Long-lived institutions have a choice: adapt or die.
The path of rigidity - the conservative path - can work well, sometimes for quite a while, especially if the institution is willing to change by small degrees. But the path of absolute rigidity - saying no to everything, for instance - is the path of senesence and death. Just ask the Shakers, and they were only rigid about a few things.
The Catholic Church right now is in an existential crisis. With a billion adherents, the church might seem safe from doom. After all, it has survived previous crises - non-sexual child abuse in its schools and orphanages, acquiescence to fascism, the commonplace selling of absolution, the Inquisition, to name a few - that would have killed a less persistent, poorer, or less canny institution. Of course it doesn't hurt that the church claims every Sunday to have god on its side.
But buggering children and criminally covering it up practically everywhere is a different matter. It impeaches every claim to divinity or infallibility. And that billion already includes many who are one generation more away from merely having Catholic ancestors.
Even now, there are Catholics, both lay and priest, who apparently believe that the anti-gay passages of their bible are some of its most important. These doctrinaire Catholics still react to the idea of admitting to parochial school a child of a lesbian couple with statements like this:
“The real question here is why two people who radically repudiate the moral teachings of Catholicism would want their child educated in a Catholic school,’’ [C.J. Doyle, executive director of Catholic Action League of Massachusetts,] said in a statement.
“It would seem that they are either looking for an excuse to litigate or an opportunity to embarrass the church in the court of public opinion.’’
This sort of defensive reaction matches the tenor of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The inability to address one's own shortcomings when they're plain as day to ordinary people can be fatal to credibility.
People like Doyle imagine that the dogma of the modern church is the identical doctrine that the church has always advocated and lived under. But this is not true, and how he can escape knowing that is an object lesson in denial.
Doyle is not the only voice on the subject. The archdiocese of Boston has tried to make amends and deserves credit for that even if it's PR, and prominent business Catholic Jack Connors has this plaintive comment:
“But,’’ he said, “I am disappointed that . . . this faith that I love seems to find new ways to shoot itself in the foot.’’Despite the willingness of some parishoners and priests to adapt, it's an open question whether the church hierarchy can change fast enough to retain its believers. How they've done it so far is beyond me.