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Holding the Pope to Account

Every time I think we've seen the worst of what the Roman Catholic church and this pope are capable of, they come up with a way to sink lower still. Back in January, when Benedict reinstated a misogynist, Holocaust-denying bishop, I could never have imagined that that would be the least offensive and disgusting thing they'd have done this year - yet it seems like that may very well be the case.

The newest evidence of this comes via this story from the AP. I previously detailed a case where the current pope, back when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, assigned a known child molester to therapy and then washed his hands of the matter; and another case where Ratzinger ignored urgent letters from an archbishop requesting an ecclesiastical trial for a priest known to have molested as many as 200 deaf boys. But this story is the most direct evidence yet of Ratzinger's culpable neglect and stonewalling over cases of child rape.

Back in 1981, the diocese of Oakland wrote to Ratzinger, who was then head of the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, urging him to begin proceedings to defrock Rev. Stephen Kiesle, another confessed priestly pedophile. Kiesle had previously pleaded no contest to tying up and molesting two children in a church rectory, and the diocese wrote to Rome asking that he be defrocked (in fact, Kiesle himself requested to be defrocked). Ratzinger ignored multiple letters for four years. Finally, in 1985, he wrote back - but said that the case needed still more time, and that proceedings had to be slow and deliberate in order to safeguard "the good of the universal church" (!)


This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favor of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ's faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner. (source)

The young age of the petitioner - that is, the pedophile priest! Incredibly, Ratzinger was more concerned about the harm defrocking a child molester would do to the Church's public image than he was about the harm that the molester had already done and might still do to vulnerable children. As multiple commenters have pointed out, the young age of the molester (he was 38 at the time) might well have been a factor also. Ratzinger must be aware of the aging and dwindling priesthood and the paucity of new recruits; it's likely that he wanted to hang on to every ordained man as long as possible, regardless of the price.

Andrew Sullivan, himself a conservative Catholic, calls this outrageous letter "the third strike" for this pope:


It is a document designed to prevent dismissing a priest as young as 38. Perhaps the fast-aging priesthood was a concern and dismissing such a young priest was to be avoided. But it's clear that the age of the priest is of far more importance to Ratzinger than the age of the minors he raped. All the sympathy and concern is with the rapist, not the raped. This is a document about protecting the powerful even when they rape the powerless.

So far, the typical Vatican apologist defense has been to claim that Ratzinger was an ivory-tower type, so concerned with ponderous matters of theology that he couldn't stoop to deal with such mundane trivia as a man in his employ raping and molesting children. But in 2006, when an archbishop openly defied the Vatican's rule on celibacy by ordaining married men as priests, Pope Benedict excommunicated him six days later. Again, this is the same man who took four years even to respond to a letter pleading with him to do something about an active pedophile.

All of this has led to this announcement, by a British human-rights lawyer seeking to have the Pope put on trial for crimes against humanity the next time he visits the U.K. It's a good idea, although I'm not yet convinced that the Pope's culpability rises to the level of the criminal. Despicable as they were, it seems that his sins were of omission rather than commission - failing to do anything about pedophiles preying on children, rather than actively assisting them in doing so - though given the steady trickle of new details, I may have to retract that statement in the near future. And in any case, I'm sure the U.K. government would do everything in its power to preempt any criminal investigation (conservative Catholics are still an influential voting bloc). However, I think a civil lawsuit is a very real possibility and a legal avenue that should be explored.

Lastly, and in case there was any doubt in your mind remaining about the Catholic church's intentions, there's this story from Connecticut. The state legislature has proposed a bill that would lift the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases, and the bishops ordered a letter to be read during Mass urging their parishioners to lobby against it. This shows, more clearly than anything else possibly could, that the Catholic church is still concerned first and foremost with protecting itself, rather than seeing that justice is done. If they truly wanted to be sure that no molesters were left in their ranks, they'd welcome this bill - and the fact that they oppose it can only mean that they know of more cases of molestation that haven't yet come to light.

But if I had to pick one quote to sum up the depths of wickedness and hypocrisy displayed by this church, it'd be this one from the columnist Libby Purves, a former Catholic turned deist. She beautifully turns their own words against them by quoting the Penny Catechism she learned as a child:


Numbers 328 and 329 refer, making it clear that we are "answerable for the sins of others" when we share the guilt "by counsel, command, consent, provocation, by concealment, by silence..."

Forget the lordly authoritarianism which speaks of the "good of the Universal Church": that Church itself plainly states that concealing crime by silence is wrong, and that it is worse still to counsel and command others to commit the same sin of silence and concealment. Yet this crime, this sin, was being regularly urged on children, parents and parishioners by men in authority: the solemn clerical authority which purports to draw its privilege direct from the eternal Truth and to see into the depths of the heart. It is an all-male authority, too, in which the greenest young priest outranks an experienced nun or devout mother. It has been the perfect screen for wickedness.

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