Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"The big Vatican summit wrapped up, closing ceremonies were Harry Connick Jr. The Vatican is taking a tough stand now, three strikes and you're transferred"
-David Letterman
You know when a story is developing fast when Wikipedia can't keep up with it. Wikipedia entries such as 'Catholic Sex Abuse Cases' and 'Roman Catholic Sex Abuse Cases By Country' become outdated by the day. Allegations of clerical sex abuse which have been simmering for some time in Europe and Latin America have, in the last few days, reached the same level of public scandal that they have long had in North America and Ireland. Hundreds of victims are coming forward. This is not surprising as it would beggar the imagination to think that the problem was restricted to only a few countries.
A few things should be noted. One is that this is hardly "news". It was common knowledge and a standing joke when I was a kid. According to my dearly departed father it was the subject of jokes when he was young. My father, by the way, was born in 1895. The difference was that it was never published in those days. Trying to do so would have meant serious consequences. I have little doubt that the problem extends as far back as there have been celibate priests. Blame the "reforms" of the Middle Ages that got rid of the priestly "housekeepers".
Another thing is that the problem is hardly restricted to the Catholic clergy, as defenders of same have noted-over and over and over and over. It existed and exists in other religious denominations and in any work situation where adults are given excessive power over children. In actual fact I suspect that the greatest incidence of such things, when all the furore has died down and all the prosecutions have been completed, will be found to have been not just in the Church "orphanages" but also in state run "kid jails". There have certainly been such cases in Canada,a nd there will be others. All this doesn't excuse the Catholic Church, but it does put the scandal in its proper perspective ie where adults have excessive control of children. Beware the "helping professions" and what they help themselves to.
The final thing to note is that the obsession with sexual abuse tends to deflect attention from the much more prevalent problem of physical violence. Trust me, I grew up Catholic, leaving the Church at age 15. Sometimes the violence was indeed associated with sex of the sadistic bent, but I suspect that the will to power rather than the will to pecker had a lot more to do with it. There are lots of personal anecdotes that I could relate such as actually outlasting the sadistic vice principal of the Catholic high school that I attended, as he whipped my hands until they were covered with blood from the deep cuts. To my credit I never flinched and looked at him with hatred the whole time. His hard on faded (yes he was a sexual sadist) and it became a simple power struggle. I won, at the cost of the wounds as he gave up first. The priest who sent me to the office because I was an asshole was all over himself with apologies because he knew damn well what his "brother" was. he thought that I was going to meet the intelligent fascist Principal. Ooops. Father Daniel later left the Jesuits and married the nun who used to meet him in the dead of night in the field between the boys and girls school for decent sex. One of the few decent priests I ever met. There were other incidents, but rather than be personal any more I'll merely note that some of the "techniques" that they used on us were things I later read about as military torture methods.
What has to be noted here is that I was a "white boy" with parents with which I lived and leftist parents at that. Here in Canada there is controversy about how many Indian children were actually "murdered" via the physical abuse that they suffered. can perhaps see why the fixation on "sex" makes me a bit uneasy. Speaking of the Natives (and probably kids in Newfoundland) I think that murder is a greater crime than buggery.
Back to the present. As the revelations, late coming as they may be, sweep across Europe the present Pope Benedict is feeling the heat. His own brother has been linked to at least one abuse case. In his own term as Archbishop of Munich (1977-1981) Ratzinger was himself involved in at least one case of transferring rather than either reporting or disciplining a molester priest. His aide at the time, Gerhard Gruber, "took the rap" for him, claiming that Ratzinger was unaware of the case in question.
That's all fair and good. Maybe true. Maybe not true. What is incontestable is that Ratzinger, before he became Pope, was for many years the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (old name the 'Holy Inquisition'). In that capacity pretty well every case of clerical sexual abuse would pass into his notice as the administrator of Canon Law. His response was pretty plain. In 2001 he sent a circular admonishing the Catholic bishops to "observe Papal secrecy" in relation to sexual abuse allegations against Catholic clergy. This was backed up by the treat of "ecclesiastical sanctions" should the bishops report the cases to civil authorities or make them public in any way. Nothing could be plainer. If there was one person who was most responsible for the cover up it was Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict.
Here's what dissident Catholic theologian Hans Kung has to say about Ratzinger's responsibility:
"Arens’s criticism echoes an attack on the church leadership by dissident Swiss theologian Hans Küng.
In an interview published in Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday, Küng said the pope should apologise personally, as "no other person within the church had seen so many cases of abuse pass through their office”.
Joseph Ratzinger [the pope] was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for 24 years – an office that has authority over church doctrine and jurisdiction for various matters including sexual misconduct of clergy.
“Protecting their priests seems to have counted more for the bishops than protecting children,” said Küng.
After the scandals in Ireland last month, more reports have emerged over recent months of abuse at church-run schools and institutions in Germany, including one linked to the Regensburg choir run by the pope’s brother, Georg Ratzinger, from 1964 to 1994. Some 300 victims have come forward since January.
Could anything be plainer ? By the way, go over to our sister site Molly's Polls to express your opinion about whether ratzinger will be "caught" in the court of public opinion on this matter and how much it will affact his Papacy.


Larry Gambone said...

When I was 14 back in 1959, a common joke involved a priest inviting a choir boy to come up to his room and "blow Gabriel's horn." That and jokes about buggering scoutmasters showed us the shadow side of the authorities.

Anonymous said...

A friend had this idea: since the Vatican is recognized as a State, why not charge them at the International Criminal Court? Would be quite the spectacle.

mollymew said...

There was actually a discussion about this over at the 'Religion' subreddit at teh Reddit board. The problem is that this sort of thing doesn't seem to fall under the purview of the court.