Saturday, March 20, 2010

On being Irish this week... and Clergy Abuse

John Kelly, abuse survivor, victim's rights advocate, hero.
(photo credit CNN)

It's ironic that in the week of St. Patrick's Day that the big Irish talk is precisely related to Catholicism. None of it is about saints. 

Above you see a photo of John Kelly, a 59 year old man with great courage who has been quite outspoken about his abuse at the hands of the church while in a reformatory in Daingean, Ireland. From his CNN interview, which was quite searing:

"I was taken down these stairs. I only had a nightdress on. It was pulled over my head. I was left naked. This 6-foot, 4-inch [tall] religious brother stood on my hands... and another guy had a whip that we made ourselves, with coins in it. And he would run from a distance to flog me," Kelly remembers.
Kelly, now 59, spent much of his childhood living in institutions run by Catholic orders in Ireland. The abuse he remembers most vividly took place at a reformatory in Daingean, in central Ireland.
"It was a very significant night for me," he says. "I'd been raped and buggered previously by these religious brothers, and I'd been physically beaten and psychologically tortured for months -- I spent two years in the place."
But Kelly reached a breaking point as one Catholic brother held him down, another whipped him and two others looked on, he says.
"I begged God to take me away. I just wanted to die to get away from the pain. And God wasn't there for me," he says.

Mr. Kelly survived. He is, not surprisingly, a nonbeliever at this point. He escaped Daingean and ran away. He spent the next thirty years in London and then returned to Ireland to campaign against child abuse. He is a hero. His voice, along with others who have spoken out, has finally helped rip the veil away from the ugly business of sex abuse and the Catholic church.

I've read with interest the various developments about the clergy in Ireland and the massive abuse scandal that has rocked the country. Of course, it isn't the first that we've heard of egregious abuses by the clergy. There are cases that stem back to the 1950's, in fact. Even the National Catholic Reporter had an article on the crisis of faith due to a sex abuse scandal involving a priest in the Portland, Oregon Archdiocese in 1983. But these cases were largely swept under the carpet. The Vatican only began to really lose its tight grip on media coverage of these issues after the scandals that rocked the US Catholic church in 2002-2005, beginning with the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize winning exposé of the sexual abuse of minors in the Archdiocese of Boston. In a measure of the scope of the problem, the Globe maintains their website about the investigations and various resources for reporting and support to this day. Columbia University's DART Center, which both prepares and follows journalists who cover violence and abuse, gives high praise to the Boston Globe and uses the Globe Spotlight team as a model for investigative work on such cases

In reading this week about the history of investigations into the pedophilia problem in the Catholic church, a good place to start is the Wikipedia entry on Catholic Sex Abuse Cases. I guess that even with all the reading I've done, the horrors of the scope of the abuse at the hands of the Catholic clergy are still just astonishing to me. One case first discussed in 1998, which I have to say seems to have been fairly well buried in the media archives (I wonder how) was mentioned by The Guardian's columnist Alexander Chancellor, earlier this week. The case, which is just so horrifyingly graphic that I will leave it to the reader's choice as to whether to follow the link, was part of the British House of Commons investigation of allegations of sexual abuse at the end hands of the Christian Brothers at Tardun Agricultural School in Western Australia. It's seems that Tardun's claim to fame (notoriety?) is the horrible facts that came from this investigation, if the Tardun Wikipedia entry is an indicator.

Late last year an investigation at suggested that about a third of the thousands of priests in the US who have been accused of sexual abuse of minor aged parishioners are Irish. Some of the cases were delineated so clearly that BishopAccountability released more than 60 names of Irish or Irish-descent pedophile priests in their report, as reported by The Boston Globe. Of more than 3000 US priests accused of being pedophiles, about a 1000 are Irish according to their report.

On the basis of the foregoing, it's not a surprise then that the Vatican would have to do something, say something, about the situation in Ireland, where revelations of child sexual abuse started to make big media headlines starting back in the 1990's, a full decade before they started to get major media investigative time here in the US. A report initiated by the Irish government found that found the Archdiocese of Dublin and other Catholic Church authorities in Ireland had assiduously covered up child sexual abuse by priests from 1975 to 2004. With the the sex scandal now reaching Ratzinger's own Germany, it's a wonder that they weren't better prepared for the media furor over the Irish investigation. But Pope Benedict XVI seems not to quite have a handle on things. 

I waited before writing this post because I was really interested to see what, if anything, the Pope would say and offer by way of amends for his own role, under Pope John Paul II, in covering up these scandals and allowing the church to be complicit with its sexual abusers. What the Irish got is this 18 page letter, which starts out with the simply astonishing (at least to me) claim that the Pope is "deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious." That followed by the statement "I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way church authorities in Ireland have dealt with them." I guess I'm having a really hard time with these statements. I seem to remember some of Ratzinger's work for Pope John Paul II as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Specifically, there was a 2001 Vatican edict written largely by Ratzinger that told bishops to report all cases of child abuse to Vatican authorities under strict secrecy; it did not mention reporting crimes to police.

Pope Benedict XVI, who was archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982, has yet to speak about the hundreds of abuse cases emerging since January in Germany. Among these is the case of Peter Hullermann, a priest who was already suspected of abusing boys in the western city of Essen when Archbishop Ratzinger approved his transfer to Munich for treatment in 1980. While in Munich, Hullermann was allowed contact with children virtually right after his "therapy" began. He was once again (surprise!) accused of molesting boys and was convicted in 1986 of sexual abuse. How bad was Peter Hullermann? Werner Huth, the psychoanalyst working with Hullerman has gone on record in the German popular press saying that he specifically demanded the priest never be allowed to interact with children again. What did the Church do to root out this evil predator? Was he defrocked? Of course not! He was suspended this week for ignoring a 2008 church order not to work with youths. That's right, Peter Hullermann is still a priest.

So go ahead and listen to the Pope's (who I'm going to call the Teflon Pope) letter, because if the foregoing doesn't stick and make him step aside as his own mea culpa for his role in covering up some of the worst abuse you can visit on children, I don't know what will.


Is there any possible compensation for the abuse that children have endured at the hands of not just the perpetrators, but at their ultimate betrayers, the highest levels of the Catholic church that allowed this abuse to continue? I'd be hard-pressed to think of any. At the very least, maybe the wealthiest religious organization in the world could open its coffers and pay for some therapy for its victims? And maybe they could do it before class action lawsuits force them to? Or maybe that would just be too divine. I mean, what do you think, that the man is speaking with the voice of God or something?

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