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.