Your Weekly Catholic Scandal Update

It hasn’t been a good few weeks for the Catholic church. Every time you turn around, it seems, new repercussions of its conspiracy to protect child molesters are piling up somewhere in the world. Even I’ve had trouble keeping up with it all, so here’s a post to collect the latest news.

First, there’s the Netherlands, where the media has reported that one of the country’s archbishops personally arranged to shield a pedophile priest by moving him to a different parish. This is nothing new, given the widespread complicity of the hierarchy in the cover-up. But what’s especially damning is that this same archbishop, as recently as last March, was explicitly denying that he knew anything about child abusers in the church:

Cardinal Simonis caused some distress in the Netherlands last March, when he was asked on television about the hundreds of complaints surfacing against the church and replied in German rather than Dutch, saying “Wir haben es nicht gewusst” — or, “We knew nothing.”

The phrase, which is associated with Nazi excuses after World War II, drew uncomfortable parallels for the church, which has been accused of covering up the issue of sexual abuse.

I don’t want to Godwin’s Law this thread, but really, how can you avoid it when the people responsible for protecting sex predators are using the exact same excuses that were given by Nazi collaborators?

Meanwhile, in the U.S., a grand jury has accused the Archdiocese of Philadelphia of continuing to let known sex predators have access to potential victims. At least 37 priests for which there’s “substantial evidence” of abuse are still serving in roles that put them in contact with children, and at least 10 of these have been in these jobs since 2005, when a previous grand jury issued a 124-page report that accused the church of a widespread cover-up.

But it cheered my sense of justice to see that this grand jury isn’t stopping at harsh words. On the contrary, the article says that they’ve returned an indictment against William Lynn, former secretary of clergy in the archdiocese, charging him with endangering the welfare of children by refusing to take action:

“The rapist priests we accuse were well known to the Secretary of Clergy, but he cloaked their conduct and put them in place to do it again,” the grand jury said.

The grand jury reluctantly concluded not to press charges against Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, Lynn’s direct superior, due to a lack of evidence, even though the two of them worked closely together on this. But even so, it’s long overdue that the Catholic higher-ups, not just the rank-and-file priests, be held to account. The ones who participated in covering up child abuse are every bit as guilty as actual sex predators, and they absolutely deserve to be punished accordingly.

Next, in a story that really sums up how widespread this problem is, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has been embarrassed again. It turns out that the diocese’s vicar of clergy appointed a priest, Martin O’Loghlen, to a church-run sexual abuse advisory board – even though O’Loghlen himself was a known abuser who molested a teenage girl in the 1960s and admitted to having a “sexual addiction”. A lawyer for victims of sexual abuse put it perfectly:

John C. Manly, a lawyer for victims in dozens of sexual abuse cases, said Father O’Loghlen’s case was egregious because of his time on the sexual review board. “He was personally selected for a board that is meant to protect people from priests like him,” Mr. Manly said.

And finally, there’s this in-depth report on the continuing fallout of the Catholic sex scandal in Ireland. Like Poland, Ireland was one of the Vatican’s last European strongholds; Catholicism was given a privileged place in the constitution, controls almost all of the schools and hospitals, and was deeply intertwined with the national identity. The church’s influence ran so deep that contraception was illegal there as recently as 1980, “and until 1985 condoms were available only with a prescription.”

The privileged place of Catholicism in Irish society was a disaster for the children in its care. The church used that privilege to cloak itself in a veil of unchallengeable authority, behind which horrible atrocities flourished in a culture of total depravity and impunity. This is no doubt why the child-rape scandal was far worse in Ireland than anywhere else. As the article notes, Ireland has had by far the highest number of reported cases of sex abuse per capita. In the absolute number of cases, it’s second only to the U.S., even though the U.S. has almost a hundred times as many people.

But despite its suffering, and despite all the legal protections the church still enjoys, Ireland has been a model in uncovering the truth. All three of its government commissions on Catholic sex abuse – the Murphy Report, the Ryan Report, and the Ferns Report – were comprehensive and devastating to the church, and have been a model for similar investigative efforts in other countries. The church, for its part, has shown nothing but intransigence: Cardinal Sean Brady, the highest-ranking Irishman in the hierarchy, refused to resign despite helping to cover up the activities of one of the country’s most notorious pedophile priests. And Pope Benedict’s response to the crisis has simply been to blame it all on secularization and order the Irish to pray more and engage in “eucharistic adoration”.

