by Michael Parenti
May 13, 2010
Michael Parenti’s latest book is God and His Demons (2010) which
deals with all sorts of theocratic misconduct and misbelief. For
further information about his work, see:
When Pope John Paul II was still living in Poland as Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, he claimed that the security police would accuse priests of
sexual abuse just to hassle and discredit them. (New York Times,
For Wojtyła, the Polish pedophilia problem was nothing
more than a Communist plot to smear the church.
By the early 1980s, Wojtyła, now ensconced in Rome as Pope John Paul
II, treated all stories about pedophile clergy with dismissive
aplomb, as little more than slander directed against the church.
That remained his stance for the next twenty years.
Today in post-communist Poland, clerical abuse cases have been
slowly surfacing, very slowly. Writing in the leading daily Gazeta
Wyborcza, a middle-aged man reported having been sexually abused as
a child by a priest.
He acknowledged however that Poland was not
prepared to deal with such transgressions.
“It’s still too early... Can you imagine what life would look like if an inhabitant of a
small town or village decided to talk? I can already see the
committees of defense for the accused priests.”
While church pedophiles may still enjoy a safe haven in Poland and
other countries where the clergy are above challenge, things are
breaking wide open elsewhere. Today we are awash in a sludge of
revelations spanning whole countries and continents, going back
decades - or as some historians say - going back centuries.
the last few weeks has the church shown signs of cooperating with
Here is the story.
Protecting the Perpetrators
As everyone now knows, for decades church superiors repeatedly chose
to ignore complaints about pedophile priests.
In many instances,
accused clerics were quietly bundled off to distant congregations
where they could prey anew upon the children of unsuspecting
parishioners. This practice of denial and concealment has been so
consistently pursued in diocese after diocese, nation after nation,
as to leave the impression of being a deliberate policy set by
And indeed it has been. Instructions coming directly from Rome have
required every bishop and cardinal to keep matters secret. These
instructions were themselves kept secret; the cover-up was itself
covered up. Then in 2002, John Paul put it in writing, specifically
mandating that all charges against priests were to be reported
the Vatican and hearings were to be held in camera, a
procedure that directly defies state criminal codes.
Rather than being defrocked, many ousted pedophile priests have been
allowed to advance into well-positioned posts as administrators,
vicars, and parochial school officials - repeatedly accused by their
victims while repeatedly promoted by their superiors.
Church spokesmen employ a vocabulary of compassion and healing
for the victims but for the victimizers. They treat the child rapist
as a sinner who confesses his transgression and vows to mend his
ways. Instead of incarceration, there is repentance and absolution.
While this forgiving approach might bring comfort to some
malefactors, it proves to be of little therapeutic efficacy when
dealing with the darker appetites of pedophiles. A far more
effective deterrent is the danger of getting caught and sent to
Absent any threat of punishment, the perpetrator is
restrained only by the limits of his own appetite and the
availability of opportunities.
Forgiving No One Else
The tender tolerance displayed by the church hierarchy toward child
rapists does not extend to other controversial clergy.
those radical priests who have challenged the hierarchy in the
politico-economic struggle for,
or who advocate
lifting the prohibitions against birth control and abortion
propose that clergy be allowed to marry
or who preside over
or who themselves are openly gay
or who believe
women should be ordained
or who bravely call for
investigations of the pedophilia problem itself
Such clergy often have their careers shut down.
Some are subjected
to hostile investigations by church superiors.
A Law Unto Itself
Church leaders seem to forget that pedophilia is a felony crime and
that, as citizens of a secular state, priests are subject to its
laws just like the rest of us.
Clerical authorities repeatedly have
made themselves accessories to the crime, playing an active role in
obstructing justice, arguing in court that criminal investigations
of “church affairs” violated the free practice of religion
guaranteed by the US Constitution - as if raping little children were
a holy sacrament.
Church officials tell parishioners not to talk to state authorities.
They offer no pastoral assistance to young victims and their shaken
families. They do not investigate to see if other children have been
victimized by the same priests. Some young plaintiffs have been
threatened with excommunication or suspension from Catholic school.
