Posts Tagged “clergy abuse”

Benedict XVI in FatimaPope Benedict XVI has come one tiny step closer to contrition over the Catholic clerical abuse scandal, and asked for forgiveness, as the New York Times reports (WebCite cached article):

Addressing the sexual abuse crisis from the seat of the Roman Catholic Church before thousands of white-robed priests, Pope Benedict XVI on Friday begged forgiveness, saying the church would do “everything possible” to prevent priests from abusing children. …

The pope did not outline specific actions that the church would take to combat abuse, as many had hoped — and as Benedict had pledged at an audience in April. Nor did his remarks go much beyond what he had already said in a letter to Irish Catholics in March and in a private meeting with victims of sexual abuse on Malta in April.

But it was the first time that Benedict had asked forgiveness for the crisis from St. Peter’s Square, the heart of the church itself, and on an occasion focused on priests.

Even so, the Pope could not help but try to evade responsibility for everything that happened:

The pope said the Devil was behind the scandal, saying it had emerged now, in the middle of the Vatican’s Year of the Priest, because “the enemy,” or the Devil, wants to see “God driven out of the world.”

“And so it happened that in this very year of joy for the sacrament of the priesthood, the sins of priests came to light — particularly the abuse of the little ones,” the pope added.

So you see, once again, the Vatican’s thinking implicit behind everything that’s happened … this is not really a failing of the Church and by the Church. It is, instead, an external affliction, imposed on the Church from outside it, by the Devil; in other words, it’s part of an ongoing spiritual struggle between the godly Church and the Forces of Darkness, and it’s the clergy who are its real victims (having popped up during the Year of the Priest). The “little ones” or children who were abused, are merely incidental players in this drama, in the Vatican’s eyes.

So while I can say the Pope has become more contrite about this scandal than he has been in the past, by not accepting full responsibility for it, I cannot really say is truly 100% contrite yet.

Photo credit: Catholic Church (England and Wales).

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rodin gates of hell with thinker detail 05In a story I don’t know what to make of, a Vatican official has declared that abusive priests are damned to hellfire. CBS News reports on this declaration (WebCite cached article):

The Vatican prosecutor of clerical sex abuse warned perpetrators on Saturday that they would suffer damnation in hell that would be worse than the death penalty.

The Rev. Charles Scicluna, a Maltese priest who is a top official at the Vatican’s morality office, led a special “make amends” prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica. …

“It would be really better” for priests who sexually abuse minors that their crimes “cause them death” because for them, “damnation will be more terrible” in hell, Il Sole 24 Ore online news reported. …

Scicluna, who could not immediately be reached for comment, began with a meditation from St. Mark’s Gospel saying those who harm children would be better off tying a millstone to their neck and throwing themselves into the sea.

In case you’re not familiar with the passage in question, here it is, including as much of its context as I can reasonably provide in this space:

Sitting down, He [Jesus] called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me.” John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:35-50)

Scicluna’s rhetoric, therefore, is a bit harsh, especially given the Church has only recently — as in, just over the past couple of months — begun the slow process of acknowledging that its clergy have actually done something wrong and that this scandal is not merely the invention of “masonic secularists” or “Jews” or “great newspapers” or any of the rest of the denials they’ve offered.

Photo credit: Jon Himoff via Flickr.

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Pope Benedict XVI talks to journalists during a press conference aboard the airplane, Tuesday, May 11, 2010, on the way to Lisbon for his four day visit to Portugal. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)To date the Roman Catholic Church — and specifically, the Vatican which heads it — has consistently disavowed any responsibility of the Church in the clerical abuse scandal which has dogged it for some time and which really heated up during the last year (since the release of the Ryan Report). The Vatican, through various spokesmen, has instead blamed it on any number of other external agents, including (for example) Jews, and has even claimed there is no problem at all, that abuse claims were all trumped up by anti-Catholic people and groups, ranging from gays and abortionists to “masonic secularists” and “great newspapers.” These attempts at deflection have, for the most part, failed miserably.

It is, therefore, remarkable that none other than the Pope himself has finally admitted that the problem is real and that it was born within the Church itself. The AP via Google News reports on this admission (WebCite cached article):

In his most thorough admission of the church’s guilt in the clerical sex abuse scandal, Pope Benedict XVI said Tuesday the greatest persecution of the institution “is born from the sins within the church,” and not from a campaign by outsiders.

The pontiff said the Catholic church has always been tormented by problems of its own making — a tendency that is being witnessed today “in a truly terrifying way.” …

In a shift from the Vatican’s initial claim that the church was the victim of a campaign by the media and abortion rights and pro-gay marriage groups, Benedict said: “The greatest persecution of the church doesn’t come from enemies on the outside but is born from the sins within the church.”

Note that the Pope still calls this scandal a “persecution.” This is entirely in line with my own hypothesis that the Church views this scandal primarily as a spiritual contest with the Forces of Darkness; i.e. as a diabolical “attack” on the divine institution. That dimension remains the case. What has changed is that the Pope has admitted that this contest was generated from within the Church. The Pope is no longer blaming external agents for it, nor is he suggesting that it never happened, that it was merely a fictional construct woven out of whole cloth by people who hate the Catholic Church.

