Slate.com March 15, 2010
The Great Catholic Cover-Up
The pope's entire career has the stench of evil about it.
By Christopher Hitchens
On March 10, the chief exorcist of the Vatican, the Rev. Gabriele Amorth (who has held this demanding post for 25 years), was quoted as saying that "the Devil is at work inside the Vatican," and that "when one speaks of 'the smoke of Satan' in the holy rooms, it is all true—including these latest stories of violence and pedophilia." This can perhaps be taken as confirmation that something horrible has indeed been going on in the holy precincts, though most inquiries show it to have a perfectly good material explanation.
Concerning the most recent revelations about the steady complicity of the Vatican in the ongoing—indeed endless—scandal of child rape, a few days later a spokesman for the Holy See made a concession in the guise of a denial. It was clear, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, that an attempt was being made "to find elements to involve the Holy Father personally in issues of abuse." He stupidly went on to say that "those efforts have failed."
He was wrong twice. In the first place, nobody has had to strive to find such evidence: It has surfaced, as it was bound to do. In the second place, this extension of the awful scandal to the topmost level of the Roman Catholic Church is a process that has only just begun. Yet it became in a sense inevitable when the College of Cardinals elected, as the vicar of Christ on Earth, the man chiefly responsible for the original cover-up. (One of the sanctified voters in that "election" was Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, a man who had already found the jurisdiction of Massachusetts a bit too warm for his liking.)
There are two separate but related matters here: First, the individual responsibility of the pope in one instance of this moral nightmare and, second, his more general and institutional responsibility for the wider lawbreaking and for the shame and disgrace that goes with it. The first story is easily told, and it is not denied by anybody. In 1979, an 11-year-old German boy identified as Wilfried F. was taken on a vacation trip to the mountains by a priest. After that, he was administered alcohol, locked in his bedroom, stripped naked, and forced to suck the penis of his confessor. (Why do we limit ourselves to calling this sort of thing "abuse"?) The offending cleric was transferred from Essen to Munich for "therapy" by a decision of then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, and assurances were given that he would no longer have children in his care. But it took no time for Ratzinger's deputy, Vicar General Gerhard Gruber, to return him to "pastoral" work, where he soon enough resumed his career of sexual assault.
It is, of course, claimed, and it will no doubt later be partially un-claimed, that Ratzinger himself knew nothing of this second outrage. I quote, here, from the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a former employee of the Vatican Embassy in Washington and an early critic of the Catholic Church's sloth in responding to child-rape allegations. "Nonsense," he says. "Pope Benedict is a micromanager. He's the old style. Anything like that would necessarily have been brought to his attention. Tell the vicar general to find a better line. What he's trying to do, obviously, is protect the pope."
This is common or garden stuff, very familiar to American and Australian and Irish Catholics whose children's rape and torture, and the cover-up of same by the tactic of moving rapists and torturers from parish to parish, has been painstakingly and comprehensively exposed. It's on a level with the recent belated admission by the pope's brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, that while he knew nothing about sexual assault at the choir school he ran between 1964 and 1994, now that he remembers it, he is sorry for his practice of slapping the boys around.
Very much more serious is the role of Joseph Ratzinger, before the church decided to make him supreme leader, in obstructing justice on a global scale. After his promotion to cardinal, he was put in charge of the so-called "Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith" (formerly known as the Inquisition). In 2001, Pope John Paul II placed this department in charge of the investigation of child rape and torture by Catholic priests. In May of that year, Ratzinger issued a confidential letter to every bishop. In it, he reminded them of the extreme gravity of a certain crime. But that crime was the reporting of the rape and torture. The accusations, intoned Ratzinger, were only treatable within the church's own exclusive jurisdiction. Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities or the press was utterly forbidden. Charges were to be investigated "in the most secretive way ... restrained by a perpetual silence ... and everyone ... is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication." (My italics). Nobody has yet been excommunicated for the rape and torture of children, but exposing the offense could get you into serious trouble. And this is the church that warns us against moral relativism! (See, for more on this appalling document, two reports in the London Observer of April 24, 2005, by Jamie Doward.)
