When Michael Moore visited Wall Street to try to figure out where our bail out money went, he got stonewalled. So he went back with the intent to make a citizen's arrest of the thieves on Wall Street. Although the Catholic Church didn't send Swiss Guards to help perfect the attempted arrests, plenty of prelates support Moore. Capitalism is evil. Jesus wouldn't approve.
But what of Richard Dawkins' plan to have the Pope brought to justice? The noted British scientist, turned village atheist, wants to slap cuffs on Pope Benedict XVI when he visits Britain. The Pope's guilty of crimes against humanity for sheltering child abusers. Dawkins' claims might well have support in the United States, where some question whether the Pope ought to be prosecuted for running a corrupt organization.
There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear.
I watched Michael Moore's latest film, Capitalism, A Love Story, this weekend. It had me spitting populist nails and rooting for the people in the age-old struggle on masses versus the elite. Taxpayer bailouts for bankers too big to fail are obscene. Bonuses go to Wall Street tycoons who sold junk mortgages to folks who couldn't afford them. Why aren't the folks on Wall Street being prosecuted for mail and wire fraud? Sure, the film had a syrupy "What Would Jesus DO?" quality to it from time to time. But the moral was abundantly clear: The foxes on Wall Street are raiding the chicken coop, and you and I are paying big time for bonuses to men and women who failed. Who bails us out in our distress?
No one, of course. If you are too small to succeed, you drop off the radar. Call it class war by attrition. Greed, one of the seven deadly sins, fuels the conflict.
But all, the good book teaches, have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God. So while the Pope's armies cluck and finger point at the failings of capitalism, Church critics point to failure of the Pope to take decisive action about the pedophiles sheltered among the priesthood.
Pope Benedict plans to be in Britain in September. If Dawkins has his way, the pope will be prosecuted under the same law used to bring former Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet to justice when he visited Britain in 1988. Dawkins, who has teamed up in this effort with Christopher Hitchens, is working with noted British barrister Geoffrey Robertson, to lay the foundation for this effort to imprison the Pope.
Michael Moore wants to arrest Wall Street barons. Dawkins wants to arrest the Pope. So who is the bigger sinner, Wall Street or the Pope?
When the Pope headed Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the mid 1980s, which deals with sex abuse cases, he argued that the “good of the universal church” should be weighed against the defrocking of an American priest who committed sex offences against two boys. Dawkins thinks that because the Pope's first instinct was to protect the church, and not children, he is a criminal.
“This man is not above or outside the law. The institutionalised concealment of child rape is a crime under any law and demands not private ceremonies of repentance or church-funded payoffs, but justice and punishment," Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great, said.
That seems more than a little facile to me.
I'm no fan of the Church; indeed, I cannot recall the last time I darkened the door of one. But I like Wall Street and Government even less. I cannot comprehend why I pay taxes to bail out bankers to whom I dutifully pay mortgages. And I struggle still with the consequences of bad tax planning and the efforts to play catch up with the feds. Big banks, big government -- the rhetoric of fascism seems close at hands more often than not.
But the Church? I cannot see it as a snatcher of souls. I do not take joy in Dawkins' and Hitchins' attack. The institution is far from perfect. It has great wealth and is insulated from accountability for its sins, but I respect the institution's devotion to social justice. Throwing errant priests into prison, and confiscating its wealth to compensate those abused by priests, strike me as the very sort of mob fury and moral panic that has led to the creation of sex offender laws so harsh and inflexible as to be unable to distinguish the sick and weak from monsters.
I travel from time to time to the annual Hay-on-Wye literary festivals. I've seen Dawkins and Robertson speak there. Robertson's book on the lawyers who prosecuted Charles I in 1949, The Tyrannicide Brief, is among my favorite books. But I've not met Jesus in Wales. There is something off-putting about Dawkins and his pride; and Robertson, for all his brilliance, has grown a little too comfortable in his role as outre. This talk of prosecuting the Pope demeans the application of emerging international norms against true tyrannts.
I'm angry at Wall Street, and distrustful of big government. Others express similar fury at the Church and its leaders. There are calls to arrests tycoons and the Pope. It seems all at once the centers cannot hold, and a welcoming, if terrifying sort of chaos becomes the norm. Is this the beginning of something new, and energizing? I wonder and watch, and question whether merely observing the fray is enough. And I wonder whether in our rage, we are able truly to distinguish the truly evil from the merely errant.