I’ve blogged before about the Roman Catholic clerical-abuse scandals, here in the U.S. and in Ireland. It’s also happened in other countries, such as Australia and Canada. But this scandal has finally hit home for the current Pope — literally (WebCite cached article). The German magazine Der Spiegel offers an exposé in how it has been going on, for decades, in the Benedict XVI’s native Germany:

Inside Germany’s Catholic Sexual Abuse Scandal

This is what it looks like, the document of a conspiracy: 24 pages, with appendix, in Latin, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican. A “norma interna,” or confidential set of guidelines for all bishops, who were required to keep it a secret for all eternity, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

The guidelines, issued in the year of our Lord 1962, address a sensitive subject: sex in the confessional. The Vatican doesn’t put it quite that directly, preferring to use more guarded terminology to describe what happens when a priest leads a member of his flock astray before, during or after the confession — in other words, when he provokes a penitent “toward impure and obscene matters” through “words or signs or nods of the head (or) by touch.”

According to the instructions from Rome, the bishops were to deal very firmly with each individual case — so firmly, in fact, that everything would remain within the confines of the Holy Church. After all, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — formerly known as the Inquisition — has centuries of experience in conducting internal investigations. The Vatican has always filled all the positions in such investigations — prosecutors, defendants, judges — from within its own ranks, while the investigation files have been kept in the secret archives of the Roman Curia.

Because these guidelines were issued with regard to the sacrament of Confession — or Reconciliation as it’s more commonly known — the focus of this document, naturally, is on secrecy … because of the fact that everything having to do with the confessional is supposed to be kept secret. The problem with this is that the document in question has been used as a precedent for how the Roman Catholic Church handles all accusations of clerical abuse … even when it didn’t occur within the confessional or in connection with that sacrament. This is, of course, extremely convenient for the Church.

Der Spiegel‘s report is a a multi-page online document which covers a lot of ground. I cannot address all of its points. I will point out only a couple:

In page 4 of the report (cached), the weakness of the Church’s own internal criminal law (not government criminal law) is mentioned:

But because the Church refuses to admit to the mere possibility of crimes within its own ranks, its criminal law is as obfuscating as incense smoke at the altar. “One can’t say that the criminal law has any practical significance,” says Klaus Lüdicke, an expert on church law in the northwestern German city of Münster. In the past, he adds, the number of cases that became known was “negligibly small.”

The Church, then, cannot philosophically accept with the possibility of crimes being committed by its priests, so it barely deals with the subject at all, and the Church’s apologists toss it away as “negligible.” How nice.

On the same page, it’s mentioned that German Catholic hierarchs dismissed abuse cases as a merely-American aberration back in 2002, but found out that this wasn’t so:

Even after the massive abuse scandal in the United States in 2002, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the bishop of the southwestern German city of Mainz and the head of the German Catholic Church at the time, felt no particular need to take action. “We don’t have a problem of the same dimension (as in the American Church),” he told SPIEGEL in an interview at the time. In his diocese, he said, anyone who “is truly a pedophile is immediately removed from pastoral service.” These kinds of people, he said, could “not simply be transferred to a different location.”

Only a few weeks later, however, Lehmann was confronted with a new case of abuse inside his own diocese, in a parish near Darmstadt. A few months earlier, parents in a small city near Frankfurt had discovered, to their dismay, that the new director of their children’s choir, Father E., was the same man who had been forced to leave his previous parish because of questionable relationships with minors. Lehmann’s system had already shuffled the priest around several times from one location to another.

On page 6 of the report (cached), Der Spiegel mentions that help has been offered to the Church to help treat priests who may be pedophiles, but that offer wasn’t well-received:

Klaus Beier, one of Germany’s most prominent medical experts on sexuality, initiated the Dunkelfeld Prevention Project at Berlin’s Charité University Hospital to help pedophile men. Some of the men who have participated in the project are religious, and for them the path to his institute was particularly difficult. Beier has assessed a number of priests, including members of orders, sometimes in the context of trials and sometimes in response to a church’s request. …

Beier, who is convinced that priests can be helped, offered his support to the Vatican in a letter to Pope Benedict XVI in the autumn of 2008. His clinical experiences, he wrote to the Holy Father, could “be of great benefit to affected members of the clergy.”

Surprisingly enough, the Vatican responded to Beier’s letter. “On behalf of the Holy See, I wish to thank you for your concern about the welfare of children and your efforts to provide appropriate assistance to those affected,” an official with the Vatican Secretariat of State wrote. Beier’s remarks, he added, would be “carefully acknowledged and forwarded to the appropriate officials.”

Folks, this is known as the “we’ll take this under advisement” dismissal. Der Spiegel did not say that the Vatican has responded to Beier in any other way, so it’s safe to conclude that the Vatican is not going to ask him for his help.

As long as the Roman Catholic Church retains its insular and secretive treatment of these cases, things will not change, and the abuse will not stop. The truth about the Church is that it is hypocritical down to its very core … claiming to be the sole remaining arbiter of morality and ethics in the world, yet unwilling to examine the morality or ethics of its own hierarchy or clergy.

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