A reader writes:

Like you, I have serious misgivings about a "moral" candidate for the presidency (i.e. Santorum) defending torture techniques. From the official Catechism of the Catholic Church (2297): "Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity." What I can't figure out is, why hasn't a bishop come out publicly to deny Santorum communion? When John Kerry was running for president, no less than future pope Ratzinger stated that Kerry should be denied communion, which he ultimately was. Where is Ratzinger now? Where is Raymond Burke? Sean O'Malley?

Rick Santorum (and Gingrich, too) hold many more stances that directly violate the Catechism than Kerry did. Why do you think they've been silent on the two death penalty-endorsing, torture-praising, social welfare-cutting Catholics who could potentially be our next president?

The same can be said, and was, of pro-torture Catholics Rudy Giuliani and Marc Thiessen. And the answer, alas, is that the current Vatican has lost the forest for the trees. It obsesses about complicity with contraception – and plans a p.r. campaign months ahead of time – and yet cannot condemn an avowed Catholic defending torture and pre-emptive warfare – two moral enormities next to which the pill seems trivial. Another reader writes:

The killer fact is that Santorum's cafeteria-plan Catholicism draws no real objection from the bishops. Why exactly? Perhaps because they secretly feel that he's right about this; his priorities are their priorities. And this in turn helps us to focus on the psycho-pathology of these church fathers. Why are they so utterly obsessed with female sexuality? Does it have something to do with their own celibacy? With misogyny? The homoerotic orientations that are likely very common in their number? I'd be surprised if these things didn't in fact pay a large role.

But Merton's critique is right on the money here: the traditional teachings on abortion and on the role of human sexuality may well be correct as part of a larger scheme, but the obsession with them to the disregard of a multitude of other issues of equal importance in moral terms, issues which plainly were far more important to Christ, weakens the moral teaching of the church. It is the ultimate expression of a love of dogma displacing a dogma of love.

This also has me thinking back to Hitch and his criticism of organized religion and particularly the Catholic prelacy. I tended to be very dismissive of it. But as things are developing now, I find it increasingly difficult to reject Hitch's criticism. I wish he were wrong about this, but I can't honestly deflect many of his criticisms.

Me neither. I see the theoconservative delusion and the fundamentalist psyche as part of a generalized crisis of Christianity (and religion) today. They are terrified retreats from a Christianity built on caritas in a world of harsh reality. And the sex abuse crisis revealed – among the Catholic hierarchy – a psychological sickness they do not yet have the strength to expose and remove.