Tag Archives: Sexual Abuse

Joseph Ratzinger Should Be Remembered for His Crimes


JAMIE DOWARD’S April 24, 2005 Guardian column, “The Pope, the letter and the child sex claim,” closes with the assertion that the reign of Benedict XVI may well be judged in relation to the sexual crimes and criminals long cloistered by the Vatican, and indeed Mr. Ratzinger himself. As the current Pope departs, the time is full for a summation of these crimes as well as these criminals.

As consequence of the courage and tenacity of the victims — of which there are as many as ten thousand, according to the John Jay College report — an indictment of the church’s topmost offices may now be assembled. For years, rarely a month has passed without some new and lurid disclosure thickening the already rotten stench of a closed-rank institution obsessed with its self preservation. In January we were informed of the Cardinal Roger Mahony’s removal from duties and the release of priest files which contain the “terribly sad and evil” acts (as Archbishop Gomez termed them) committed throughout the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

This latest revisiting of a decade-long, international outrage recalls what is perhaps the most notorious case of Boston’s then Archbishop, Bernard Law, whose cover-ups of child rape led to disgrace and resignation late in 2002. Since that time many thousands of allegations have issued, and a disgusting pattern of institutional obfuscation and evasion, guided from the very top, has emerged. The rot did not begin with the Holy See’s current Pontiff, as Gratian’s De Poenitentia shows. An internal discussion over management of sexual crimes — or sins, if you prefer — has run across the centuries. What has changed is the capacity of the Catholic church and its agents to appoint themselves the exclusive judge and jury. Of this depraved and failed effort, let the public record show that Joseph Ratzinger was a leading proponent.

Modern-day policy derives from Vatican documents of the 1960s. Having anticipated a public scandal, the church under John Paul II initiated an internal investigation, under the auspices of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — an office earlier known as the Roman Inquisition and placed in 1981 under the Prefect Ratzinger. Doward’s two Guardian columns of April 24 — the second is titled “Pope ‘obstructed’ sex abuse inquiry” — capture the tone and substance of the present Pope’s effort to contain the uncontainable, by deferring to the long-standing policy of secrecy and silence, “under the penalty of excommunication” for renegade priests.

For as long as possible, the Vatican enforced the secrets. For as long as possible, senior officials arrogated to themselves the roles of judge and jury. When these efforts collapsed soon after 2000 under the weight of public disclosure, scrutiny and outrage, Mr. Ratzinger charged the crimes to the accounts of secularism, asserting that “pedophilia was theorized as something fully in conformity with man and even with children.” Suddenly the church, that sacred chalice from which alone flowed the absolute knowledge of beauty and moral rectitude and God’s Truth, was simply an unwitting victim of moral relativism.

The truth however is more nuanced than that, and less amenable to the Vatican’s propaganda. Whatever one may say of moral relativism, it happens that every step forward, under Benedict XVI, was compelled by secular pressure. Once the multiple defensive tactics had failed, apologies were issued and commitments to doing better were made. In Ireland, the church was compelled by law to report crimes to secular authorities, while in Canada a flood of lawsuits brought lawyers for the Catholic Entities into negotiations of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.

In the meanwhile, the disgraces of both Bernard Law and Roger Mahony were rewarded by Ratzinger with rich appointments — in particular to the Roman Curia, the central governing body of the Catholic church. Both Law and Mahony participated in the Papal Conclave which selected the now-retiring Vicar of Christ, as Mahony will do once again in the choosing of a successor. Also participating in the 2005 conclave was Ratzinger-ally and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who in 2010 characterized abuse allegations as “petty gossip of the moment” and who seven years earlier had intervened on behalf of the convicted sexual abuser Marcial Maciel in an effort to shut down the investigation.

With filth such as this at the very core of the Vatican, we should not be surprised that above all imperatives obtains a cardinal injunction to somehow renew and revive an institution caught in the act. Mr. Ratzinger’s Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, for example, dwells pitifully upon the tribulations of the Roman Church in the late 1600s, inadvertently reminding us of a more recent Ireland and more recent sacrifices of children to the same sordid religious tribalisms. Joseph Ratzinger not only failed to renew the Catholic church — he created the very conditions which will make a meaningful renewal improbable.

The Irrelevance of the Vatican

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.