Calhoun’s Can(n)on for April 2, 2010
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.
In 1517, Martin Luther presented his Ninety Five Theses to the local indulgences seller and thereby transformed Europe and the world. He was a priest and theology professor who felt the Catholic Church had gone astray, had grown corrupt and needed changing. Instead of change, he was excommunicated and declared an outlaw. Like so many profound historical changes, this one started when one man came to a personal crossroads and made a choice.
Once again, the Catholic Church is in the news as final investigative reports out of Ireland finally exposed the Emerald Isle’s long-hidden secrets: years of abuse of children under official church control, whippings, torture, rape, all under color of God’s Will, all tolerated and kept quiet in order to protect Holy Mother The Church at all costs. No Ninety Five Theses for Ireland or Ireland’s children.
In Germany, more abuse cases, more excuses, more exposure, but now the paper trail of child abuse, child rape, cover-up and official silence leads directly to the door of a cardinal who would one day become pope: Ratzinger.
And so it goes. Not indulgences for sale, but children, although indulgences for the abusing priests did arrive with stunning regularity – not arrest and trial and conviction for their crimes, but perhaps “therapy,” or being moved to another parish to prey again. And of course, quiet payoffs to the few families who hired lawyers. The rest was cover-up and silence.
According to a recent New York Times story, “The Vatican’s inaction [in the most recent cases] is not unusual. Only 20 percent of the 3,000 accused priests whose cases went to the church’s doctrinal office between 2001 and 2010 were given full church trials, and only some of those were defrocked, according to a recent interview in an Italian newspaper with Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, the chief internal prosecutor at the office. An additional 10 percent were defrocked immediately. Ten percent left voluntarily. But a majority – 60 percent – faced other “administrative and disciplinary provisions,” Monsignor Scicluna said, like being prohibited from celebrating Mass.”
In addition, notes the Times,” Even as the pope himself in a recent letter to Irish Catholics has emphasized the need to cooperate with civil justice in abuse cases, the correspondence seems to indicate that the Vatican’s insistence on secrecy has often impeded such cooperation. At the same time, the official’s reluctance to defrock a sex abuser shows that on a doctrinal level, the Vatican has tended to view the matter in terms of sin and repentance more than crime and punishment.”
Sin and repentance, secrecy, and above all, The Passive Voice operating in an institutional culture of concealment and complicity: Mistakes were made. Errors in judgment were made. We don’t know how it happened. Magic, perhaps, in the dead of night when nobody was around. But a little repentance here and there and then it’s time to move on to a future in which, of course, little will be done and few will be held accountable.
What remains a huge puzzle to me is this: Where is Martin Luther now? Surely institutionally protected, systematic child rape and abuse would rate at least one thesis from an outraged theologian? Or, following the example of Luther’s namesake, Martin Luther King, Jr., where’s a world-wide Catholic boycott of their own churches akin to the civil rights boycotts of the 60’s? No more masses, no more coins in the donation basket, until the pope steps down, along with all others implicated in these years-long massive cover ups? Followed by a complete house-cleaning and thorough review and revamping of church policy and doctrines that have hidden and supported or even fostered pedophiles? Or even a mass exodus of new “reformation” Catholics who have finally decided that a church that repeatedly chose its own power and wealth over justice for its children no longer deserves their allegiance?
But so far, it seems business as usual; polite, discrete silence and a turning away. Which seems odd to me since if I were asked which I would choose –a child or a religious institution –my answer would be simple and immediate.