Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Can the Pope Swim?

I watched two discussions of the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church on television last night. In one, there was a lay spokesman for the Church, a horrible fellow named William Donohue, who actually defended the bishops and the pope in their handling of this criminal behavior. At one point, he even seemed to suggest that the sexual abuse was partly the fault of the children for being "post-pubescent." There was, too, a newly ordained priest, a young, fresh-faced man, who talked about how bright the future looked for the Church now that the scandals were forcing institutional reforms. The implication, of course, is that thousands and thousands of children had to be raped in order to compel the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to behave like decent human beings.

The import of these discussions was that the wagons are being circled around Pope Benedict, whose own record of collusion is slowly coming to the surface. It is now being claimed repeatedly that Ratzinger did not know anything about the sexual abuse of children when he was a priest, a bishop, and a cardinal. But given how widespread that abuse was, and that it was occurring in his own diocese, one can only conclude that, if he did not know, he was either a fool or an incompetent. How, then, did he achieve such high office within the Church?

The truth, of course, is that he did know, that he had to know, since priests under his authority were committing the crimes and being protected and transferred from parish to parish, and among those priests was the pope's own brother. If we are to believe that Cardinal Ratzinger was ignorant of the crimes, then we must believe that he did not know what the priests under his authority were doing - the crimes they were committing (including one priest's molestation of over 200 deaf children, of which Cardinal Ratzinger was aware) - nor even what his own brother had done. This is nonsense. It is much easier to believe that he did know, and in keeping with the practice of the hierarchy, he covered it up. This cover-up included transferring priests from parish to parish to prevent their prosecution, thereby not only concealing their crimes, but permitting the abuse to continue and to spread to more and more children. This Ratzinger almost certainly did as bishop and as cardinal, and his current behavior as pope continues the cover-up - this time of his own criminal collusion.

In a statement at the beginning of Holy Week, while the first suspicions were swirling around him, the pope said only that people should not listen to "the chatter of dominant opinion." Chatter? These are serious accusations based on the tragic experiences of little children - people who have suffered the effects all their lives, and whose stories are multiplying by the day. Opinion? The molestations are facts, and the facts, too, keep multiplying. Also facts are the confessions of pedophile priests, whose numbers are growing, and the admissions of bishops and cardinals that they aided these criminals by conspiring to shield them from exposure and prosecution. As I said in an earlier post: If the Archdiocese of Boston, for example, admits to 400 pedophile priests, then it knows of 400 more, and is not yet aware of 400 beyond that. The scandal is three or four times greater than the authorities know, or the Church is willing to admit.

And there is another point: In both of the discussions last night, it was suggested by Church spokesmen that the sexual abuse of children by clergy dates back only to the experience of the victims who have recently come forward; that is, that it dates back only about fifty years. Yet a moment's reflection will show that this is absurd. Priest sexual abuse did not suddenly spring up in the 1950s. It goes back much farther than that - indeed, it probably has been a fact of the life of the Church for hundreds of years.

What I am saying is that the abuse of children by priests (and nuns, too) has long been part of the institutional structure of the Catholic Church, reinforced by the fact that so many priests have been guilty of it or have colluded in it, and that some of these guilty priests became bishops and cardinals and even popes. In this way, the cover-up mentality spread upwards as the sexual abuse spread outwards, and pedophilia and its official sanction thus became woven into the institutional fabric of the Church.

That this is so is indicated by the recent discovery of a 1962 Vatican document, which was a set of instructions sent to every bishop in the world regarding sexual misconduct by priests. In it bishops are instructed to bind both priests and victims with a solemn pledge, in writing, of absolute secrecy, which enjoins them not to discuss the allegations of abuse outside of the Church under penalty of excommunication - that is, of being exiled from the Church. (Given that the Church holds - or held at that time - that salvation of one's soul was possible only through membership in the Church, this means that accusations of sexual abuse by priests were to be concealed from secular authorities under threat of eternal damnation - the Church's inevitable trump card.)

Instantly, of course, the Church responded as it has done to every revelation in the sex abuse scandal - it launched a public relations campaign. It claims, incredibly, that although the document was sent to every bishop on earth in 1962, the bishops were unaware of its contents until Vatican instructions on handling sex abuse allegations were revised in 1984. Yet how likely is it that a top secret document which provided instructions on the most sensitive subject in the Church remained unopened and unread by the bishops to whom it was sent? Of course, the Vatican is lying about this, just as it has consistently tried to cover up, rationalize, and minimize every aspect of the sex abuse scandal.

On one of the television discussions, the odious Church spokesman Donohue waved this document at the camera claiming that reports that it was an order for bishops to cover up abuse allegations was a lie. It applied, he insisted, only to solicitation of sex by priests in the confessional. But it was Donohue who was lying, since, as The Guardian reports, "the instructions also cover what it calls the 'worst crime', described as an obscene act perpetrated by a cleric with 'youths of either sex...'" This specific mention of pedophilia proves two things: 1) that the Vatican was aware of the abuse and, in sending the instructions to every bishop in the world, of how widespread it was, and 2) that it engaged in an international criminal conspiracy to aid and abet pedophiles in concealing their crimes and silencing their victims.

Now these facts are emerging onto the world stage, as the pope himself is being drawn into the filthy cauldron of the scandal of sexual abuse and its institutional sanction. Leaving aside the question of whether Pope Benedict himself abused children, it is almost certain that he knew of it, conspired to cover it up, and, in so doing, facilitated the further spread of the disease. He is what the law calls an accessory after the fact, through aiding and abetting some of the most heinous and vicious criminals known to humanity. And as such, he should be stripped of his white robes and consigned to a mendicant's sackcloth, if not a prisoner's denims.

That, at least, would be more lenient than the remedy suggested by Jesus, who said that anyone who "gave scandal" to children, should have a millstone tied around his neck and be thrown into the sea.