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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  • Steve Bowen

    Why doesn’t it surprise me that the P.O.P.E (Pontiff Opposed to Paedophile Exposure)hasn’t the sense to just shut up about this and leave justice to run its course? You would think he’d shot himself in the foot often enough by now to know better, but I guess learning by experience isn’t part of his epistemology.

  • L.Long

    OK! OK! Oh Boy! I’m 1st…..
    They wouldn’t be doing this if the holey men were islamic!!’
    Their just picking on the catlickers!!!
    There that’s done and I can say I beat out Donahue and Co.

    It good to see someone is really treating this like a crime.
    But you can’t blame the law in USA too much.
    Remember that if the catlick ‘victims’ don’t push of prosecution than nothing can really be done. If you ignore the cases where the priest has denied everything, just the ones that confess should be more then enough to get a number of people into jail.
    Has any of them been jailed?? And put on the sex offenders list??
    Like a lot of news the sensational part is broadcast far & wide but the conclusions.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Actually, a good case could be made for prosecuting American priests and middle management under RICO laws, if only the government had the political will to do so.

  • Katie M

    I’d been posting related stories on my FB page, so I definitely noticed the number dropping off. Now it looks like I’ll be posting them again in no time, starting with this :)

  • Ed

    I agree this is good news, although I have to admit the bit about the Belgium police drilling into tombs and disturbing graves doesn’t seem to make much sense. Did they really expect to find hidden documents buried with a corpse? It seems more than a little far fetched.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Also, the last paragraph in the first link leaped out at me:

    On Tuesday, the Vatican will honor the head of the Belgian church, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard, who was one of the clerics held and questioned last week at the ornate palace of the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels. The archbishop will be one of 30 church officials to receive the pallium, a vestment worn by the pope that is conferred as a mark of association with the papacy and its powers.

    Firstly, they’re honoring a man under a cloud. Secondly, the totemic nature of the “honor” would be funny were it not so shamanistic.

  • Stephen P

    And in further news, the pope succeeds in maintaining his track record, by publicly rebuking Cardinal Schönborn, who dared to suggest that perhaps the RCC should take some small steps in the direction of decent behaviour.

  • Steve Bowen

    Stephen P. Interesting link and the last line is particularly annoying

    Belgium has no law mandating that church authorities report crimes by clergy.

    Why the holy fuck should it require a specific law to make the church do what any secular organization would be expected to do anyway?

  • Lion IRC

    50,000 cases in the RCC over 30 years?

    I hope every single one gets investigated and prosecuted.

    In these times, lay church goers are having their loyalty to God tested to see who will scatter and fall away. Many are leaving. Some will stay.

    But what an appalling lack of faith in God’s protection of the Church to think that humans need to cover up the disgraceful acts of paedophiles disguised as priests …just to save a few earthly egos, reputations and man-made power bases.

    Nicodemus (a religious leader) secretly came to Jesus under the cover of night. Noting this, Jesus warned him about evil doers who prefer to do things in the darkness. (John 3:19) and the pope knows “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed”

    The pope knows exactly what is meant by submission to “governing authorities” (Romans 13.1) and he knows that “rendering unto Caesar” is not JUST about paying taxes.

    Once all the suspected 50,000 cases in the RCC over 30 years are dealt with then we can REALLY get on with the anti-paedophilia “crusade”.

    There are more than 150 MILLION cases of child sexual abuse…

    Lets hope the New Atheist internet bloggers maintain consistency in their rage against the machine of child abuse.

    Child pornography on the internet. Child slavery. Sexualization of children in the media. Homeless children.
    Pushing drugs to children. Hungry children.

    These are surely worthy causes for ATHEIST bloggers too!

    Lion (IRC)

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Sad as those other cases are, the RCC scandals are the more offensive because they stem from men who lay claim to moral leadership, and because they have wormed their way into positions of trust only to abuse it; and because this is a blog devoted to atheism, it is more pertinent to discuss the religious cases.

  • Pither

    Just as a show of good faith, priests should stop referring to their victims as “lay people.”

  • vjack

    Man, so basically Dick Cheney has more clout than the Roman Catholic Church. Amazing!

  • OMGF

    These are surely worthy causes for ATHEIST bloggers too!

    Yes Ebon, how dare you write a blog about atheism instead of about child abuse!

  • Zietlos

    Lion, let me get on my soapbox too.

    I’m afraid that until all cherub statues and paintings are destroyed, all diaper commercials are banned from the air, all child actors and, courtesy of Australia, all women of A-cup-size are eliminated from existence, child abuse will still exist. That is not to say that there is nothing one can do, however many a great charity, such as UNICEF (har har), use their funding to lobby for the banning of paintings and drawings containing children rather than save the children themselves, as it is easier to do, since you don’t need to tangle with religious organizations as long as you don’t target religious “artwork” along with the mere mortal works. The path of least resistance will get you to your goal, eventually, but eventually we’re all dead too. More needs to be done. Most child abusers are the parents themselves. Clearly, the first thing to do is set up a state run child-rearing plant. Anyone who protests clearly wishes to abuse their children. In Canada and the USA, it has been ruled that watching fictional child abuse is equal to real child abuse. I hope, on this trend, soon watching fictional murder counts as real murder under the law as well. Eventually culminating in banning the bible because reading the violent scenes counts as committing genocide. Stopping all the fictional crime will surely defeat the real criminals, and then, and only then, when nothing may be written without authority of the government, will we truly be free.

