It is recorded in Barbara Coloroso’s 2007 book, “Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide,” that
In April 2004, at a ceremony in Kagali, Rwanda, marking the ten-year anniversary of the genocide, one speaker assured all those who had asked for forgiveness for their crimes in the genocide that they would be forgiven and would “sit at the right hand of God.” Those who refused to forgive the genocidaires for killing their children in front of them, butchering their kin, for hunting them like animals, would find themselves “burning in Hell” for refusing to forgive.
Coloroso does not provide the identity of the speaker of these sentiments, but I would wager my money on the suspicion that this individual’s bread is buttered on the wages of a religious profession. One might note further the self-interest and even conflict of interest when persons of religious office pontificate concerning the themes of getting right with God and repairing the injuries to faith constituted by crimes against humanity. These concerns precisely you will discover in this past weekend’s Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland regarding the abuse of children, issued by Joe Ratzinger, who these days goes by the corporate title Benedict XVI.
If the opening quotation seems to you gratuitous or overly harsh, perhaps it is worth rehearsing the list of crimes for which the Vatican has been called to account in past years, or which in some cases remain to be addressed. The list includes, as we well know, the sexual and physical abuse of children worldwide, active complicity in genocides in Germany, Poland, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and the Americas, religious crusades, Inquisitions, the hindrance of medical research and scientific progress, and the role of the Church in brutal colonialist enterprises throughout history. That is a partial list only, but you get the flavour of the beverage, which comes in a very very tall glass indeed.
Despite all of this, Mr. Ratzinger manages to compose a Letter dwelling inordinately upon the modern historic tribulations of the Roman Church in Ireland, beginning with the 1681 martyrdom of Oliver Plunkett, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh in the late 1600s. A cruel, barbaric death, to be sure (and largely accomplished through the personal efforts of the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury) — but hardly relevant to the subject of institutional child sexual abuse. Plunkett’s death occurred within the context of religious rivalry among adults, and Ratzinger’s inability to see how out of place this history is reminds us of a more recent Ireland, and more recent sacrifices of children to the same sordid political cause. That this Pope manages to employ the example of Ireland as foil to his attempted dignification of the Faith, and to do so without an apparent sense of irony, is a marvel.
In my own limited but close-up experience of Catholic officials who are tasked with the issue of predatory sexual abuse within their ranks, I have noted a keen-ness to get right to the matters of “reconciliation” and “renewal.” The officials I have been in meetings with have come armed with lawyers and speaking points to these ends. Pope Benedict XVI is in this regard no different. If you doubt me, read the Letter for yourself and you will see how the entire performance circles obsessively around one central idea: renewal of the Church. This is hardly surprising, given the fact that today the Catholic Church is a withering artifact living parasitically off of its better, colonialist days. Ratzinger can hardly stray from this concern, obsessed as he seems to be with the unfortunate secular drift of things and another “scandal” (elsewhere referred to as a “grievous wound”) to further empty the pews and coffers.
If the Canadian experience is any indication, Irish citizens should expect little from the Catholic Church. If there is any meaningful action, it will be the secular authorities which provide the spur. In Canada, Catholic entities operated 70% of the Indian residential schools and were responsible for most of the abuses, including the cover-ups. But because “The Catholic Church” is not a legal entity in Canada, these groups have so far evaded responsibility and the Vatican has cultivated to great effect its safe distance and legal immunity. (Sometimes secularization is convenient, particularly when the Higher Law rather pinches the foot.) The Presbyterian Church in Canada, which operated only two of the one hundred and thirty schools, has been a far more active participant in reparations, even setting up a healing fund.
It’s fine and good that the Pope managed a letter from his Vatican enclave in his Vatican City, paid for with the sale of Papal indulgences and the loot of Empire. No doubt his lawyers and ambassadors will continue to save his ass for a little while longer. A while, but not forever. Like everything else, the Vatican will one day end up in the dustbin of history. But even now, most of the survivors don’t want and don’t need anything the Pope is likely to offer. They can heal and move on, because it’s not about the bishop or the Pope or the Vatican. Healing is about the survivors, and it is for themselves and themselves only that they should and shall have it.
This is the Gospel for the abused: they can overcome and be whole, and they can do so without any help from a fantasy-based crime operation, whose claims to being the sole path to healing and truth in this life are hollow, false, and self-serving. Amen.