Church leaders impugn their credibility, even going after them with
Responding to charges that one of his priests sexually assaulted a
six-year-old boy, Cardinal Bernard Law asserted that,
“the boy and
his parents contributed to the abuse by being negligent.”
himself never went to prison for the hundreds of cover-ups he
In 2004, with things getting too hot for him in his
Boston archdiocese, Law was rescued by Pope John Paul II to head one
of Rome’s major basilicas, where he now lives with diplomatic
immunity in palatial luxury on a generous stipend, supervised by no
one but a permissive pontiff.
A judge of the
Holy Roman Rota, the church’s highest court, wrote in
a Vatican-approved article that bishops should not report sexual
violations to civil authorities.
And sure enough, for years bishops
and cardinals have refrained from cooperating with law enforcement
authorities, refusing to release abusers’ records, claiming that the
confidentiality of their files came under the same legal protection
as privileged communications in the confessional - a notion that has
no basis in canon or secular law.
Bishop James Quinn of Cleveland even urged church officials to send
incriminating files to the Vatican Embassy in Washington, DC, where
diplomatic immunity would prevent the documents from being
Just a Few Bad Apples
Years ago the Catholic hierarchy would insist that clerical
pedophilia involved only a few bad apples and was being blown
completely out of proportion.
For the longest time John Paul
scornfully denounced the media for “sensationalizing” the issue. He
and his cardinals (Ratzinger included) directed more fire at news
outlets for publicizing the crimes than at their own clergy for
Reports released by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (one of
the more honest organizations in the Catholic Church) documented the
abuse committed in the United States by 4,392 priests against
thousands of children between 1950 and 2002.
One of every ten
priests ordained in 1970 was charged as a pedophile by 2002.
survey commissioned by the US bishops found that among 5,450
complaints of sexual abuse there were charges against at least
sixteen bishops. So much for a few bad apples.
Still, even as reports were flooding in from Ireland and other
countries, John Paul dismissed the pedophilic epidemic as “an
American problem,” as if American priests were not members of his
clergy, or as if this made it a matter of no great moment. John Paul
went to his grave in 2005 still refusing to meet with victims and
never voicing any apologies or regrets regarding sex crimes and
With Ratzinger’s accession to the papal throne as
Benedict XVI, the
As recently as April 2010, at Easter Mass in
St. Peter’s Square, dean of the college of cardinals Angelo Sodano,
assured Benedict that the faithful were unimpressed “by the gossip
of the moment.”
One would not know that “the gossip of the moment”
included thousands of investigations, prosecutions, and accumulated
charges extending back over decades.
During that same Easter weekend, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera,
archbishop of Mexico City, declared that the public uproar was an
“overreaction” incited by the doings of “a few dishonest and
A few? An overreaction? Of course, the picture
now becomes clear: a few bad apples were inciting overreaction by
engaging in the gossip of the moment.
The church seems determined to learn nothing from its
transgressions, preoccupied as it is with avoiding lawsuits and bad
Really Not All that Serious
There are two ways we can think of child rape as being not a serious
problem, and the Catholic hierarchy seems to have embraced both
First, pedophilia is not that serious if it
involves only a few isolated and passing incidents.
Second, an even
more creepy way of downplaying the problem: child molestation is not
all that damaging or that important. At worst, it is regrettable and
unfortunate; it might greatly upset the child, but it certainly is
not significant enough to cause unnecessary scandal and ruin the
career of an otherwise splendid padre.
It is remarkable how thoroughly indifferent the church bigwigs have
been toward the abused children.
When one of the most persistent
perpetrators, Rev. John Geoghan, was forced into retirement (not
jail) after seventeen years and nearly 200 victims, Cardinal Law
could still write him,
“On behalf of those you have served well, in
my own name, I would like to thank you. I understand yours is a
It is evident that Law was more concerned about
the “pain” endured by Geoghan than the misery he had inflicted upon
In 2001, a French bishop was convicted in France for refusing to
hand over to the police a priest who had raped children.
came to light that a former top Vatican cardinal, Dario Castrillón,
had written to the bishop,
“I congratulate you for not denouncing a
priest to the civil authorities. You have acted well, and I am
pleased to have a colleague in the episcopate who, in the eyes of
history and of all the bishops in the world, preferred prison to
denouncing his ‘son’ and priest.” (The bishop actually got off with
a suspended sentence.)
