The Catholic Code of Omerta

As Russell Blackford informs us, the Vatican is again indulging its persecution complex, sending out an archbishop to whine about how unfair it is that gay and lesbian people are increasingly gaining equal rights and how the church is victimized by this:

“People are being attacked for taking positions that do not support sexual behaviour between people of the same sex,” he told the current session of the Human Rights Council…

“These attacks [the attacks on the church! —Ebonmuse] are violations of fundamental human rights and cannot be justified under any circumstances,” Tomasi said.

Archbishop Tomasi also maintains that “states can and must regulate behaviours” and that “certain kinds of sexual behaviour must be forbidden by law”, so there’s that. It’s no surprise, but it’s nice to hear the Vatican confirm that they don’t just want to outlaw same-sex marriage, they want to reinstate medieval sodomy laws. (Presumably, if they got their way on this, the next step would be a law listing the permitted sexual positions.)

Well, whenever the golden-robed hypocrites of Rome come parading before us to insist on their moral authority, I feel compelled to take them down a peg. Fortunately, two stories have recently come out of the still-unfolding Catholic child-rape coverup scandal that serve the purpose. I apologize if all the posts about this are becoming repetitive or taxing your patience – they’re certainly taxing mine – but I feel it’s extremely important to have a record of this, to set down the facts in black and white so that there can be no mistake.

So: the latest development to break is this lawsuit filed in Chicago, charging that the Jesuits knew about and covered up the actions of a serial child molester, Donald J. McGuire, over a span of fifty years (see also). (McGuire himself was convicted and imprisoned several years ago.) The suit includes previously-secret church documents, dating as far back as the 1960s and as recently as 2003, showing that church officials were repeatedly warned about his predatory tendencies and took no action. The extent of their response was that they told him to stop traveling with young “assistants”, but he ignored those feeble directives and they did nothing.

And this isn’t the only embarrassment for the Jesuits. In another major story, the order’s Oregon province has agreed to pay $166 million – the third-largest settlement ever to survivors of sex abuse – to hundreds of students, almost all of them Native Americans, who were abused by priests at Catholic schools throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The attorneys representing the plaintiffs charged that the Jesuit order deliberately used isolated schools in rural areas and reservations, peopled mostly by poor, indigenous students, as a “dumping ground” for problem priests – adding a generous ladle of racism to its thick stew of hypocrisy, sadism and callousness toward violated children.

Any normal person would feel extreme revulsion at these stories, but it’s important to say precisely why. It’s not that the Catholics are the only ones guilty of this: there have been similar serial molesters in other denominations, even in public schools. It’s not that their anti-sex fanaticism warps the minds of their followers, making them uniquely likely to become pedophiles; that’s a neat, tidy and emotionally satisfying hypothesis, but there’s no evidence for it that I’m aware of. It’s not even the nauseating hypocrisy of the Vatican pontificating about how they’re the sacred guardians of morality in a secular world, while at the same time conspiring to cover up the most repulsive evils.

No, the most indefensible, infuriating aspect of this vast scandal is the cold and utterly calculating systematicity of the coverup. It’s the fact that this happened so often that the upper echelons of the Catholic hierarchy became a well-oiled machine for protecting pedophiles, capable of shuffling them around from parish to parish, across continents or decades, without anyone involved having any serious crisis of conscience. (As another example, I wrote some time ago about a pedophile priest so notorious that the church was having a hard time moving him around, because his proclivities were apparently known to every bishop in Canada and none wanted to take him – and still, not one of them raised the alarm.) It’s the fact that so many Catholic hierarchs over the years accepted this as if it was business as usual, just a mundane and unremarkable function of the church’s bureaucracy.

It’s incredible how complete was the veil of silence, how universal the agreement to sustain the coverup. The Mafia only wishes it could sustain such a code of omerta among its members. Nevertheless, despite all their attempts to hide it, this wall of secrecy is cracking, and the truth is emerging despite the church’s decades-long effort to cover it up.

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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.