    However, this is not so much the place for it. Ebon raises awareness of one aspect of child abuse: the abuse that is encouraged (through positive reinforcement: pleasure with no pain) through the churches that could be prevented, nay, is intrinsically prevented in an atheist society. And if even one aspect of child abuse can be solved, it should. And clearly, making “god’s men” responsible for their actions will be a good step in the right direction. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, as it is said.

  • Steve Bowen

    Zietlos raises an interesting point. It seems that paedophilia is part of the natural spectrum of human sexuality, albeit one there can be no ethical way to pursue. To that end is all child imagery potential pornography on the basis that someone might be getting their rocks off to it? After all the principle of informed consent applies. A paedophile is a rapist because the victim is below the age of consent, by the same token a child cannot give informed consent to be filmed or photographed in a way that may be sexually arousing to some people.

  • Penguin_Factory

    Lion IRC, I’m afraid you’re using a common fallacy here. I don’t know if it has a formal name, but it can basically be boiled down to “well other people abuse children as well! Why are you just picking on the catholics?”

    I would have thought it would be obvious why an atheist blogger who frequently criticizes religion would focus on abuse comitted by catholic priests. There of course also the fact that blogging about the entire subject of child abuse as a whole would be full-time occupation. This is an atheist blog and so ebon is focusing on the stories that involve religion in some way.

  • Brian Smith

    Am new here…but this is an article that puts the catholic clergy abuse issue in perspective. Remember: only approximately 3% of the priests world wide have been deemed abusive. Also, the Church has made great strides in correcting this abuse in recent yrs, and most of the abuse cases are decades old.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Remember: only approximately 3% of the priests world wide have been deemed abusive.

    How does that compare with the proportion of non-priests who molest? Would you argue that three out of every one hundred adults I meet are child-buggers? And do you have data for that?

  • Ebonmuse

    As the saying goes, it isn’t the crime, it’s the cover-up. Even if the percentage of actual predators in the priesthood is small, the percentage of bishops and other church higher-ups who protected them is much higher: as many as two-thirds of sitting bishops, by some estimates.

  • Steve Bowen

    the percentage of bishops and other church higher-ups who protected them is much higher:

    All the time chanting “There but for the grace of God…”

  • Zietlos

    Thanks for the friendly comment Steve.

    I was mostly going for tongue-in-cheek there, but there is no doubt that if you had to put fictional child pornography into two major categories, it would be Japan’s lolicon style, and theistic love of naked children with wings (affectionately known as Cherubs, Angels, Fairies, Etc) [And through court precedent in lolicon doujin cases: elves, fairies, et cetera ARE considered humans for the purposes of child pornography]. Additionally, though it does not apply in Europe, which is much more lax about nudity, in North America, a woman being completely naked, in general, would be considered porn, regardless of situation. Crawling on all fours being touched on the chest by other older women? Definitely porn. Unless the woman is under a year old, of course. Then, naked babies all the way, every commercial it seems, were they naked or in just panties as an adult, would get everyone in an uproar.

    Maybe I just hate commercials, so I rip into them whenever I can, regardless of the reason though. But there is an odd duality to it, a double-standard somewhat, that probably should be rectified. Everything can be used to “get your rocks off”, such is a law of the internet, (a cat is good too), but at least clothe the kids before showing them on air every 10 seconds, don’t give them more fuel than you already are, you know?

    I do not currently have data on child molestations, I’m more of a video game/violence statistic buff myself. If the pushing on fictional icons continues, I’ll probably look into it as a tool to remove the stigma of violence and video games association, but in terms of priests… I’d imagine it would be a good deal higher than the general population simply because it offers better access: Teachers, Preachers, Child Services, Pediatrics, these people would have higher rates, logically, because it offers better access to children from stupidly trusting parents. Of these, none are quite as unconditional or protective of their pedos as the Church, so I imagine it would be the most popular pedo occupation.

  • lpetrich

    Reminds me of the Watergate scandal. It started off with the investigation of a “third-rate burglary”, and it expanded into an investigation of several of President Nixon’s staff members for assorted misdeeds. But Nixon tried to cover up their crimes, an effort that failed, and he resigned rather than face trial for obstruction of justice on a massive scale.

    Seems like that’s what the Catholic hierarchy has been doing, trying to cover up the lechery of its priests. But when their coverup efforts are exposed, that only makes the scandal worse.

    There may be an additional motive: a shortage of priests. Catholic priests in several places are aging and dying off faster than the Church can recruit and train new ones. So the Church may have been trying to hold on to as many priests as possible.

    National shortage of Catholic priests forcing many to work past retirement age »

    Their average age was 60 in 1999 and is likely more now.

  • Ebonmuse

    I’m really extremely curious to see what’s going to happen to the Catholic church in the next 20 years, as the current generation of priests retires and dies with not nearly enough replacements in the pipeline. So far, they’ve covered the shortage by exporting priests from the few countries, like Poland, that are still producing them in quantity; but as the problem gets worse, that isn’t going to suffice.

    Either allowing women to be priests or relaxing the celibacy requirement would probably solve this problem at a stroke, but it’s obvious that the Vatican isn’t even considering either of those. I’d personally love to see the church just dwindle into obscurity, but I doubt it’s going to happen, at least not that quickly. More likely, I suspect, is that laypeople will increasingly be asked to perform the duties that were traditionally reserved for clergy. I wonder if Rome will go so far as to allow them to perform the Eucharist.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I think we’ll see a big change, perhaps not as large as the Reformation, but it is having demographic effects, both in the priesthood and the laity, that cannot be denied.