It would appear the Catholic Church cannot distance itself enough from sexual abuse scandals. Unfortunately, cardinals, bishops, priests, and other religious and spiritual leaders seldom see a criminal indictment, let alone the inside of a courtroom. There are some noteworthy exceptions such as Gilbert Gauthe who served a decade in jail for the rape and sodomy of eleven children (and accused of abusing dozens more) between 1972 and 1983. Gauthe was tried and convicted in 1985.
Nevertheless, it would seem that the Catholic Church has been and continues to be protected by some sort of “religious privilege” whereby sexual abuse cases are adjudicated outside the purview of secular law. This creates a mockery of the entire criminal justice system, first by being a grotesque interpretation of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and second by obstructing justice. In my humble and acrimonious opinion, of course.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), all States and U.S. territories “have statutes identifying persons who are required [emphasis added] to report suspected child maltreatment to an appropriate agency [emphasis added], such as child protective services, a law enforcement agency, or a State’s toll-free child abuse reporting hotline.” As we can see, none of the appropriate agencies include religious institutions (and for good reason). Furthermore, aren’t we—in order to safeguard the future of our humanity, literally and metaphorically—all morally and ethically required to report such heinous crimes?
It seems a truism to say childhood maltreatment—maltreatment, in this case, seems almost euphemistic—has considerable physical and mental health implications that may persist for a lifetime. The scientific literature is more harrowing; adverse childhood traumas such as rape and violence negatively affect cognitive, social, and emotional development, making one more prone to suicide and drug and alcohol abuse, among other infirmities.
Given the aforementioned, and as vehemently as the Catholic Church purports to be the sole monger of ethics and morality, one would have thought the clerics in favor of restorative justice and opposed to sexual abuse of children. It sure seemed to be the case following the establishment of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. Alas, in retrospect, it smacks more of pragmatism in response to a deluge of sexual abuse allegations rather than genuine contrition and compunctions of conscience.
As progressive as Pope Francis—the current Vicarius Christi—has been on such issues as climate change, acceptance of homosexuals and same-sex marriage, and divorce, the Vicarius Christi has missed repeated opportunities to condemn and punish sexual abuser and pederasts in the Catholic Church, let alone deliver them to secular courts to face justice. The pontiff has regrettably shown support for Bishop Juan Barros who is accused of witnessing and covering up the sexual abuse of minors, namely the crimes of his mentor Reverend Fernando Karadima. (In 2011, Rev. Karadima was found guilty by an ecclesiastical tribunal of sexually abusing children and adolescents.) The Vicarius Christi even went as far as to say anyone who criticised the beloved Bishop was guilty of slander. (This racket should be reminiscent of a particular populist demagogue who currently occupies the Oval Office.)
This apathetic and depraved statement was “corrected” by Cardinal O’Malley, one of the eight members of the Council of Cardinal Advisers who assist the Vicarius Christi in governance and administrative duties.
“It is understandable that Pope Francis’ statements yesterday in Santiago, Chile, were a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy or any other perpetrator. Words that convey the message “if you cannot prove your claims then you will not be believed” abandon those who have suffered reprehensible criminal violations of their human dignity and relegate survivors to discredited exile.”
It is a welcome sentiment by the Cardinal and indicates that the #MeToo Movement mentality may have penetrated deep into the religious conclave which has long neglected the cries of its victims. However, shortly after this public statement, the Vicarius Christi offered a tepid apology which he flatly negated in almost the same breath.
“Here I have to apologize because the word ‘proof’ hurt them, it hurt a lot of abused people… I know how much they suffer. And to hear that the pope told them to their face that they need to bring a letter with proof? It’s a slap in the face…. I can’t condemn [Bishop Barros] because I don’t have evidence… But I’m also convinced that [Bishop Barros is] innocent.”
It is interesting to compare these comments with those of the overpraised Pope John Paul II who contended that sexual abuse allegations were contrived by the enemies of the faith.
