Flaming Purses and Holy Drag in a Burning House

The nightmare of child abuse by priests of the Catholic Church in Germany, Italy, Denmark, Austria, and Switzerland shows no sign of abating. A hotline set up by the Catholic Church in Germany for abuse reporting was overwhelmed with a reported 4459 callers on its first day, eventually necessitating a shutdown of the system, as therapists could provide assistance to only 162 callers. Similar abuse reports were found throughout Ireland, as an investigation revealed that the Irish church covered up child sexual abuse reports for 30 years, with four Irish bishops  submitting their resignations to the Pope as a consequence. Church attendance in Ireland and Germany has plummeted, with 25 percent of German Catholics reporting that they have lost faith in the church leadership. Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has accused the Roman Catholic Church of losing credibility over the widespread scandals. All together now: DUH!

Meanwhile, in a church that sees nothing wrong with enforced celibacy, repressed sexuality, homophobia, relegating women to second-class status, oppressing indigenous peoples, relocating abusive clergy, and covering up countless cases of child sexual abuse by priests (aka sweeping the problem under the rug), Catholic leaders are trying to divert attention by attempting to link gay priests to child sexual abuse and branding the church as the victim. This historically successful “Look, a unicorn!” strategy is proving ineffective, as better informed Catholics are recognizing that being gay is not the same as being a sexual abuser of children. Coming from a religion that requires its clergy to wear dresses and wave a smokin’ purse during its rites, such cosmic irony is apparently lost on the Vatican.

Other religious groups have also experienced clergy committing such awful crimes against children, as the Rt. Rev. William Percell noted in his 2002 Good Friday sermon that “Sin and abusive behavior know no ecclesial or other boundaries.” As an enormously well-financed transnational corporate public relations machine, however, the Roman Catholic Church has held itself up as the model for other Christian traditions. Catholic leaders and the Pope have ignored or forgotten that

Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18, KJV

Pope Benedict XVI, previously known as Cardinal Ratzinger, is also coming under fire for allegedly knowing about one Reverend Lawrence Murphy’s abuse. As the leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger reportedly became aware of Murphy’s years of abuse of deaf Wisconsin children, yet did nothing. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the present-day successor to the notorious Inquisition, known for the mass torture and murders of those the Church deemed to be witches, heretics, or other freethinkers. It looks like the Church may need to reconsider the validity of the principle of karma.

A big lesson is at hand for the Catholic Church, and the world awaits its response to the latest tsunami of a persisting flood of child sexual-abuse claims. For now, Vatican spin doctors are attempting to paint the Church itself as the victim or deflect attention by inappropriately focusing on gay priests, rather than honestly face the question: Why did the church not protect the children in its care? Now that the brazier of child abuse has set the church house on fire, whether or not the true source of the fire is acknowledged by Catholic leadership remains to be seen. Likewise, if the church changes as a consequence is anybody’s guess.

Update: After this article was published, a famous human-rights lawyer and United Nations jurist, Geoffrey Robertson, called for Pope Benedict XVI to be brought before an international tribunal for prosecution for allegedly permitting priests who sexually abused children the opportunity to relocate and continue the child abuse. Robertson believes the Pontiff should face the full weight of international law for a crime against humanity. Also, evidence has emerged that reveals Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict’s prior title and name) knew of an abusive priest in 1985, but blocked the priest’s removal from the clergy.


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