Just B16 is MercatorNet’s contribution to
clearing the air about the sex abuse scandal enveloping Pope Benedict XVI and
the Catholic Church. Last year, in our “Our
public intellectual A-list
” we described Benedict as “the world’s leading
voice for human dignity founded upon the divine creation of man” – which he
undoubtedly is.  Human dignity
sounds like a cliche, but it is viewed with suspicion and even
disdain in many academic circles. The idea that human beings are rational and
that we can know what is right and wrong is at risk today. Indeed, the modish
thing is to describe morality as nothing more than social conventions or evolved
responses to ancient threats.

We feel that ill-informed, unjust and
vicious attacks on Benedict’s credibility will ultimately undermine the
credibility of human dignity itself. MercatorNet is not a Catholic publication,
although the editor and the deputy editor are both Catholics. We have always
steered clear of ecclesiastical disputes and doctrinal quibbles. But our rule
of thumb has always been to cover religious issues if they appear on the front
page of the New York Times. Since the sex abuse scandal has sent the New York
Times into a feeding frenzy worthy of the most lurid tabloids, with front-page
articles nearly every day (at least in March), we feel that Just B16 is hardly
compromising our editorial principles.

We are unencumbered by
starry-eyed naïveté. We accept, with great shame and chagrin, that there are
paedophile priests and that there are delinquent bishops and cardinals. But we will try to put these in
context and we will refuse to be cowed by bullying, abuse and perverse
misinterpretation.

The debate raises
important questions about the credibility of major newspapers. Some
widely-quoted articles have grossly distorted and misinterpreted the facts.
Journalists have cited documents to make outrageous allegations on the basis of
documents which they appear not to have read. Elementary standards of justice
have been tossed out the window by reporters hoping to turn their paper trail
into a Pulitzer Prize.

But there is more to
be discussed than the faults of the media, or even the faults of the Catholic
Church.

For one thing, there’s
something historic about this scandal. For hundreds of years, the Catholic
Church has exerted a profound influence upon Western culture. But since the
French Revolution, its political power has (thankfully) disappeared and its
intellectual stature has been challenged by philosophies like Marxism and
scientism. What unquestionably remained was its moral prestige, exemplified by
the radiant goodness of people like Mother Teresa. Will this scandal strip the
Church of its moral ascendancy? I think not, but that is what is at stake. It
appears to be the ultimate aim of Benedict’s enemies.
They have already done their best to blacken Mother Teresa’s name.

It’s also an
opportuntity for a deep self-examination, not just by the Catholic Church, but
all of Western society. Paedophilia is the last taboo in a hyper-sexualised
society. What does the moral panic which it arouses reveal about Western views
on sexuality?

In the wake of the
scandal there have been calls for the Pope to resign, for the Catholic Church
to be stripped of its tax-exempt status, for the imposition of a new system of
governance and so on. But if the French philosopher’s dream of throttling the last
priest with the guts of the last bishop is finally achieved, and the baneful
influence of Christianity is purged from society, what will replace it? More
protocols, more committees, more medication? Benedict’s critics are remarkably
like the neocons who bayed for the blood of Saddam Hussein and watched in horror
as Iraq disintegrated into bloody anarchy. Do they have a Plan B?

Hopefully we will wind
this blog up after the controversy has died down. But in the meantime, Just B16
will be a clearinghouse for positive and thoughtful articles about the sex
abuse controversy. Pass the word on to your friends.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet.