Belgium identifies 500 abuse victims

I must confess to have taken some perverse pleasure in watching the Catholic Church crumble under the weight of its own evil. Any organization that has this much power, abuses its influence this egregiously, and then gets caught fills me with both an appreciation for hubris and a feeling of schadenfreude. This has definitely stopped being fun:

Hundreds of sex abuse victims have come forward in Belgium with harrowing accounts of molestation by Catholic clergy that reportedly led to at least 13 suicides and affected children as young as two, an independent Belgian commission said Friday. Prof. Peter Adriaenssens, chair of the commission, said the abuse in Belgium may have been even more rampant than the 200-page report suggests, because his panel’s work was interrupted and all its files seized in a June 24 raid by Belgian judicial authorities who are conducting their own probe.

All of a sudden the jokes about priests touching kids simply turn to ashes in my mouth. This is a level of evil certainly within the same ballpark of the slave trade or the atrocities of the Nazi party. There’s nothing particularly amusing about this:

Friday’s report lists 507 witnesses who came forward with stories of molestation at the hands of clergy over the past decades. It says those abused included children who were two, four, five and six years old.

Or this:

The number of those coming forward with their stories and testimonies, however, could be only a fraction of those actually abused, Adriaenssens said. “We saw how priests, called up by the commission and asked to help seek the truth, were willing to set up the list of 10, 15, 20 victims they abused during boarding school while the commission knew only of one.”

I am ultimately at a loss for words (which is bad news for a blogger) to describe both my deep revulsion at this systematic abuse, and my resulting bafflement at how it could be so widespread. Are there that many pedophiles in the population at large, failing to abuse children simply out of the lack of access? Does the priesthood provide a siren call to those who have a particular attraction to children? We know that power corrupts, but is it the power itself that causes otherwise normal people to become child-rapists? Are these forms of abuse simply the resurrected ghosts of old cases of abuse that these grown priests experienced as children?

These questions all have several broad implications – if there are pedophiles in the population at large, should we be more concerned about any organization (the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers, Boy Scouts/Girl Guides) that attracts adults to work closely with children? If the priesthood attracts pedophiles, should we be cracking down on seminarians (side note: I used to want to be a priest; am I a latent pedophile)? If it’s merely an issue of power and access, why are we not more concerned about CEOs and politicians? If this is the result of past abuse, don’t we owe a duty of care to the perpetrators as well?

The Belgian church is struggling with these questions as well:

The Belgian Roman Catholic church on Monday acknowledged widespread sexual abuse over years by its clergy and pleaded for time to set up a system to punish abusers and provide closure for victims. The comments were in response to a report Friday in which hundreds of sex abuse victims revealed harrowing accounts of molestation by Catholic clergy throughout the country over the past 50 years…

“The challenge is so big and touches on so many emotions, it seems impossible to us to present a new proposal in all its details [now],” (Archbishop) Leonard said of hotly anticipated church plans to go after the abusers and protect the victims. The church also called on all abusers to come forward.

In the face of the accusations, I am quickly losing both my taste for this story and my patience with the unremitting arrogance and disgusting lack of human decency being championed by the Vatican. Pope Ratzinger, upon arriving in England, decided to place the blame for society’s ills on the quasi-Nazi forces of secularism – a brazenly assholish move from a man who lived in Nazi Germany, and who subsequently helped orchestrate a major crime against humanity even before taking the reins of the corrupt organization he now leads. His ignorance, maleficence and utter disregard for his own hypocrisy anger me in ways I can barely describe.

It is a family tradition to attend Christmas mass, and I will be home with my family in December. I don’t think I can bring myself to accompany them this year, or ever again.

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Fraud, perjury, child molestation, and now terrorism

There’s a particularly disturbing story developing in Northern Ireland:

The police, the Catholic Church and the state conspired to cover up a priest’s suspected role in one of the worst atrocities of the Northern Ireland Troubles, an investigation has found.