The repercussions of the church’s arrogance may not be fully felt for a generation or more. But we’re already seeing rumblings: Mass attendance has dropped by 50% in last 30 years, and even elderly members of the church are demanding reform in a way that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Of course, as far as the Vatican is concerned, they did nothing wrong and none of their policies need to change. The inevitable collision of these two attitudes will be another sign of how the Catholic church, despite its pomp, is steadily ushering itself into extinction.

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  • Nathaniel

    Not extinction, unfortunately. Rather, relocation. The Catholic Church will become a church primarily based in Africa and South America, and perhaps have a significant presence in Asia as well. And given the church hasn’t changed, will just result in more children getting molested, just in different countries. And the cycle will continue.

  • Andrew Hall

    I am amazed that people still send their kids to Catholic schools. My wife’s friend does and whenever I see her I practiically explode with disbelief.

  • jemand

    But some of those countries are currently conducting their own investigations now… I’ve heard about some in Brazil and a few other places I don’t remember. I think they may be able to run for a few more generations, but they are going to have to start spending significantly more money than before for the duration, and I don’t think it will last as long as they hope. I’m not sure how they are going to survive every country getting stable enough to economically develop uncover these abuses a few years later and attendance and donations drop off as a result. They still have a LOT of money, but as they leave the rich countries, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are more inclined to close up some stuff rather than go into a cash flow negative situation.

    They are far to greedy to actually invest in their congregants future.

  • Peter

    So glad I didn’t become an alter boy!

  • Nathaniel

    Maybe the Irish needed to invest in buying some Priest Off:

  • Gaius Sempronius Grachus

    Is this a good time to campaign for disestablishment, total separation of church and state, and secularization of the schools, the government, and the hospitals?

  • themann1086

    Following the grand jury’s report, some people (with the support of the city’s DA) sued the archdiocese of Philly and named both the current and former bishop. If I find a link after work I’ll post it here for y’all to read. It made me really ecstatic to see that the higher-ups were being targeted. Time’s running out for them here in America.

  • AnonaMiss

    I wonder if Cardinal Simonis is being leaned on by his superiors.

    Well I mean obviously he’s getting leaned on by his superiors, but I wonder if he’s trying to fight back. I have a hard time believing he would respond in a different language than his questioner, and then use a phrase with such troubling implications, purely accidentally.

  • Penguin_Factory

    Is this a good time to campaign for disestablishment, total separation of church and state, and secularization of the schools, the government, and the hospitals?

    There’s been talk of doing this in Ireland lately. I’d support such a move even without the scandals- religious authorities should have no influence over children- but I’m not sure the government is up to the job of rehauling the education system at the moment, given the state of the rest of the country and the multitude of crises going on here at the moment.

    (To be fair to catholic schools, the amount of actual contact the students have with any member of the clergy these days is fairly limited, if my own experience is any guide. I think there’s probably about an equal chance of a child being molested at a catholic school than at an ordinary school).

  • Ebonmuse

    In a late-breaking update, the Philadelphia archdiocese has belatedly ordered an investigation of the 37 priests named in the grand jury report.

    Given that they took no action until after the secular authorities had yet again shamed them, I think this is a pretty clear statement that the church simply can’t be trusted to police itself. They’ll act when the potential embarrassment of being caught outweighs the damage to their public image from confessing, and not before. The clear corollary of this would be that they’ll continue to cover up child rape whenever they think they can get away with it.

  • Arun

    It is sad that such things are happening and the guilty are being shielded by the church hierarchy. The Pope means well and should take urgent, strict measures to stop this malady and give the guilty priests/bishops/cardinals exemplary punishment including compulsory immediate defrocking. This will send a correct example. The Catholic Church should not be blamed for the actions of these deviants.Such monsters are in every society and every religion. The only difference is that they are shielded whereas the Western Christian press gives the wrongdoers in Europe and the US no opportunity to escape.

  • Steve Bowen

    The Pope means well

    Really? All the evidence so far points to the contrary. His tactics so far are denial and blame shifting.

