the Catholic Church comparing criticism it is receiving over new revelations of institutionalized sex abuse within its dioceses to the persecution of Jews throughout history got me thinking about how out-of-touch the Church's response has been to this recent round of abuse allegations.
When I first read that the Church was comparing itself to the plight of Jews throughout history I thought, how ironic. Why would an institution that has received a lot of criticism for remaining "neutral" during the Holocaust compare its current situation of receiving genuine criticism for acts committed under its umbrella of responsibility to death camps and Nazism?
But this is not the only outlandish quote from Catholic officials in the wake of new allegations. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, stated during Easter Mass that the Catholic faithful will not be influenced by "petty gossip." This just shows how casually the Church seems to be taking these allegations. Having grown up in the Boston area and having Irish Catholic family who grew up in the city, I've seen that the sad and stark reality is that sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is real. It is not "petty gossip." It has ruined people's lives and to call it "petty gossip" is an insult to all of those victims out there who must deal with this traumatic terror on a daily basis for the rest of their lives.
It is important to point out that the allegations currently being levied against the church are not stemming from ad hominem attacks against Catholicism, but rather from reality. Two weeks ago Pope Benedict apologized to Irish Catholics in the homeland, stating "I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel." The letter fell short, however, of asking for any type of resignation for priests and bishops involved in what a damming Irish government report called "endemic" abuses and a "culture of self-serving secrecy."
But allegations of widespread abuse go well beyond the borders of the Emerald Isle. The pope himself has been implicated in being a part of the cover-up culture that the Church has been accused of cultivating throughout the past decades when it comes to sexual abuse. While known as Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, the pope reviewed the case of a pedophile priest named Father Peter Hullermann who, among other things, was alleged to have forced an 11 year old boy to perform oral sex on him in the Diocese of Essen. Ratzinger approved the priest's transfer to Munich, where he would soon return to full pastoral duties and be convicted of sexually abusing children in Grafing only six years after his initial transfer. Father Hullermann was only suspended from his duties with the church in the middle of March, 2010 - 24 years after being convicted of sexually abusing children and receiving an 18-month suspended sentence, five years probation, a fine of 4,000 marks, and a court directive to undergo therapy.
The Catholic Church is in the midst of a very serious scandal, and one that, unfortunately, does not look unfounded or based in hyperbole. Instead of confronting the scandal head-on, the Church has decided to call allegations of abuse "petty gossip," compare it to persecution of Jews throughout history, write letters of apology without demanding resignations of administration officials involved, and to not even speak out about some scandal-hit areas. Even today the New York Times has a piece about an Indian priest who, after facing allegations of sexual abuse of a teenage girl in his rectory in Minnesota, fled to India where he remains gainfully employed by the Catholic Church and has no intention of returning stateside to answer to the charges.
If the Catholic Church wants to save face it will do a myriad of things, including taking a proactive stance against those priests accused of sexual abuse either presently or in the past (including immediate firing and excommunication if the cases seem at all credible and the turning over of relevant documents to authorities), it will admit its wrongdoing and the countless cover-ups that occurred in the past, take full responsibility for past abuses (which would included Pope Benedict's resignation if he approved the transfer of pedophile priests) and move forward. Until then, I question the veracity and sincerity of the Church's effort to atone for what it has harbored in allowing decades of sexual abuse to go unpunished and wonder if its victims can ever be at peace knowing that the Church's response falls far below what is required in this horrible situation.
Photo - Pope Benedict XVI at his Easter address in Castelgandolfo (Telegraph)