Not content with shielding its own priests from the law, Ratzinger's office even wrote its own private statute of limitations. The church's jurisdiction, claimed Ratzinger, "begins to run from the day when the minor has completed the 18th year of age" and then lasts for 10 more years. Daniel Shea, the attorney for two victims who sued Ratzinger and a church in Texas, correctly describes that latter stipulation as an obstruction of justice. "You can't investigate a case if you never find out about it. If you can manage to keep it secret for 18 years plus 10, the priest will get away with it."
The next item on this grisly docket will be the revival of the long-standing allegations against the Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the ultra-reactionary Legion of Christ, in which sexual assault seems to have been almost part of the liturgy. Senior ex-members of this secretive order found their complaints ignored and overridden by Ratzinger during the 1990s, if only because Father Maciel had been praised by the then-Pope John Paul II as an "efficacious guide to youth." And now behold the harvest of this long campaign of obfuscation. The Roman Catholic Church is headed by a mediocre Bavarian bureaucrat once tasked with the concealment of the foulest iniquity, whose ineptitude in that job now shows him to us as a man personally and professionally responsible for enabling a filthy wave of crime. Ratzinger himself may be banal, but his whole career has the stench of evil—a clinging and systematic evil that is beyond the power of exorcism to dispel. What is needed is not medieval incantation but the application of justice—and speedily at that.
Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the Roger S. Mertz media fellow at the Hoover Institution.
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The Guardian - UK March 17, 2010
A leader who wished to end the crisis would sack Cardinal Bernard Law
There is not very much that Pope Benedict XVI can do to rescue the church from the crisis over sexual abuse. The reforms which would make a practical difference have already been put in place, and he deserves some credit for that – he will not get it. The scandals emerging are all from the 1970s or 1980s but in the popular imagination they might as well be happening now. Many of the most eloquent attacks on the church, such as that from Christopher Hitchens in a recent article in Slate magazine, come from enemies who would never give it the benefit of doubt, and for the moment public opinion is with them.
The Catholic church has been framed as an institution for paedophiles, and truth is no defence to that perception. Even in Britain, where all the big scandals involving children being abused or even murdered have involved state care and secular institutions, and where according to Camila Batmanghelidjh more than half a million children are brought to the attention of the social services every single year and most of these are ignored to keep the figures looking good, there's no doubt that the Catholic church is written about as a more serious threat to the children in its care.
Less than half of 1% of the Catholic clergy in the UK over the last three decades or so have been accused of child abuse. That's too many, of course. Nor do such comparative statistics suggest that two wrongs make a right. But they do show that two wrongs don't make one wrong even if there is only one wrong in the news.
However, there is one gesture which a pope might make to improve things. The trouble is that Pope Benedict is not the pope who could. What has driven a great deal of the outrage is the perception that the church placed itself above the secular law. Well it does. As a global institution, it must. Otherwise it has no more moral worth than Google or News International, or any other multinational which will do business wherever it is profitable. And – especially under the Polish pope John Paul II who fought so hard against communism – the church's moral worth was validated by its utter refusal to bend to the standards of the society around it.
This alone explains Benedict's otherwise inexplicable and indefensible decision to give a job in Rome to Cardinal Bernard Law, who presided over terrible scandals in Boston and is wanted by a grand jury. A pope who wished to end the crisis would sack Law, and order him to return to face the grand jury. He would declare that secular society had been morally more advanced than the church over child abuse. That would be the last act in the long process of opening the church to the good things of the world which the second Vatican council set in motion in the 1960s. Ratzinger was an enthusiastic liberal then. It would take a miracle for him to return to that faith, and without it, the modern world will no longer trust his church.
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Slate.com - March 22, 2010
Tear Down That Wall
The Catholic priests who abused children—and the men who covered it up—must be prosecuted.
By Christopher Hitchens
Here's a little thought experiment on practical ethics. Suppose that you are having a drink with a new acquaintance and the subject of law-breaking comes up. "Ever been in any trouble with the authorities?"
You may perhaps mention your arrest at a demonstration, your smuggling of excess duty-free goods, that brush with the narcotics people, that unwise attempt at insider trading. Your counterpart may show a closer acquaintance with the criminal justice system. He once did a bit of time for forgery, or for robbery with a touch of violence, or for a domestic dispute that got a bit out of hand. You are still perhaps ready to have lunch next Friday. But what if he says: "Well, I once knew a couple who trusted me as their baby sitter. Two little boys they had—one of 12 and one of 10. A good bit of fun I had with those kids when nobody was looking. Told them it was our secret. I was sorry when it all ended." I hope I don't seem too judgmental if I say that at this point the lunch is canceled or indefinitely postponed.
