Clerical Abuse: Vatican Puts its Head in the Sand.

Following the announcement of Papal visit to the UK, the Guardian yesterday carried two important stories on Benedict XVI and the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI

In an opinion piece, Tanya Gold expressing deep anger at the Papal visit.  Under the heading, “Ignore the bells and the smells and the lovely Raphaels, the Pope’s arrival in Britain is nothing to celebrate“, she writes:

Save us, O Lord, save us all. Save us from the Pope. Joseph Ratzinger is coming to Britain. Gordon Brown is “delighted”. David Cameron is “delighted”. I am “repelled”. Let him come; I applaud freedom of speech. But no red carpets, please. No biscuits. No Queen.

In his actions on child abuse and Aids, Joseph Ratzinger has colluded in the protection of paedophiles and the deaths of millions of Africans. As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Pope John Paul II’s chief enforcer), it was Ratzinger’s job to investigate the child abuse scandal that plagued the Catholic church for decades. And how did he do it? In May 2001 he wrote a confidential letter to Catholic bishops, ordering them not to notify the police – or anyone else – about the allegations, on pain of excommunication. He referred to a previous (confidential) Vatican document that ordered that investigations should be handled “in the most secretive way . . . restrained by a perpetual silence”. Excommunication is a joke to me, perhaps to you, but to a Catholic it means exclusion and perhaps hellfire – for trying to protect a child. Well, God is love.

He also waved aside calls to discipline Marcial Maciel Maciel “>Degollado, the Mexican founder of the global Legion of Christ movement. Allegations of child abuse have stalked Maciel since the 1970s. His victims petitioned Ratzinger, only for his secretary to inform them the matter was closed. “One can’t put on trial such a close friend of the Pope as Marcial Maciel,” Ratzinger said. Two abuse victims sued him personally for obstruction of justice, but he claimed diplomatic immunity.

Eventually, when the allegations could no longer be denied, Ratzinger apologised, and sent Maciel off “to a life of prayer and penitence”. Why not prison? He didn’t say. “It is a great suffering for the church . . . and for me personally,” was Ratzinger’s comment about the wider child abuse scandal. Great suffering? I thought to be raped as a child was great suffering. To be exposed as complicit in a cover-up is surely merely . . . embarrassing?

The anger is palpable, and deserves to be read in full, which you can do here.

Meanwhile, the same paper carries a news report on the ongoing scandal of clerical sex abuse., under the extraordinary headline “Sex abuse rife in other religions, says Vatican.”

The Vatican has lashed out at criticism over its handling of its paedophilia crisis by saying the Catholic church was “busy cleaning its own house” and that the problems with clerical sex abuse in other churches were as big, if not bigger.

Now, what confessor would ever forgive you for confessing a sin of, say abortion, if you pleaded in mitigation that other people were doing it too? Besides, I cannot believe that the plea is even true. I agree that the Catholic church has attracted a disproportionate share of attention in the abuse scandal.  Sexual abuse of children occurs in many contexts other than the churches, particularly within the family circle.  (My own experience of sexual abuse came at the hands of a scout master.) I am convinced that the reason for the greater attention to the Catholic church is the centralised nature of the church and its perceived wealth, makes it a more realistic and lucrative target for those seeking financial compensation: far easier than trying to sue Uncle Joe, or the local scout master. There is poetic justice in this, as one of the primary causes identified by the most reliable investigators, is the excessive concentration of power in the church.

I also accept that there may be problems in other denominations and faiths, but cannot believe that the problems are “as big, if not bigger” elsewhere.  The second major cause for the problem is that of compulsory celibacy, which does not exist in other churches – nor does the centralised control.  If the two primary causes identified by investigators do not exist in other churches, I would be surprised if the problem there are worse than in the Catholic church.  A further  assertion contradicted by other evidence,  once again laid the blame on those  nasty  homosexuals:

A defiant and provocative statement, issued following a meeting of the UN human rights council in Geneva, the Holy See said the majority of Catholic clergy who committed such acts were not paedophiles but homosexuals attracted to sex with adolescent males.