Forgetting for a moment the face-palmingly euphemistic name “North Ireland Troubles”, this is a poignant illustration of what happens when religious leaders collude with secular authority. Police found evidence implicating one Father James Chesney, and instead of acting on it, collaborated with politicians and the Church to cover up the evidence and move the suspected terrorist to another parish.

Now I’m sure some of you will think it’s unfair of me to pick on this organization based on acts that were committed 30 years ago, but you’d be missing my point. If the accused had been a member of a secular organization, there would have been no such cover-up or collusion. The Catholic Church wielded (and continues to wield) power that was sufficient to shield its members from any kind of justice. This is another example of the willingness of the RCC to subvert secular authority to preserve their veneer of respectability and shield their power from scrutiny.

Besides, this is not something that happened once 30 years ago and has been dealt with. The Church still refuses to co-operate with secular authority, demanding special exemption from justice at every turn like a petulant child protesting the punishment of a fair parent. When caught and forced to face up to their systemic corruption, they offer non-apologies in the hope of mollifying critics, simultaneously demonstrating that they don’t understand the nature of the problem, and virtually guaranteeing that it will continue in the future.

As disgusted as I am with the RCC for this latest atrocious betrayal of human decency and justice, they cannot accept the entirety of the blame:

[Ombudsman Al Hutchinson] said he told his superiors he was going to raid Fr Chesney’s parochial house within 30 minutes unless he was told to do otherwise. He said he had soldiers standing by in Magherafelt police station as back-up for the search and arrest operation. “They (senior officers) gave me an answer back within 15 minutes that things were under control, not to go. I was told, leave it alone, we’re looking after it. Then the next thing I heard was that he was transferred to Malin Head (in Donegal).”

The corruption was widespread enough to touch the police force, and the political establishment. The entire country was in turmoil, and authorities feared that arresting a priest would result in widespread violence and rioting, touching off a civil war. Perhaps it would have.

The problem is in allowing a group – any group, religious or otherwise – to hold that kind of unchecked power. There was no check on the Catholic Church either from within or externally. The religious authority held such control over both the people and the secular powers that it could thwart the judicial system at its whim. Secular authorities are subject to the approval of the populace (for good or ill), and in many cases are also limited by other branches of government. Religious authorities, however, are accountable only to themselves, and have demonstrated their ability to confuse “the good of the Church” with what is good for the people time after time. There is no mechanism of voting out the Pope, and the threats of excommunication and social ostracism (not to mention hellfire and other fun supernatural punishments) ensured that no citizen group could or would form to check the power of the Church.

Perhaps Ivan Stevenson of Northern Ireland says it best:

The Church is right in saying that they didn’t cover up an evil act. It would seem that the British government offered to do it for them. However, this doesn’t negate their moral responsibility to respond more appropriately. All in all it stinks of hypocrisy, considering recent disclosures relating to child abuse and whatever else lies festering in the closet. The Catholic Church’s self declared divine mandate to be the moral conscience of the world is nothing but the pompous, self-righteous posturing of a large group of very sad and desperate men.

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German church gets it!

Finally! Faint glimmers of brains at work in the Catholic Church:

Germany’s Roman Catholic bishops are requiring that suspected cases of sexual abuse of minors by clergy or others working for the church be reported to prosecutors.

Of course it’s not the Pope, and it’s only policy within the German archdiocese, but it’s a start. Is it too much to hope that this may signal an eventual shift in policy across the board? Maybe, but it’s certainly iron-clad evidence that German Catholics read my blog.

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One step forward, two steps back

Sadly, there is very little Paula Abdul in this post.

The Vatican issued a revised set of church guidelines Thursday to respond to the clerical sex abuse scandal, targeting priests who molest the mentally disabled as well as children, and defining child pornography as a canonical crime, but making few substantive changes to existing practice. (Full story here)

The Church is, let’s say, 1500 years old. Charitably, we could forget about the first 1000 years. We’ll chalk that stuff up to youthful exuberance. For past 500 years, the church has existed in its more-or-less present form – intimately involved in political power, having to deal with an increasingly-secular world. It took them 500 years to recognize that child pornography and the abuse of children and the mentally disabled are crimes. This only after condemnation from pretty much the entire world. Here’s a hint: when the world has to come together and bully you into passing rules against the abuse of children and the mentally disabled, you’re probably on the bad side of good.