And would you feel any less or any more revulsion if the man went on to say, "Of course, I wasn't strictly speaking in any trouble with the law. I'm a Catholic priest, so we don't bother the police or the courts with that stuff. We take care of it ourselves, if you catch my meaning"?
Yet this is exactly what we are forced to read about every day. The happiness and the health of countless children was systematically destroyed by men who could count on their clerical bosses to shield them from legal retribution and, it seems, even from moral condemnation. A bit of "therapy" or a swift change of locale was the worst that most of them had to fear.
Almost every week, I go and debate with spokesmen of religious faith. Invariably and without exception, they inform me that without a belief in supernatural authority I would have no basis for my morality. Yet here is an ancient Christian church that deals in awful certainties when it comes to outright condemnation of sins like divorce, abortion, contraception, and homosexuality between consenting adults. For these offenses there is no forgiveness, and moral absolutism is invoked. Yet let the subject be the rape and torture of defenseless children, and at once every kind of wiggle room and excuse-making is invoked. What can one say of a church that finds so much latitude for a crime so ghastly that no morally normal person can even think of it without shuddering?
It's interesting, too, that the same church did its best to hide the rape and torture from the secular authorities, even forcing child victims (as in the disgusting case of Cardinal Sean Brady, the spiritual chieftain of the Catholics of Ireland) to sign secrecy oaths that prevented them from testifying against their rapists and torturers. Why were they so afraid of secular justice? Did they think it would be less indifferent and pliable than private priestly investigations? In that case, what is left of the shabby half-baked argument that people can't understand elementary morality without a divine warrant?
One mustn't claim all that much for secular justice either, since Cardinal Brady and many like him have neither been dismissed by the church nor prosecuted by the civil power. But this dereliction on the part of the courts and police has mainly occurred in countries or provinces—Ireland, Massachusetts, Bavaria—where the church has undue influence on the bureaucracy. When are we going to see what the parents and relatives of the devastated children want to see and need to see: a senior accomplice of the cover-up actually facing a jury?
Pope Benedict's pathetic and euphemistic letter to his "flock" in Ireland doesn't even propose that such people should lose their positions in the church. And this cowardly guardedness on his part is for a good and sufficient reason: If there was to be a serious criminal investigation, it would have to depose the pope himself. Not only did he, as Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, protect a dangerously criminal priest in his own diocese of Munich and Freising in 1980, having him sent only for "therapy" instead of having him arrested. (The question of the priest's later reassignment to assault more children, which the church continues to obfuscate, is irrelevant to the fact of Ratzinger's direct and personal involvement in the original crime.) Not content with this, Ratzinger later originated, as a cardinal and head of a major institution in Rome, a letter that effectively instructed all bishops to refuse cooperation with any inquiry into what was fast becoming a global scandal.
Eighteen of Germany's 27 Roman Catholic dioceses are now facing government investigations after a breach in what Germany's justice minister has rightly described as "a wall of silence." That wall was originally constructed by the man who now heads the church. The wall must be torn down.The fish—the ancient Christian symbol adopted by those who regard human beings as a shoal to be netted—absolutely rots from the head. I don't think the full implications of this have even begun to sink in. The supreme leader of the Roman Catholic Church is now a prima facie suspect in a criminal enterprise of the most appalling sort—and in the attempt to obstruct justice that has been part and parcel of that enterprise. He is also the political head of a state—the Vatican—that has given asylum to wanted men like the disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston. What, then, is the position when the pope decides to travel—as, for example, he intends to do on a visit to Britain later this year? Does he have immunity? Does he claim it? Should he have it? These questions demand serious answers. Meanwhile, we should register the fact that the church can find ample room in its confessionals and its palaces for those who commit the most evil offense of all. Whether prosecuted or not, they stand condemned. But prosecution must follow, or else we admit that there are men and institutions that are above and beyond our laws.
Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the Roger S. Mertz media fellow at the Hoover Institution.
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