Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Pope says pray for these priests. I say prosecute them

The Pope says pray for these priests. I say prosecute them
By Suzanne Moore
Last updated at 10:00 PM on 27th March 2010
Prayer: Pope Benedict XVI stressed the need for spiritual rebuilding in the wake of child sex abuse scandals
Sometimes it is necessary to be graphic. To spell things out however upsetting it may be. Pope Benedict XVI’s letter to the people of Ireland emphasised the spiritual rebuilding that must take place following the child-abuse scandals that have engulfed the Catholic church there. It talks a lot about priests but not much about the actual abuse.

So let’s be clear: we are not talking about a little inappropriate behaviour, a clumsy pass, standing too close to a teenager. We are talking about the rape of children. We are talking about systematic beatings, torture and humiliation. Many of those abused by priests and monks are now elderly but they weep and tremble when recounting what those who were meant to care for them did.

Last year in Ireland, the ten-year Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, that had heard evidence from 2,000 people aged between 50 and 80 who grew up in Catholic institutions, concluded that abuse was ‘endemic’.

Many children were treated as virtual slaves or prisoners. No individual perpetrators were named. The Sisters of Mercy were known for their brutality, as were the Magdalene Laundries. The notoriously cruel Christian Brothers sued this commission in 2004 to stop any identities being revealed. This meant that though the report was deeply shocking, for victims of abuse no real accountability existed. As John Walsh of the Irish Survivors of Child Abuse lamented: ‘I would never have opened these wounds if I had known this was going to be the end result.’

The response in Ireland to the Papal letter is split. Some feel, perhaps rightly, that such abuse is not simply an Irish problem but that the Pope is trying to spin it into one.

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Certainly the Vatican is reacting angrily to the ‘smear’ that the Pope himself has been involved in some kind of cover-up. As the younger Cardinal Ratzinger, he saw documents about a paedophile priest and did little. As was common, such men were often simply moved to another diocese. Ratzinger certainly knew of German priest Father Peter Hullerman whose own congregation reported him as dangerous.

In the mid-Nineties Father Lawrence Murphy, a man who had abused 200 boys at a US school for the deaf, wrote to Ratzinger asking that he live the rest of his life ‘in the dignity of my priesthood’. His wish was granted. One boy describes playing basketball when told he had to go and see Father Murphy: ‘I would refuse to go and pretty soon I was dragged into his office and molested again.’

At no point in any of these cases were outside authorities involved. Illegal acts were happening and yet the church felt it could deal with this by itself. The homosexuality of many priests is still spoken of as a theological problem or a sin.

The idea, then, that this creaking institution can get its house in order is ludicrous. What is apparent is not simply systematic abuse but a systematic cover-up.

The papal letter does not break with the past but justifies it. Its language of penitence and healing is not enough to repair the structural damage to the Catholic church that these revelations expose.

Some of the elderly victims of abuse are broken and have lived lives of self-harm, alcoholism and fractured relationships. In Ireland congregations are falling and hardly any young men are coming forward to become priests. But the notion that child abuse is an Irish problem is one way for the Vatican to side-step its responsibility. It is a problem of the Catholic church. Indeed the part of the papal letter which almost seeks to blame sexual abuse on the increasing secularisation of society is the most offensive.

Are Catholic priests above the law just because some have behaved as if they were? No.

For it is secular society that has recognised and begun to deal with the real problem of child abuse. Not always well, but we do realise it is a crime.

Good Catholics need to be served better by their institutions. Still the men in frocks are abusing the power bestowed upon them.

Prayer is not the answer. Prosecution is.

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