Thus, his admission is a step in the right direction. It’s merely one step, to be sure, but a definite step nonetheless. As such, it should be welcomed, as the step (only) that it is.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia.

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Pope Benedict XVI delivers his blessing during the weekly general audience, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 14, 2010.  (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)Everything that’s come out of the Vatican over the last couple months, only confirms what I’ve been saying for a while now (first here, then more recently here), which is that the Roman Catholic Church views the clerical child-abuse scandal as a merely-spiritual attack upon their righteous institution by the Forces of Darkness, rather than as a true criminal problem they need to address as such. Recently the Vatican alluded to the scandal, but in the process claimed that the scandal itself was an “attack,” thus confirming — once again — my assumption that this is how the Holy See views it. CBS News reports on this statement (WebCite cached article):

Pope Benedict XVI spoke Thursday about “attacks” on the church and the need for Catholics to repent for sins and recognize their mistakes, in an apparent reference to the clerical abuse scandal.

Benedict made the comments during a homily at a Mass inside the Vatican for members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. …

“I must say, we Christians, even in recent times, have often avoided the word ‘repent’, which seemed too tough. But now under attack from the world, which has been telling us about our sins … we realize that it’s necessary to repent, in other words, recognize what is wrong in our lives,” Benedict said.

To the Pope, then, “telling the Church about its sins” is equivalent to an “attack” on the Church.

In addition to this little snippet of evasiveness, I note that the Pope referred to “we Christians” and mentioned “Christians” throughout this homily. He did not refer to “the Church” or to “the clergy” in his comments … but to all “Christians.” Thus, he attempts to generalize the problem — as if to suggest the laity and non-Catholic Christians, who are “Christians” just as much as the R.C. clergy are — were somehow involved, and had something to “repent” that they were refusing to. Some of the laity have, to be sure, aided, abetted, and advocated for the criminal clergy and the hierarchy which enabled them (lay Catholics like Bill Donohue of the Catholic League leap immediately to mind in this regard*), but for the most part, lay Catholics as well as non-Catholics were not responsible for the decades or centuries of child abuse that the Roman Catholic Church allowed to happen. The Pope is wrong to include them in his comments about “repentance.” He is not admitting that it’s largely only the abusive priests, and the Catholic hierarchy — who covered up their activities, going as far as shuffling them around to different parishes, dioceses, and even countries in order to evade prosecution (cached article) — are the ones who have anything to “repent.”

Thus, the Pope implicates all of the world’s Christians in the criminality of this relative few. He’s doing this, of course, to make his own clergy and hierarchy appear less guilty than they truly are.

* To see some reasons why I say this, check out the Media Matters archive of Donohue material, among other sources.

Photo credit: AP Photo / Pier Paolo Cito via CBS News.

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St. John's Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta | Kon-Katidral ta' San Gwann #0649 Just when you thought this twisted, sordid tale of institutional rot and moral bankruptcy couldn’t get any stranger than it already has, the Roman Catholic Church’s clerical child abuse scandal has gone strange. First, the backstory, which is — unfortunately — not strange at all, but instead, predictable. This scandal hit Malta — some time ago, actually, but it’s only now that the extent of the abuse there has become known. The AP via Google News reports on this development (WebCite cached article):

Pope Benedict XVI visits Malta in two weeks, and some victims of sex abuse by priests on the predominantly Roman Catholic island say they want him to use the trip to apologize for their suffering. …

Last week, as the European church, the Vatican and pope were under fire for accusations of covering up sex crimes by its priests, a response team in Malta announced that it had received 84 allegations of child abuse allegedly involving 45 Maltese priests since it was established by the Maltese Catholic Church 11 years ago.

The article mentions the nature of this “response team,” the fact that no criminal charges have been made and likely won’t be made, and notes how intensely Catholic Malta is. But the strange part comes in its last three paragraphs:

One prominent case in Malta involved a U.S. congressman, Rep. Mark Foley.

The Florida Republican resigned from Congress in 2006 after he was confronted with sexually explicit computer messages he had sent to male teenage congressional pages. His attorneys have said that Foley is gay, suffers from alcohol addiction and was molested by a Catholic priest as a teenage altar boy.

The Rev. Anthony Mercieca, who has retired to Malta, has admitted having inappropriate encounters with Foley, including massaging him in the nude and skinny-dipping together. He denies ever having sex with Foley.

Fr Mercieca’s admission of “inappropriate encounters” but denials of having sex, are eerily similar to the old protestation that “I tried marijuana, but I didn’t inhale.” (President Clinton once said something along these lines.) I’m just not buying it.

I’m not sure, but it looks as though Mark Foley is the highest-profile victim of this worldwide scandal.

I’m guessing the Vatican won’t take this report very seriously, and instead, accuse the AP of being “anti-Catholic” for having reported on the Malta response team’s results. Yes, even though the Maltese Catholic Church itself appointed that panel! The black-robed and red-hatted men who rule the Vatican aren’t above a little paranoid irrationality, if it helps them dodge and swerve out of the way of yet another batch of bad news about its own affairs.

Photo credit: p_valdivieso.

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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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