Castrillón claimed that Pope John Paul II had
authorized the letter years ago and had told him to send it to
bishops around the world. (New York Times, 4/22/2010.)
There are many more like Cardinal Law and Cardinal Castrillón in the
hierarchy, aging men who have no life experience with children and
show not the slightest regard or empathy for them. They claim it
their duty to protect the “unborn child” but offer no protection to
the children in their schools and parishes.
They themselves are called “Father” but they father no one. They do
not reside in households or families. They live in an old-boys
network, jockeying for power and position, dedicated to the
Mother Church that feeds, houses, and adorns them throughout their
From their heady heights, popes and bishops cannot hear the cries of
children. In any case, the church belongs not to little children but
to the bedecked oligarchs.
The damage done to sexual victims continues to go unnoticed: the
ensuing years of depression, drug addiction, alcoholism, panic
attacks, sexual dysfunction, and even mental breakdown and
suicide - all these terrible after-effects of child rape seem to leave
popes and bishops more or less unruffled.
Circling the Wagons
The Catholic hierarchy managed to convince itself that the prime
victim in this dismal saga is the church itself.
In 2010 it came to
light that, while operating as John Paul’s über-hit man, Pope
Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) had provided cover and protection
to several of the worst predator priests.
The scandal was now at the
pope’s door - exactly where it should have been many years earlier
during John Paul’s reign.
The Vatican’s response was predictable. The hierarchy circled the
wagons to defend pope and church from outside “enemies.” The
cardinals and bishops railed furiously at critics who “assault” the
church and, in the words of the archbishop of Paris, subject it to
“a smear campaign.” Benedict himself blamed secularism and misguided
applications of Vatican 2’s aggiornamento as contributing to the
“context” of sexual abuse.
Reform-minded liberalism made us do it,
he seemed to be saying.
But this bristling Easter counterattack by the hierarchy did not
play well. Church authorities came off looking like insular,
arrogant elites who were unwilling to own up to a horrid situation
largely of their own making.
Meanwhile the revelations continued. A bishop in Ireland resigned
admitting he had covered up child abuse cases. Bishops in Germany
and Belgium stepped down after confessing to charges that they
themselves had abused minors. And new allegations were arising in
Chile, Norway, Brazil, Italy, France, and Mexico.
Then, a fortnight after Easter, the Vatican appeared to change
course and for the first time issued a directive urging bishops to
report abuse cases to civil authorities “if required by local law.”
At the same time, Pope Benedict held brief meetings with survivor
groups and issued sympathetic statements about their plight.
For many of the victims, the pontiff’s overtures and apologies were
too little, too late. Their feeling was that if the Vatican really
wanted to make amends, it should cooperate fully with law
enforcement authorities and stop obstructing justice; it should
ferret out abusive clergy and not wait until cases are publicized by
others; and it should make public the church’s many thousands of
still secret reports on priests and bishops.
In the midst of all this, some courageous clergy do speak out.
Sunday mass in a Catholic church outside Springfield, Massachusetts,
the Rev. James Scahill delivered a telling sermon to his
congregation (New York Times, 4/12/10):
“We must personally and
collectively declare that we very much doubt the veracity of the
pope and those of church authority who are defending him. It is
beginning to become evident that for decades, if not centuries,
church leadership covered up the abuse of children and minors to
protect its institutional image and the image of priesthood”.
The abusive priests, Scahill went on, were “felons.”
He had “severe
doubt” about the Vatican’s claims of innocent ignorance.
“If by any
slimmest of chance the pope and all his bishops didn’t know-–they
all should resign on the basis of sheer and complete ignorance,
incompetence, and irresponsibility.”
How did Father Scahill’s suburban Catholic parishioners receive his
scorching remarks? One or two walked out.
The rest gave him a