  • Jeff

    The Pope means well

    No, he doesn’t. He’s a reactionary, conservative son of a bitch. During his tenures as Pope, and, prior to that, as Grand Inquisitor and right-hand man to John Paul II, he’s destroyed lives and set the Church back at least a hundred years, if not more.

    I’d absolutely love to see the entire edifice come crashing down. Unfortunately, as someone mentioned above, they have enough momentum to keep going in third world countries for at least another two or three generations.

    A downside to this exposure is that I’m sure it’s led to a drop off in donations to Catholic charities (which are already hurting, due to the economy). Some of them do some genuine good.

  • OMGF

    The Pope means well and should take urgent, strict measures to stop this malady and give the guilty priests/bishops/cardinals exemplary punishment including compulsory immediate defrocking.

    The proof that he doesn’t mean well comes from the fact that not only have the Catholic heirarchy (including the pope) not taken such steps, but they’ve taken steps to disrupt legal proceedings, hide guilty priests from punishment, and even give the guilty priests more opportunities to prey on their victims.

    The Catholic Church should not be blamed for the actions of these deviants.

    They aren’t. They’re being blamed for covering it up and even facilitating the actions of “these deviants.”

    Such monsters are in every society and every religion. The only difference is that they are shielded whereas the Western Christian press gives the wrongdoers in Europe and the US no opportunity to escape.

    You make it sound as if this is a bad thing and that the Catholic church is being unfairly targeted, which is laughable at best. And, it’s not the only difference. The difference is that the Catholic church is doing its best to help the molesters prey on other victims and doing its best to hamper any efforts to stop the abuse.

  • Duke of Omnium

    I was glad to see Ratzy become pope, knowing that he’ll do nothing to alter the RCC’s slide into irrelevance.

  • Donald B. Ardell

    This is a superb and important series of articles. Just introducing such a bold topic should raise awareness and advance the day when more Catholics will rebel.

    I was raised Catholic and experienced twelve years of Catholic education. I believe this alone richly entitles me to write about the religion (though such personal experience should not be a prerequisite). Greta Christina recently observed that “many still consider religion to be a privileged matter, outside the bounds of free speech.” I hope you don’t think so. Reason is one four pillars of REAL wellness is reason – and this makes all beliefs affecting quality of life and mental health too consequential to avoid or ignore. It is no more disrespectful to criticize religious beliefs than it is to criticize political ideas, scientific theories, or any other hypotheses about how the world works. That’s how good ideas get refined and bad ideas get weeded out — through public debate and vigorous questioning and criticism. While Ms. Christina and yours truly may think there is nothing disrespectful about criticizing religious beliefs about how the world works, one fabulously rich organization clearly does not share that viewpoint. The Catholic Church, in fact, views its authority as sanctified, derived from a supernatural source and not a suitable topic for discussion, let alone criticism. Well, the church leaders can’t be happy with Maureen Dowd.

    Ms. Dowd, an outspoken but practicing Catholic who writes a popular column for the New York Times, has blasted the hierarchy of the church in a series of fiery essays, the most recent (April 11) entitled, “Worlds Without Women.”

    Dowd asked women on a recent visit to Saudi Arabia why they put up with having their rights strangled in an autocratic state more like an archaic mens club than a modern nation. She wondered, How could… spirited women, smart and successful on every other level, acquiesce in their own subordination? Then it hit her: As a Catholic woman, I was doing the same thing…remaining a part of an inbred and wealthy mens club cloistered behind walls and disdaining modernity…an autocratic society that repressed women and ignored their progress in the secular world.

