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The Rev. Robert Morlino, left, bishop of the Diocese of Madison, clasps the hands of Rev. Chris Gernetzke during an ordination Mass at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Parish in Madison June 26, 2015. (M.P. KING -- State Journal)

Blame the gays. That appears to be the strategy of Bishop Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, who penned a letter to his flock. “Until recently, the problems of the church have been painted purely as problems of pedophilia, this despite clear evidence to the contrary,” wrote Morlino, essentially arguing that homosexuality, not priests preying on children, was the problem: “There is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord.”

This is a disgusting attempt to paint LGBTQ Americans, who have made great strides toward acceptance and equality despite the best efforts of the Catholic Church, as “disordered,” “deviant,” and “ in violation of the natural moral law.” As the tidal wave of this scandal again crashes down on his church, Morlino is trying to shift the blame.

Morlino is wrong. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a link between homosexuality and pedophilia. This myth, bred of ignorance, has been debunked countless times. For those of us who dwell in the world of facts and reality, the research is clear: Most sexual abuse is committed by heterosexual males.

In 2011, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice finished a five-year study on abuse in the Catholic Church (how little progress has been made) and Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times summed up this aspect: “If anything, the report says, the abuse decreased as more gay priests began serving the church.”

Given the information available on this point, one can only conclude that Morlino is either willfully ignorant or a skulking bigot. Perhaps both.

Worse, Morlino’s callous ignorance makes it that much more difficult to fix the real problem: the Catholic Church.

The reason the child sexual abuse problem is so rampant and seemingly ineradicable is the church itself. The power structure of the church is predicated on an unquestionable, unassailable authority — a divine authority. Under Catholic Canon law, adherents are required to give a “religious submission of the intellect and will” to their church.

And the church uses that power to suppress questions, doubts, and dissent. It has for millennia. Without religion, would anyone argue that three is really one or one is really three, or that crackers turn to flesh if a few magic words are uttered over them?

A group of fallible, celibate men have nearly unlimited power over a community of people who have been drilled toward credulity their whole lives. This is a recipe not only for abuse, but for covering up that abuse.

We need only look to abuse scandals at other organizations and companies to see that the Catholic Church is, at best, uniquely unable to correct this problem. For instance, the NCAA was far better at dealing with nearly identical abuses and a cover-up. The Penn State debacle lasted only about a year after the allegations came to light. Jerry Sandusky was convicted in a secular court (something that almost never happens to Catholic priests, who the church protects while the statute of limitations runs out), everyone involved at PSU was fired, and the NCAA handed down its harshest penalty ever. If the NCAA ever proves incapable of protecting the young students in its charge, it would be dismantled by secular law with no cries of religious liberty.

No matter how many times these scandals surface in the Catholic Church — the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” exposé was 16 years ago — the church will not change because it’s a church. The problem is elemental, embedded in the authority Morlino wields and the blind obedience he preaches.

Most religions are premised on this appeal to authority, though perhaps not to the degree of the Catholic Church. That’s why sexual abuse and coverups are rampant in other religions — Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Amish, Methodists, and evangelicals to name a few.

Sexual abuse and coverups in the Catholic Church seem interminable because they are. The Pennsylvania report is by no means the first and it will not be the last. That’s about the only thing Morlino’s letter makes clear, though this was not his intent. Time and again we will find out about children sacrificed on the altar of the Catholic Church. This will not change as long as the church claims to wield divine authority, as long as it claims to speak for a god.

Morlino concludes his letter: “(t)here is a lot of justified anger and passion … calling for real reform and ‘house cleaning’ of this type of depravity. I stand with them.”

The only way to reform the Catholic Church, especially for anyone not in that Catholic hierarchy, is to quit. We know things have not changed. We know they will not change. At best, the church hierarchy will mouth a few “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities,” to borrow from Dr. King, but it will not give up its power. So you must stop giving it power. You must stop giving your time and your tithe to an organization that is guaranteed to be involved in more of these scandals. It’s time to quit the Catholic Church.

Andrew L. Seidel is a constitutional attorney who specializes in the legal relationship between state and church. He works at the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

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