29 Nov 2010

What the Pope should have said in his Easter sermon: "I did it. I was wrong. The buck stops here."

CHAIN THE DOGMA - April 7, 2010

What the Pope should have said in his Easter sermon: I did it. I was wrong. The buck stops here.

by Perry Bulwer

That's what the Pope should have said this past Easter, but didn't; that he did wrongfully neglect to fully protect children from predator priests, not only as Archbishop in Germany and as Cardinal and chief Inquisitor, head of doctrine and morals, in the Vatican, but also as Pope Benedict XVI. And what a perfect time to have accepted full, personal responsibility for the crimes committed by officials of the church that he now heads, regardless of when those crimes happened. After all, isn't that what Jesus did? At least that's what Christians believe, that Jesus took responsibility for all of humanity's sins by dying on the cross, even though he was supposedly perfect and without sin himself. Easter is supposed to be about redemption from sin, the very essence of Christianity, so one would expect the pope to lead by example, take up his cross, and seek redemption for himself and his church by confessing his own role in the secrecy and cover-ups of physical, sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse of countless children. Instead, in his Easter sermon the pope piously pointed to the sins of others, while expecting bishops and cardinals to take the heat off him and fall on their own swords.

Speaking of falling on swords, from time to time we read of Asian CEOs who commit suicide as their way of accepting full responsibility for scandals that occurred on their watch. Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting the pope kills himself. The metaphor of falling on your sword is used here to refer to accepting blame for someone else's actions. But why can a secular head of a corporation act more morally (not by suicide, but by accepting personal blame) than the religious head of a corporation church that “... positions itself in society as a moral institution [and] sets itself up to provide moral instruction not only for members of the Church, but for the rest of us as well”? What kind of morality makes excuses instead of confessions where crimes against children are concerned? And let me be clear about that, they are crimes, not sins. There is no such thing as sin, only crime.

It's not as if Benedict, or any of the preceding popes and church leaders, never knew until recently how to deal with those who commit crimes against children, which is what many priests and apologists are now claiming. For example, here's what the Rev. Thomas Reese of Georgetown University said recently about the child abuse crisis:

"Benedict grew in his understanding of the crisis. Like many other bishops at the beginning, he didn't understand it. . . . But he grew in his understanding because he listened to what the U.S. bishops had to say. He in fact got it quicker than other people in the Vatican."

Say what? Church leaders didn't understand the crisis? They didn't understand that child molestation, rape and torture was wrong? They didn't understand that simply moving priests who preyed on children to other parishes in secret would result in more victims? Bullshit! According to documents that have recently come to light in a U.S. lawsuit, one of the church's own experts on the problem of pedophile priests warned Vatican officials, in a 1963 submission commissioned at the request of Pope Paul VI, about the dangers of leaving those individuals in ministry. The letter was written by the Rev Gerald MC Fitzgerald, the head of an order that specialized in the treatment of priests accused of abusing children. He wrote:

"Personally, I am not sanguine of the return of priests to active duty who have been addicted to abnormal practices, especially sins with the young. Where there is indication of incorrigibility, because of the tremendous scandal given, I would most earnestly recommend total laicisation [defrocking]," he wrote. "I say 'total' … because when these men are taken before civil authority, the non-Catholic world definitely blames the discipline of celibacy for the perversion of these men."

But even with this revelation the Catholic hierarchy continues to make excuses for their secrecy and cover-ups of crimes against children. Here's what a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles had to say about the 1963 letter, after claiming that it was unlikely Pope Paul VI ever saw it, even though he requested it:

"The fact of the matter is, the prevailing ideas at the time about how to deal with abusive behaviour were not adequate. Clearly, society and the church have evolved new understandings of what causes sexually abusive behaviour and how to deal with it."

Other church leaders have made similar excuses and arguments, but they are odd excuses and arguments to make considering that the Catholic church holds itself up as the ultimate authority on morality, which they base on the Bible. But they can't have it both ways. They can't claim the moral high ground on one hand and on the other claim that they didn't know how to protect children from preying priests until very recently. After all, being the biblical scholars they are, they must be aware of what Jesus thought of those who offend children.

In chapter 18 of the book of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers exactly what should be done to those who offend children. There are various translations, but on a plain reading of the words, without resorting to theological semantics, they all say essentially the same thing, that anyone who commits an offence against a child ought to be drowned in the sea, or at least cut-off from the fellowship of believers. That's the remedy for child abusers prescribed by Jesus himself, 2000 years ago, yet it seems as if the Catholic hierarchy conveniently overlooks those biblical instructions, being more concerned about excommunicating priests and nuns for “attempting marriage” than in excommunicating and reporting to secular authorities those in their midst guilty of the most heinous crimes against children. So much for claiming the moral high ground.