Independent, published research shows that victims of clerical abuse include twice as many girls as boys. Besides, are we to assume from this that sexual predation of adolescents by priests is somehow OK because they are no longer children? Whether or not this is technically child abuse is irrelevant. it remains abuse, just as the coercion of adult seminarians, priests and women religious by their religious superiors is also sexual abuse.

The most astonishing assertion in the statement though, is the following:

The statement, read out by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the UN, defended its record by claiming that “available research” showed that only 1.5%-5% of Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse.

“Only” 1.5 % to 5% ? I would have thought a more appropriate descriptor would have been “As many as an astonishing 1 in 20 Catholic clergy were involved in child sex abuse.”.  now remember, this statement refers only to child sex abuse. – presumably as defined by themselves above. After adding in the abuse of adolescents  (not considered above), of seminarians, women religious and adult priests by their superiors, or of voluntary partners forced into sharing secrecy in the clerical closet, just what does that figure of 5% grow to?

Once again, let us remember the logo of a church youth commission:

The worst logo ever?

The worst logo ever?

Finally, for sheer brazen cynicism, take a look at this:

The statement concluded: “As the Catholic church has been busy cleaning its own house, it would be good if other institutions and authorities, where the major part of abuses are reported, could do the same and inform the media about it.”

The Catholic Church has been “cleaning its own house“?  How, exactly, apart from scapegoating the homosexuals, and shielding those who were culpable from public scrutiny or public prosecution? As for “could do the same and inform the media about it“, perhaps they could begin in Connecticut, and throw open to the media the records they have been trying (by court order) to keep out of the public domain.

The critics and other denominations are unconvinced:

Porteous Wood said the Holy See had not contradicted any of his accusations. “The many thousands of victims of abuse deserve the international community to hold the Vatican to account, something it has been unwilling to do, so far. Both states and children’s organisations must unite to pressurise the Vatican to open its files, change its procedures worldwide, and report suspected abusers to civil authorities.”
Representatives from other religions were dismayed by the Holy See’s attempts to distance itself from controversy by pointing the finger at other faiths.

Joseph Potasnik, head of the New York Board of Rabbis, said: “Comparative tragedy is a dangerous path on which to travel. All of us need to look within our own communities. Child abuse is sinful and shameful and we must expel them immediately from our midst.”

A spokesman for the US Episcopal Church said measures for the prevention of sexual misconduct and the safeguarding of children had been in place for years.

The full report from the Guardian may be read here.

Fr Maciel with Pope John Paul II

Fr Maciel with Pope John Paul II

For more information on the Vatican’s approach to “putting its house in order” in the specific allegations against Legionnaries of Christ head Fr Marcel Maciel Dellogado, take a look at Colleen Kochivar-Bakers’ illuminating post at Enlightened Catholicism, Legion  a Problem for the Vatican. This post describes clearly how the Legion, founded by Fr Dellogado, has amassed extraordinary wealth, which they generously distribute as gifts (or bribes?) to their powerful sponsors in the hierarchy.  Colleen then compares the softly-softly approach of the Vatican in dealing with Fr Dellogado and its “investigation” of  the Legion with that of the LCWR.

It is high time that we planned a corresponding investigation of the Vatican elites themselves.

Previous posts on clerical abuse:

Sexual Abuse – my experience

The Myth of Priestly Celibacy

Coming Out as Wrestling With the Divine (Reflection on Richard Cleaver, Know My Name)

Coming Out as Spiritual Experience (Reflection on Daniel Helminiak, Sex and the Sacred)

The Tyranny of the Clerical Closet

Confronting Power and Abuse in the Catholic Church (Reflection on Bishop Geoffrey Robinson,Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church)

Clerical Abuse – A lesson from South Africa

Clerical Abuse: How we are all Victims

Clerical Abuse: How we are all Complicit, Part I

Clerical Abuse: How we are all Complicit, Part II

Coming soon (yes, really):  the much promised, often postponed and important conclusion, to which all this has been leading:  “How we are all the solution”.

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