As you may recall, a while ago I did a blog suggesting historical/cultural underpinnings for the GOP’s seeming lack of care — the influence of Calvinistic determinism. In response I received over a hundred comments, pro and con. Because I wanted the idea to be plausible on it’s own merit (which it is), I didn’t happen to mention (in the context of that flap) that I am not entirely unqualified to address religious issues, having served as an ordained minister in various capacities for over two decades. In fact — I may be the only liberal political cartoonist in history to have done that. And certainly the only ordained liberal political cartoonist with a pony tail.

So with that preface ““ I will now write about the papacy and pedophilia.

You may also recall that I ripped into the Los Angeles Archdiocese a year or so ago on this very issue. Nobody listened and now it’s worse (let that be a lesson).

Why is the world’s largest (and perhaps most regimented) Christian institution unable to 1) keep its priests under control and 2) keep its executive clergy behaving ethically? It’s not a small issue. According to Stephen Boehrer, author of the incisive book The Purple Culture, as many as 9% of Catholic priests worldwide have been accused or convicted of child molestation, and as many as 200,000 people may have been victimized in the U.S. alone.

Here we have a religious institution that not only protects child abusers but invokes the holocaust, of all things, in the face of public outrage against their criminal incompetence. Are the Vatican PR guys getting into the communion wine or what?

But this should come as no surprise. Big, authoritarian religious institutions are as predictable as feral skunks. There’s no question over how a skunk will react to a threat. It’s just part of skunk-ish-ness. Any wild skunk will almost always defend itself by letting loose a spray of foul vapor to choke its enemies.

Switching metaphors, big medieval religion under threat will always pull up its drawbridge and launch volleys of arrows, rocks, boiling oil and molten lead onto the heads of those below””including the ones they are supposed to be defending and serving. The more hierarchical the institution, the more likely it will go into this fortress mode. This is exactly how the Vatican is reacting now, despite what seems to be one or two concessions.

I should add here that there are a few progressive and responsible religious institutions with clear, open procedures in place for dealing with allegations of pedophilia or similar misbehaviors by clergy. The U.S. Episcopal church is a good example.

But how do we force the Roman Catholics (and other medieval groups) to get with the program? The answer is easy. How do you capture a fortress? You lay siege. Where does the Catholic Church get its power? From the tithe-paying laity. As long as rank-and-file members are scared to miss a mass or to skip an offering, priests will keep doing their thing and the bishops will keep protecting them.

Catholics have to vote with their feet and their pocketbooks. Go on strike. Stay home. Give what you would have put into the offering to some other charity or a church that has its ethical act together. It’s okay. I have it on good authority that you will not go to hell or spend extra time in purgatory.

If a majority of Catholics actually had the guts to go through with this””for, say, about three or four months””we would quickly see the Holy See and all the little See-etts chanting a whole different plainsong.