Saturday, July 3, 2010

Teflon Pope Still Amazingly Non-Stick

The Pope, back in May 2010.
He so sorry...

Have you missed the Teflon Pope? Well the NY Times has him, and his Church, back under the microscope.

But first, let's just mention that raid late last week in Belgium. If you read the wires, you know that the Belgian authorities decided to raid and seize evidence of child sexual abuse that they clearly thought there wasn't a snowball's chance on the sun that the Vatican's Belgian Commission would allow them to "receive". This all went down at a monthly meeting of bishops who were investigating more than 475 allegations that have been made since Roger Vangheluwe, the Bishop of Bruges since 1984, resigned on April 23, 2010, after admitting to sexually abusing a young man years ago.

In a piece of spin doctoring that can only leave you utterly astonished, not only at the fact they think we'll believe them blindly (faithfully) at this point, but in its offensiveness to the actual victims themselves, the Vatican expressed concern that the raid on the Church Commission and a retired Archbishop's properties would violate the privacy and confidentiality of the poor, poor victims. I'm really not kidding.

The Catholic News Service reports that the Belgian authorities' take on this bit of spider-worthy master spinning was:
"Belgian officials dismissed that argument. Their unspoken presumption seemed to be that because of their inaction in the past, church leaders cannot be trusted to act in the public interest on sex abuse allegations."

Wow, they've noticed inaction on the part of the church? The Church can't be trusted to investigate things and then report to the proper civil authorities if there is evidence of abuse? Really?

The Vatican was quite upset at this raid, some of which involved even drilling into tombs for evidence. Sometimes I'm still not sure if the Vatican was considering the victims to be the children or the priests accused. I read a number of articles on the Vatican's statements on this and my takeaway is sort of mostly that they're alarmed that the Belgians have set a precedent for civil authorities taking matters, and evidence, into their own hands. 

Why might they be worried? Well, if you start hauling away records and evidence, who knows how deep the scandal could become. Because if you dig into the archives, assuming there will still be archives in other places after the Belgian raid, you'll find decades of coverup.  Because, as mentioned above, the NY Times had this wonderful article in which they detail a number of facts that can be best summarized as:

1) Ratzinger did little to stop abuse while in his position as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the body mysteriously charged with investigating (and covering up????) the claims of victims and their families. (See here for a well-docmented US case)

2) Ratzinger actually reined in several national Bishop Conferences that tried to tackle the issue head-on, since the Vatican was ignoring the problem. 

3) Historically, the Church made it very hard to defrock a priest, no matter how abusive the priest was. This upset a number of bishops who seemed to feel that the Church was going to lose credibility and their faithful if they didn't take the situation seriously (see article in #1 above). In fact many felt the Church deliberately thwarted attempts to oust pedophile priests and the bishops were increasingly balky over the idea of just sending them elsewhere. Some bishops really pressed the Vatican on the issue. Ratzinger's Holy Office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith held the right to dismiss a priest without even a formal trial, on the basis of firm evidence (of which, make no mistake, there was aplenty in many, many cases and the evidence was NOT given to civil authorities.) Can someone find the actual figures of the number of priests actually dismissed by Ratzinger's office? Because I can't.

4) Incredibly, at a watershed meeting in 2000 attended by 17 bishops concerned about the issue, Church officials claimed child sexual abuse by priests was "only a problem in the English-speaking world" (that would surely be news to victims in Brazil, Chile, Italy and India and many other places...) and advocated for protecting the rights of accused priests over safeguarding children.

5) The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was responsible for handling sexual abuse cases but clearly sat on that information for decades and then once they admitted that they were responsible finally began to make some reforms but only when really pressed to do so by a very wealthy and outspoken Catholic Conference. Wanna guess which one? Some of the strongest reforms have been offered to the noisiest and heavily media-coveraged advocates for change- the American bishops.

"The Americans were allowed to keep their zero-tolerance provision for abusive priests, making the rules for the church in the United States far more stringent than in most of the rest of the world. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also said it would waive the statute of limitations on a case-by-case basis if bishops asked... Other reforms enacted by American bishops included requiring background checks for church personnel working with children, improved screening of seminarians, training in recognizing abuse, annual compliance audits in each diocese and lay review boards to advise bishops on how to deal with abuse cases."
(quoted from the NY Times)

And what has been the outcome of this? The number of cases of reported abuse since 2005 has steadily fallen according to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (we should note that in 2009 it was still an awful 513 reports against 346 priests). But do you think that the Vatican learned from the drop in numbers over the past five years? Did it cause them to make policy changes? Hmmmmm.

In April the Vatican posted guidelines on its official website stating that church officials should comply with all local civil laws in reporting and investigating abusive priests. But that was only a recommendation and not a requirement. It seems there are many in the Church who think that the US policy of zero tolerance, including their expulsion without due process, is unfair to priests, leaving them open to embarrassing investigations of allegations as if they were just average citizens. The lack of a mandate for reporting has been expressed as concern for priests working in countries where the Church is subject to persecution. You know, places with dictatorships and such. Of course, the problem is that I seem to remember Ratzinger's minions tossing around the word persecution in reference to the US, Australian and European press making a big fuss over the scandals in Ireland, Italy and Germany and the fact that too little was done to clean up the Church after the big scandals in Australia and the US. (For those of you wanting to look at a gem of persecution claims, check out the richly illustrated and rhetorical Anglo-Catholic. Food and beverage consumption while reading are not recommended...)

Well, it's July and there's still no mandate to report. And I'm wondering when and if there finally is a mandate to report, whether those reporters will have to release documentation. In Belgium they even had to take documents from the National Archives for records of reported abuse, on top of carting quite a haul (two and a half truckloads!) from the Bishop's Commission investigating allegations of abuse.

Clearly the police in Belgium were onto something. I guess they read that Vatican recommendation thing.

And realized that it still came up a little short...

As an aside, I'm still reflecting on an interview Sinead O'Connor gave to NPR two weeks ago. She questioned the actual beliefs of pedophile priests. "[It's] as if they don't believe in God. They certainly don't believe in a God that is watching them or what they're doing."

She remains a singular voice in the fray.

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010

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