Breaking News: Catholic Church Not Above the Law

In the past two months, the Catholic pedophilia scandal has largely dropped out of the headlines. But it was still simmering, and it looks poised to erupt into public consciousness again after this raid by police in Belgium:

The declaration to the police set off four raids in which the authorities seized hundreds of case files from the commission’s current leader, detained a group of bishops for more than nine hours and disturbed the tomb of a cardinal where construction work had recently been done.

Well, how about that! I’m surprised – but very pleasantly surprised – that, for once, the police are treating the Catholic church as they’d treat any other organization under the same accusations. Let’s not forget that Roger Vangheluwe, a Belgian bishop, resigned after confessing that he had molested a boy. And unless Belgium follows a completely different pattern than every other country where news like that has surfaced, where there’s one abuser and one victim, there are certain to be more of both. (See this article, also, for an excellent and detailed account of the raid and its repercussions.)

The Catholic church has consistently acted as if the law is only a technicality and these crimes are minor matters of no public concern – that if they recite some rosaries and say they’re sorry, then they’ve done enough. I’m very glad to see that there’s at least one country where law-enforcement officials don’t share that view. These aren’t minor embarrassments that the church should be allowed to handle internally. They’re crimes, despicable violations of innocent children, aided and abetted by a conspiracy of silence among higher-ups. And the people guilty of these crimes should be treated the same way as we’d treat any other gang of criminals, not given a free pass because they claim to talk to God in their spare time. This quote, from the New York Times article, is especially welcome:

Prosecutors are considering whether to expand beyond gathering evidence against abusers to encompass those who knew children were in peril but failed to protect them. “You have a part of a case that could be against the ones who committed the crimes and you also could have another part of the case against those who didn’t help someone who was in danger,” Mr. Meilleur said.

Naturally, the gilded hypocrites in Rome were furious that they’re being treated as if they were subject to the law like the rest of us mortals. According to reports, the Pope summoned the Belgian ambassador to the Vatican to denounce the raids. Even more shocking, the church also announced that it’s disbanding its own internal panel investigating sex abuse in Belgium, in a clear act of retribution for the raid. (Not that that’s a great loss – according to that article, “The Catholic panel had been in existence for over a decade, but for most of that time it dealt with only 30 complaints [out of hundreds] and took no discernible action on them.”)

Meanwhile, in America, there’s even more surprising and welcome news. As reported by AU, the Supreme Court has declined to intervene in the case of Holy See v. John Doe, an Oregon man who sued the Vatican after alleging that he was molested by a priest in the 1960s. The church, with the backing of the Obama administration, argued that as a sovereign nation, it was immune from the lawsuit. But a federal appeals court rejected that argument, allowing the case to proceed; and the Supreme Court’s refusal to grant certiorari means that that decision will stand.

I’m especially surprised by this because it only takes four justices to concur for the court to review a case, and six current justices are Catholic, including all the conservatives. Could it be that they recognized the conflict of interest and were anxious not to give the impression that they planned to do the Pope’s bidding from their seats on the Court? Or is it possible that even the conservative Catholic justices are as outraged by Rome’s arrogance and stonewalling as the rest of us?

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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