Two friends have sent me links to an article that appeared in the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer which reports that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has suspended twenty-one priests for the sexual molestation of children. This after the cardinal had stated that there were no guilty priests currently in the ministry in that diocese. The suspension is said to be the largest thus far in the priest sexual abuse scandal.
The report simply confirms what I and others have known for some time; namely, that the lies, the cover-up and the systematic protection of pedophiles among the Catholic clergy continue. Cardinal Rigali now brands himself as an active co-conspirator, having first attempted to deny the existence of these monsters, then having covered up for them, and only now having admitted to their crimes. As I have said before: If Rigali admits to twenty-one, then there are twenty-one more whom he has not yet exposed, and twenty-one more of whom he is not yet aware. The pattern is disgustingly consistent and predictable. The Catholic Church remains a conspiracy against the innocence of children, and the 'penitential Mass' which Rigali promises makes no difference, and only adds to the mounting hypocrisy.
Recently I wrote a screenplay on the subject of priest sexual abuse of children, and in the course of it, I found myself meditating on the extent of the clergy's criminal culpability. The Church continues to insist that the number of priest pedophiles is tiny, and their crimes, the rare exceptions. This is simply a lie, as the figures show. But there is a further lie beyond this numerical one. The character in my screenplay, a convicted priest molester, asserts that all of the Catholic clergy are guilty. His lawyer responds, surely, not all. To which the priest replies that those who did not commit the crimes covered them up, and those who did not cover them up knew about them, and those who did not know about them did not want to know. Priests, bishops, cardinals, popes, all are guilty.
I surprised myself when I wrote those lines, but upon reflection, I realize the truth of them. Catholic priests live in close-knit communities, sharing the same residence, the same meals, the same free time, the same common rooms. They eat together, pray together, play cards and talk and drive and get drunk together. In short, they live together, just as intimately and casually as does any family. Is it conceivable that in such a community, child rapists could exist unknown to the others? Ask yourself: When a community of priests finds a man suddenly transferred into its midst bearing with him the stench of scandal, watches his interactions with the boys of the parish, notes his behavior, his interests, his associations, and then sees him transferred out again just as suddenly, is it possible that they have no idea why?
To put it another way: Could you have a child rapist living in your home for months or years without knowing or at least suspecting what he was? Yet every rectory, every residence was a family, and in each and every one, pedophiles lived and prayed and ate and played and got drunk with the other priests. Those who did not commit the crimes covered them up, and those who did not cover them up knew about them and those who did not know about them did not want to know.
This last group is nearly the worst. They are moral cowards, accomplices to the molestations every bit as much as if they had lured the boys in or drugged them or held them down. Their stench almost equals that of the rapists, because they forfeited their vocation, their manliness, their morality, their humanity and their souls in turning their backs on what they knew or suspected was happening. They cannot hide behind their ignorance since their ignorance was willful. They left the innocent to their molesters, and now they claim they knew nothing. They are, in effect, like the Germans who claimed they knew nothing about the trains, about the camps, about the ovens. And, if Dante is correct, the hottest places in hell are reserved for them.
When will the scandal end? When the Church as it is currently constituted ends. When will the slate be wiped clean? For all the penitential Masses in the world, it will remain smudged with the tears and the tortured memories of violated children until the Church is cleansed of its clergy. To my mind, the only hope for the future of the Roman Church lies where it began: with the spirit of the Gospels in which Jesus said that if anyone violates a child it would be better for him that a stone were tied around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. All of the guilty lot of the Catholic clergy must be submerged beneath their collective guilt, they must be exposed, punished and repudiated by the faithful, if the Church is ever to emerge again pure and cleansed, and reclaim its right to minister to innocents.