Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A DEAFENING SILENCE: POPE BENEDICT'S REAL LEGACY


My wife and my two closest friends since childhood were born and raised Catholic. And none of them has anything but positive things to say about their experiences in the Catholic Church. Needless to say, the Church has been responsible for countless positive humanitarian deeds throughout the world, and there are many caring, compassionate priests. 

That said, please forgive me if I don't join in the chorus of praise for Pope Benedict XVI, who yesterday announced he will resign for health reasons. 

Benedict - born Joseph Ratzinger - who was elected eight years ago after the death of Pope John Paul II, said in a statement that he had come to the conclusion that his strengths, due to his advanced age, "are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry." This marks the first time a Pope has resigned since Pope Gregory XII nearly 600 years ago.

But I, for one, am not sorry to see him go. I say good riddance. Why? Because this man was in charge of the ongoing and ambitious coverup of the most despicable child sexual abuse scandal in world history. 

A scathing new HBO documentary on the coverup of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church sheds new light on this sickening crime against humanity. In the shocking and powerful film, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney addresses Benedict's complicity and suggests that while he publicly decried sexual abuse, he was part of the problem not the solution. 

Gibney, whose previous credits include Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and Taxi to the Dark Side, notes that Benedict protected, among others, one of the worst sex abusers in history, Marcial Maciel. A monster in human form, the Mexican-born Maciel was a drug addict who abused boys and also maintained relationships with at least two women, fathering up to six children, two of whom he allegedly abused as well. 

In 1997, a group of nine men went public with accusations that they were abused by Maciel while studying under him in Spain and Rome in the 1940s and 1950s. They described how Maciel would pretend to have pain in his groin and had been given papal permission to receive help massaging out the pain.

The group, which reportedly included respectable academics and former priests, lodged formal charges at the Vatican in 1998, but were told that their case had essentially been ignored by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by, you guessed it, the outgoing Pope Benedict XVI. 

He removed Maciel from active ministry after an investigation started under John Paul II. But was Maciel tried for his disgusting crimes, which the Church later acknowledged? No. Instead, Benedict allowed him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. It goes without saying that Maciel should have spent the rest of his miserable life in prison. But he was protected by the man who would later become the Pope.

None of Benedict's good deeds can compare to the evils of protecting predator scum like Maciel. 

The truth is Benedict presides over a Church in which the punishment for sexual abuse of children remains prayer, not incarceration. Benedict has allowed the Church to continue dodging responsibility for the heinous crimes of too many of its leaders. He did very little to substantively address the shockingly widespread sexual abuse scandal, which has already implicated dozens of priests as child rapists and exposed hundreds of ranking senior Church figures as willing participants in the most egregious crime coverup in modern history.

From Boston to Los Angeles to Ireland to Australia, we have seen one massive sexual abuse scandal after another unfold, despite concerted efforts by the Church to keep them a secret. As Gibney points out, this Pope has every file of every Catholic sex abuse case in the world. He knows more about the abuses than any other individual on earth. I honestly do not know how this man sleeps at night.

Some historians now say the problem of sexual abuse within the Church has been going on for more than 1,000 years. It was in the 19th century that the Vatican evidently first formed an official policy of keeping it all under wraps. The first public case reportedly involved the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, a priest at the St. John's School for the Deaf in Wisconsin. 

Between 1950 and 1974, he abused many young students and reportedly got older ones to help him. When a group of his victims tried to inform the church about what had been done to them, they were told to forget about it or assured that it would be taken care of. But Murphy remained a priest for the rest of his life and continued to have access to children.

In a statement yesterday, Anna Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, which documents the abuse crisis in the Church, said, "Joseph Ratzinger leaves the papacy having failed to achieve what should have been his job one: to rectify the incalculable harm done to the hundreds of thousands of children sexually abused by Catholic priests. He leaves hundreds of culpable bishops in power and a culture of secrecy intact. Benedict's words rang hollow. He spoke as a shocked bystander, as if he had just stumbled upon the abuse crisis."

Doyle continued, "But more than anyone in the Vatican, he knew about the carnage done to innocent children. As archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Ratzinger had allowed the transfer of accused priest Rev. Peter Hullermann, and certainly managed many other abuse cases as well. Since 1981, when he was named head of the congregation of the doctrine of the faith (CDF), he had been at the center of the Vatican's abuse bureaucracy, reviewing many files and, unfortunately, implementing Pope John Paul II's policy of not laicizing abusive priests. In Spring 2001, the Pope gave Cardinal Ratzinger and the CDF sole responsibility for abuse cases, and in that role, Cardinal Ratzinger read hundreds of files and became the Vatican's most knowledgable and powerful person on this issue."

Doyle added, "The tragedy is that as Pope he could have enacted true reform. He could have forced the immediate resignation of bishops who had enabled sexual predators.  He could have decreed that every bishop post on his websites the names, assignment histories, and allegations of accused priests. He could have made the CDF transparent in its handling of cases, instead of the black box that it remains to this day. He could have acted on the Vatican's vast knowledge of these cases, instead of leaving the work to the survivors, investigative reporters, grand juries in the US, and government commissions in Ireland and Australia."

Doyle concluded, "Instead of remedies, he gave us words. Instead of true penitence, he gave us public relations. His failure to enact real change in the Church's handling of sexually abusive priests will be his significant and shameful legacy."

In his statement this week, Benedict said he wished to "devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."

I only hope he reserves some of those prayers for the countless number of innocent young victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests worldwide. Tragically, when the new Church leader is announced next month, it will likely remain business as usual. I do not believe anything will change within the Church hierarchy. 

While the Catholic Church has lost some of its power around the world, as long as it continues to misguidedly embrace celibacy and absurdly equate this practice with sainthood, the dark secrets that have tainted the Church for so long will likely only continue.


2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this article, Jamie. I posted the following yesterday to a chat list I'm on -- you have given detail that I didn't have: ....."I can't remember what office he held at the Vatican during that time, but all of the stories, legal problems, reports of abusers, etc. were sent directly to him. He's the one at the Vatican who was the filter through which all the info should have gone to the Pope, etc. He did NOTHING about it for 20+ years. The minute I saw this 10 minute ago, I thought: he's resigning because he knows that there is more storm coming, and he was right at the center of the coverup for decades. If he has any decency left, he probably thinks he protecting the church by not being the pope who hid rapists. Just my cynical view, but I have had ZERO respect for him since reading all about him being the one who could have demanded change many years ago (and knew more than anyone how pervasive the abuse was).

    These papal slime protect their own by elevating them to positions in Italy where they can't be touched. The evil Cardinal Law from Boston avoided prosecution because the Vatican gave him a very, very high position, and got him out of Dodge and brought him to Italy. They absolutely 100% protected him from arrest. And now he can't be touched. I just have no doubt that the Pope is avoiding what is yet to come.

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    1. Well said, thanks for sharing this, Sue.

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