    Which explains why I have started to wonder why Catholics remain Catholic. It’s probably due to the relentless cultural imprinting from infancy through the high school years. Richard Dawkins has famously termed this practice a form of mental child abuse. The children of Catholics do not get to choose their worldview from among fair exposure to many. Instead, they are thoroughly indoctrinated, daily, at home, in schools and by a sub-culture in a single worldview – their own. How else could so many believe innumerable claims that are socially regressive (opposition to sex education, birth control, women’s reproductive rights, stem cell research, gay rights, church/state separation, etc.), as well as preposterous? Surely the latter would be viewed as such – if first encountered as adults having a modicum of liberal education. As it is, if the Church raised little boys and girls to believe that pink elephants in heaven did back flips over a moon, few devout Catholic adults would be skeptical of such a thing. Besides, if one continues to believe in a heavenly reward for the faithful after death, why quarrel with church previews of what it’s like there? Such a claim would be at least as credible as the standard Christian fare many swallow whole – like tales of Jonah and a whale – or a similar whopper about Noah and the mother of all arks – you know, the one that saved two of every Earth species from one of the earliest (and rather nasty) acts of god. These are not atypical beliefs – they stand alongside papal infallibility, exorcisms, transsubstantiation, idol worship, a virgin birth, a three-in-one mystery, indulgences, a resurrection and a dazzling array of miracles, relics and saints.
    In short, only a few escape the gravity of the pre-reason years when dogma is laid down with emotional anchors. I’m an escapee myself, after 12 years of parochial school and 18 years immersion in an Irish Catholic culture that reinforced it all. (Not only did I leave the church – I also switched from Irish to mixed breed, a reference to the fact that I describe my ancestry as a blend of European stock. Never mind that my mother’s maiden name was Fitzgibbon.) Escape for me was facilitated by a move from home soon after high school. Following that, I was exposed to naturalistic explanations about existential wonders, to science and reason, to dramatically different perspectives on the nature of existence, plus an unremitting flow of information about the corruption and perversion of the Catholic empire. Now, while recognizing the power of childhood imprinting, I wonder why so many educated, independent-minded Catholics like Dowd cling to irrational customs? Never underestimate the power of the initial traditions, dogmas and rituals, They run deep and exert a grip on 75 million Catholics in this country alone. Feminist Dowd can describe misogynistic rituals by a church blind to the benefits of welcoming women’s brains, talents and hearts into their ancient fraternity, but that’s not enough to undo Gordian knots of oppression and primal attachment.

    Who can explain it, who can say where it’s going? I’ll tell you who – Robert Green Ingersoll. On September 16th in 1894, in an interview with the New York Herald, he was asked, Which do you regard as the better, Catholicism or protestantism? His reply: Protestantism is better than Catholicism because there is less of it. Protestantism does not teach that a monk is better than a husband and father, that a nun is holier than a mother. Protestants do not believe in the confessional. Neither do they pretend that priests can forgive sins. Protestantism has fewer ceremonies and less opera bouffe, clothes, caps, tiaras, mitres, crooks and holy toys.

    Catholics have an infallible man – an old Italian. Protestants have an infallible book, written by Hebrews before they were civilized. The infallible man is generally wrong, and the infallible book is filled with mistakes and contradictions. Catholics and protestants are both enemies of intellectual freedom – of real education, but both are opposed to education enough to make free men and women. Between the catholics and protestants there has been about as much difference as there is between crocodiles and alligators. Both have done the worst they could, both are as bad as they can be, and the world is getting tired of both. The world is not going to choose either – both are to be rejected.

    Well, Ingersoll may still prove prescient. Maybe he was only off by a century or so. In the long run, what’s a hundred years here or there? On the book-jacket blurb of Barbara Ehrenreich’s best-seller Bright-Sided, Frederick Crews offered a rationale for reading Enrenreich’s book: Oprah Winfrey, Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil – please read this relentlessly sensible book. It’s never too late to begin thinking clearly. Just so. To paraphrase Mr. Crews, may I suggest that Maureen Dowd and a billion or so Catholics read Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins or other books by secularists thinking clearly about religion. It’s never too late.
    Postscript: I don’t want to neglect readers immersed as children in some religion other than Catholicism. Some, like Maureen Dowd, just can’t make the break, but might be interested in good stories of how others managed it. Two of my favorite reads about piety breaks from protestantism and Islam, respectively, are Dan Barker’s Godless: “How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists” and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s “Infidel.” The latter describes Ali’s rejection of an arranged marriage in Somali, leading to doubts about Islam’s dogmas and demands and how events such as religious terrorism changed her life.

  • Gaius Sempronius Grachus

    RE #9, Penguin_Factory.

    Strike while the iron is hot, they say.

    Especially since this is such a big job.

    Look up the history of the French struggle for laïcité, perhaps at Wikipedia.

    Quite an epic.