One final thought on the Vatican wanting it both ways. In the case of the predator priest who abused 200 deaf boys, it was the bishops in Wisconsin that pushed for the Vatican to defrock him, but Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the time, ignored the bishops and refused to allow the defrocking of the pedophile. Yet, another case has just emerged where a priest charged in the U.S. with sex assault of a young girl is still serving in India. In that case, the Vatican claims it recommended that the priest be defrocked, but that the local bishops refused. A lawyer for the Holy See, Jeffrey Lena, responding to that case said in a recent statement:

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith suggested in this matter that Father Jeyapaul agree to laicization, demonstrating that the Congregation believed that the accusations were serious enough to merit dismissal from the clerical state. However, as a matter of longstanding canon law, such decisions are made by the local bishop, who is deemed to be generally in the best position to adjudicate the case relating to the priest in question.”

If that's not having it both ways, I don't know what is. It's like the church is tossing a coin to determine which priests should be defrocked, saying to the victims of predator priests, “Heads we win, tails you lose.”

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Chicago Tribune - April 5, 2010

A papal resignation and pedophile priests

by Katha Pollitt | Opinion

My favorite moment of the whole child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church was when Father Klaus Malangre suggested that Peter Hullermann, the redoubtable German pedophile priest, might be sent to work in a girls' school. No boys, no molestation. Or, in churchly language, no occasion of sin. Problem solved! Plus, the good father would spend his life warding off female cooties. Malangre must not have heard about priests — and they do exist — who abused male and female children. Nor had he learned the lesson of Watergate: The cover-up is worse than the crime.

The church has yet to learn that lesson. There is a positively Nixonian smarmy truculence in the response of church hierarchs to the ongoing scandal, which now involves Pope Benedict XVI. On Palm Sunday, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan urged worshippers at St. Patrick's Cathedral to show "love and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering some of the same unjust accusations, shouts of the mob and scourging at the pillar, as did Jesus." On his blog, Dolan explains that what gets Catholics angry is not just the molestations themselves but also that "the sexual abuse of minors is presented as a tragedy unique to the church alone." Oh, really? Does the name Mary Kay Letourneau mean nothing to him? This man needs to read the tabloids, which have for years featured an endless parade of molesting teachers, doctors, dentists, therapists and scout leaders. To go by the news, looking at child pornography on one's office computer is so common, it's a wonder anyone finds the time to abuse real kids. At this late date I doubt anyone is unaware that the sexual abuse of children is a widespread phenomenon.

The difference is, when other professionals who work with children are caught out, justice takes its course. People are fired. Licenses are lost. Reputations are ruined. Sometimes jail is involved. No human institution is perfect, and it would be foolish to suggest that incidents are always investigated and that abusers who don't happen to be priests are never protected by colleagues or superiors. Still, it's probably safe to say that if a principal was accused of overlooking a child molester in his classrooms or recycling him to other schools, nobody would compare his suffering to Christ's.

And nobody would be asking for his views about sex, reproduction, women, homosexuality or health care either. The moral authority granted the Catholic Church in the secular world is for me the most repellent aspect of the current crisis. The same institution that has dealt so indulgently with its ordained pedophiles had no problem excommunicating a Brazilian mother who sought an abortion for her 9-year-old daughter, raped and impregnated with twins by her stepfather, or pushing for laws in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Chile banning abortion even to save the woman's life. Most Catholics take a flexible view of the church's teachings on sexuality. They use birth control — how else could Italy, Spain and Poland have among the lowest birthrates in the world? They divorce and remarry, use condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, undergo in vitro and other banned fertility treatments and even have abortions. Yet there were the bishops, holding the whole health care reform bill hostage to their opposition to abortion rights, advising on the crafting of language right in the halls of Congress.

There isn't much that non-Catholics can do to force the church to abandon its 2,000-year-old misogynistic ways. But certainly the rest of us can demand that the Obama administration, Congress and government generally stop catering to the Vatican.

In February, Bishop Margot Kaessmann, the first woman to head the German Protestant Church and a much-admired public figure, was caught running a red light while intoxicated. There was a lot of sympathy for her, even in the conservative media, which disagreed with her liberal and anti-war views, and she received the support of the church's governing body. Nonetheless, within four days Kaessmann resigned, saying her moral authority had been so compromised she could no longer do right by her high office. Maybe Pope Benedict and his bishops could learn something from her example.

Agence Global

Katha Pollitt is a columnist for The Nation magazine.

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