The Catholic Church often seeks expiation via multi-million-dollar settlements. On May 31, 2018, the Associated Press reported that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis paid out a $210 million settlement to victims of sexual abuse, less than one-third of the settlement paid out by the Archdioceses of Los Angeles in 2007. The ecclesiastical coffers are deep indeed!
Now, the most recent tumult arrives by way of resignation. Cardinal McCarrick, a member of the College of Cardinals and a man trusted by generations of children and seminarians, resigned on July 28th amid allegations of sexual abuse. The allegations against Cardinal McCarrick are legion and go back some fifty years. More chilling is the article by The New York Times which suggests church officials had known about or were aware of allegations against Cardinal McCarrick for decades. In 2001, Rev. Boniface Ramsey wrote to the Vatican protesting the appointment of Cardinal McCarrick because of McCarrick’s growing reputation for sexually abusing seminarians. Rev. Ramsey’s protestations were for naught. In ostensibly heretical fashion, the good Reverend Ramsey penned another letter, in 2015, to abovementioned Cardinal O’Malley stating “there should be an investigation into who in the church hierarchy knew of [Cardinal McCarrick’s] alleged abuse and why no one in power spoke out about it earlier.” It’s unsurprising that Cardinal O’Malley denied receiving the letter. He did, however, say that his staff “determined that the matters presented did not fall under the purview of the commission or the Archdiocese of Boston, which was shared with Fr. Ramsey in reply.”
Is this negligence or complicity? Or both? And on whose part? The Council of Cardinal Advisors or the Vicarius Christi himself?
This wouldn’t be the first time the Catholic Church officials were found to have had knowledge of sexual abuse and rape before it made headlines. A letter released following yet another settlement by the Catholic Church suggests that the late Cardinal Bernard Law, former archbishop of Boston, had known about sexual abuses taking place under his auspices. Remember, Cardinal Bernard Law ignominiously resigned as archbishop of Boston in 2002 for complicity in the sexual abuse of children. Shortly thereafter, then-Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Law to the lucrative position of archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome. (I suspect he was being “compensated”—and quite possibly rewarded—for being inconvenienced in Boston.) Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say that Cardinal Bernard Law was a fugitive of justice abetted by a former pontiff. Insult and injury were compounded upon the wretched Cardinal’s death as he was given a final blessing by Pope Francis.
How touching. [Insert retching sounds]
My main concern is with the internal investigations. Why do the ecclesiastical tribunals take place in lieu of secular ones? (I think both can and should take place to make maximize the criminal’s punishment.) All ecclesiastical trials are held in secret and the most severe punishments meted out are a “lifetime of prayer and penance.” The moral corruption of the Catholic Church runs deep and I don’t think it’s a calumny to say so. The crimes committed by Father Gauthe, Reverend Karadima, Cardinal Law, Cardinal McCarrick, and other perpetrators and complicit actors did not occur in some other dimension beyond the scope of the secular law. These atrocities happened in Chile, in Brazil, in Ireland, in Australia, in the United States, and various other places where sexual abuse and pederasty are legislated against—not to mention socially and culturally deplored. And they happened under the sanctimonious auspices of a religious sect unwilling to submit criminals to secular authorities, a dereliction of the cardinal virtue. Why do we acquiesce to this kind of profanity?
Why aren’t these criminal swine being indicted in secular courts, facing criminal sanctions levied by a jury of their peers, especially in cases where the Catholic Church finds the accusations and evidence credible? Will the Catholic Church ever hand over sexual abusers and pederasts to the secular authorities or will the Catholic Church continue to protect and enable fugitives of justice?
Moreover, how can we hold the Catholic Church to account when it’s clear these clerical villains appear unconstrained by the fear of hell and eternal damnation? One way is to publicly spread information about the crimes committed and expose criminals wherever they hide. The Catholic Church cloaks itself in deceit and clandestine tribunals which flout the rule of law as well as our moral and ethical sensibilities.
In the meanwhile, we must ask ourselves:
How many more victims must experience utter ruination—of their person, of their sexuality, of their dignity—before we put these clerical criminals in chains?