But hey, they did it eventually, right? So bravo, we can finally all get off their back.

The Vatican’s sex crimes prosecutor… defended the lack of any mention of the need to report abuse to police, saying all Christians were required to obey civil laws that would already demand sex crimes be reported.

This is exactly like the non-apology from a few weeks ago. If you pass rules that don’t do anything to solve the problem, you’ve done exactly nothing to help. You might as well have not passed the laws. If the Church was interested in even appearing to make amends, it would pass rules with some teeth, and bring about rigorous enforcement. Instead, they have elected to continue to hold themselves above secular authority, as though they have some legitimate Earthly power (which, incidentally, is the only type of power there is).

So they’ve passed a law, but the law is useless. So we’re no further ahead, but no big deal, right?

The new Vatican document also listed the attempted ordination of a woman as a “grave crime” to be handled by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, just as sex abuse is.

There cannot be any more proof in my mind that the Catholic Church does not understand why the world is upset. It doesn’t get that its claims to supernatural authority are meaningless, and increasingly rejected by the world at large. They can’t comprehend the fact that it’s not the simple matter of abuse that is making the world so angry – it’s the repeated attempts to cover it up and defy secular authority. They don’t get it, and it looks like they never will.

New elements in the text include treating priests who sexually abuse the mentally disabled — or an adult who “habitually lacks the use of reason” (emphasis mine) — with the same set of sanctions as those who abuse minors.

Surely that describes anyone who believes a thing these people say.

RCC gets even closer to a real apology

Regular readers will remember two weeks ago when I gave credit where credit is due to the Pope for finally admitting that the abuse and its systematic and deplorable covering up of that abuse are the fault of the Catholic Church itself, and not a cabal of people trying to ruin a good organization. It looks like Benedict thinks that blaming ‘Sin’ was enough, and is now asking Catholics worldwide to forgive the Church:

Pope Benedict XVI has begged forgiveness from clerical abuse victims and promised to “do everything possible” to ensure priests don’t rape and molest children ever again.

I have a question for you, dear readers. Have any of you been in, or been witness to, an abusive relationship? Have you ever been stuck in a vicious cycle with some asshole who swears “I can change, I swear I’ll do whatever it takes” as long as you take him/her back? I’ve seen it, and believe me it isn’t pretty. We’d all like to believe that people can change if they love you enough – that their feelings for you are so strong that they’ll move Heaven and Earth just to keep you.

What ends up happening in those situations? I’ll tell you: the change lasts for about as long as it takes for you to stop being angry, and then everything goes back to the way it was before. People don’t change. As much as they’d like to believe it, people don’t suddenly become better people by sheer force of will. It takes years for us to form our personalities, and it will similarly take years to change those personalities. Press the apologizers for details on how they’ll change, and you’ll find that they have no plan, no specific behaviours, no real concrete idea of what they’re going to do. But they’ll do it!

So whenever I hear someone say something vague like “do everything possible”, I roll my eyes and say “sure, tell me another one.” Organizations don’t change wholesale, especially in the absence of real ideas for reform. When a change is proposed that offers zero specifics on how to make it happen, it’s the equivalent of saying ‘I don’t think what I did was wrong, but you’re mad, so I’ll feed you a line until you stop being mad.’ I’ve done it to my parents, I’ve had friends do it to their significant others, I’ve seen friends’ significant others do it to them, and I’ve been on the receiving end more times than I care to recall. It inevitably ends the same way.

So while I’m willing to believe that the Pope (and the Church by extension) feels really really bad about what happened, I’ll withhold any talk of forgiveness until I see real change. Asking for forgiveness does not oblige me to grant it to you. Seeing as the abuse happened for decades and was rife throughout the entire organization, it’s going to take a lot before I’m willing to believe that any progress has been made.