entirely out of context and therefore distorting it completely.

This document deals primarily with the canonical procedures to be followed when a priest is accused of soliciting in the confessional. Towards the end there is reference also to other crimes which are to be given serious punishment: gravely sinful deeds committed by a cleric with another man and “with youths of either sex or with brute animals.”

The document clearly deals exclusively with ecclesiastical crimes and punishments found in church law. It outlines procedures for addressing ecclesiastical crimes which have already been designated publicly as such in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (see its canons 2359 and 2368). It treats these crimes very seriously and repeats the penalties for them. The penalties include dismissal from the clerical state.

The 1962 document has no bearing on civil law. It does not forbid the civil reporting of civil crimes.

Confidentiality, in the past and today, is often required in court procedures, including civil court procedures, for a variety of reasons–including not unnecessarily impugning a person’s good name, the protection of the young or victims of assault, etc. In addition, the special nature of the crime of solicitation in the confessional (the most confidential forum of all), to which the document is mainly dedicated, has to be taken into account. The allegation of committing this crime is most serious since the accused priest cannot break the “seal of confession” to defend himself. Investigation of confessional matters must be done most delicately to protect the confidentiality of the sacrament of penance and the rights and dignity of both the accused and the accuser.

Perhaps most cited by those claiming a “cover-up plan” is the secrecy imposed on the person alleging to have been solicited. The document is not addressing the civil rights and responsibilities of that person. Instead, it is considering the good order of the Church’s own internal life: the protection of the good names of the persons involved, the sacred nature of the sacrament of penance, the potential for scandalizing the faithful, etc.

To contend that the document is intended to create a “chilling effect” on reporting civil crimes is to attribute to it an intention it simply never had.

The document says nothing about the responsibility that the Church may have within the civil jurisdictions in which it lives and works. Then, as now, the Church is not intending to be exempt from reporting civil crimes to civil authorities.

As a document of the universal Church, it applied in 1962 to a world of quite diverse civil jurisdictions–to a free and democrat North America and Western Europe, a South America dominated by authoritarian dictatorships, an eastern Europe under totalitarian communist rule, etc. To suggest that it was intended as a “ground plan” for handling these matters in the United States (or in any particular jurisdiction) is ludicrous. Also, the applicable civil laws in the United States in 1962 were very different from what they later became.

The Second Vatican Council began later in 1962, and led to the eventual revision of the Code of Canon Law. The 1962 document seemingly had practical effect for only a short while. The process for dealing with ecclesiastical crimes was revised in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, and is found in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. This revised Code, which has been operative for the past two decades, treats the sexual abuse of a minor (and solicitation of a penitent by a confessor) as criminal behavior (see its canons 1395 and 1387), which may be punished by dismissal from the clerical state.

The 1983 Code’s procedure for dealing with the sexual abuse of a minor has been addressed (and made more specific) in 2001 by Pope John Paul II, when he underscored the serious nature of this crime and required that it be reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In addition, the USCCB’s Essential Norms of 2002 require the establishment of a review board, composed primarily of lay persons, to be involved in handling allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clerics. The Essential Norms also address the reporting of sexual abuse to appropriate civil authorities.

The 1962 document is also being treated as evidence of the fact that the “Church knew there was a problem.” As already indicated, both the 1917 and the 1983 Codes of Canon Law publicly recognized the sexual abuse of minors by clerics as a serious crime which is to be punished with a serious penalty. The gravity of such sexual abuse is based on the Decalogue.

It should be pointed out that news reports are based on what is apparently a forty-year-old English translation whose origin and fidelity to the original have not been determined.>>

The last minute or so of the program is basically to paint the Church as an oppressive society that is intent on controlling every aspect of its members’ lives. I would guess that most people who voluntarily choose to be Catholic do not agree with this assessment; if they did not, they would likely go elsewhere for guidance. This program was essentially about bashing not just the Vatican, but by maligning the beliefs of over a billion Catholics, and also other Christians as well, throughout the world. The closing thought was that if your God supported the ideas put forth by the Catholic Church, that perhaps you should consider finding another God (or presumably worshipping no god at all, since Penn “cuts the cord” that supposedly joined “Pope Teller” to God). That was likely the most truthful statement made in this diatribe, given the blatant disdain for religion that these two people show.

Whether you are Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or non-denominational Christian, you should be offended by this show and by these two comedians, as they not only hold all of us in the greatest contempt for being Christian, but also because they don’t mind presenting lies as the truth in order to further their agenda. Anyone who believes that they got an unbiased account of Catholic belief and action has been fooled by these two people. If you are not Catholic, you certainly cannot be faulted for not immediately accepting the claims of the Church; otherwise, you would be Catholic. If you are Catholic, don’t let these two hateful people try to rob you of your faith. If this article isn’t enough to convince you of the falsehoods that those opposed to faith (not just the Catholic Faith) are willing to propogate, then I have not done my job. It should be clear, that those who seek to destroy faith will use any means they can to do so.

In closing, this show, while a supposed expose of the corruption within the Catholic Church, turns out to be a mishmash of historical and doctrinal inaccuracies combined with an activist desire to foist the hedonistic paradigm of homosexuality and militant atheism upon the Catholic Church; the Church which we Catholics believe was established by Christ Himself. No orthodox Catholic would likely be swayed by its claims; in my opinion, its primary purpose is to preach to the atheist choir the supposed evils of the Catholic Church.


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