Crisis in the Catholic church

Benedict became pope in 2005 and it is widely acknowledged that his poor handling of the abuse cases has pushed the Roman Catholic Church into a deep crisis disillusioning many of its faithful.

At a Mass at Westminster Cathedral, Benedict said he was deeply sorry for the sexual abuse of children by the clergy. “Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ's grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives.”
To the thousands of victims of abuse by the Catholic clergy worldwide the public acknowledgement is not enough. In the US the Church has already paid out over $1.6 billion in court settlements for clerical sex abuse.

But why should the blame for the abuse that had become endemic to the Church over years have to be shouldered by this pope?


In his book ‘The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse’ acclaimed human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC argues that Benedict, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had been responsible for addressing abuse cases as the Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). He held the position for 25 years, but rather than act against paedophile priests the Vatican in a massive cover-up transferred them on to greener pastures in other parishes.

“The evidence establishes that, at the direction of the Vatican, wrongdoers were dealt with in a manner that protected them from exposure, silenced their victims, aided and abetted some to move on to commit further offences, and withheld evidence of their serious crimes from law enforcement authorities.”

One of the most trenchant critics of the Vatican’s special privileges as a sovereign state,  Robertson says under its canon law — its parallel system of criminal justice — the church  provided paedophile priests an escape route, “treating them as sinners in need of fatherly counsel rather than as criminals deserving of punishment”. Many of these priests were reassigned to parishes in Ireland, Mexico and Rome and some transferred to Africa and Latin America.

Robertson is not the only outspoken critic of the Vatican to have received so much attention from the media in the West in the past fortnight. Human rights activist Peter Tatchell who launched the campaign ‘Protest the Pope’ argues that Benedict’s papacy is pushing the church to a more orthodox, conservative agenda. A grassroots Catholic movement “We are Church” wants a more democratic, transparent, accountable church, he said.

Even in India where half of the 30 million Christians are Catholic, clerical sexual abuse  has remained a dark and well entrenched secret within the Church. Writing here recently, historian Teotonio R de Souza said his studies in a Goan seminary had left him with sad memories of paedophile abuse of young seminarians by senior inmates. “I could name some of the violators, but I wish some of my contemporaries would come forward and confirm this sad reality in an institution that trained future priests.” The abuse was not isolated, de Souza said, and worse still, completely silenced.

So was the case of a 61-year-old priest found murdered in his parish residence in Macazana, South Goa in early 2006. Though the lengthy statements recorded by the police clearly spelt out homosexual abuse by the priest as the motive in the crime, the  Church in Goa pretended ignorance in a conspiracy of silence. The predator-priest who had been transferred from one parish to another after complaints of sexual impropriety, was given a grand send-off with a funeral service presided over by the bishop and assisted by nearly 300 priests. Two youths from UP in their early 20s who had been arrested for the crime were acquitted from the charges in the case and freed by the courts in 2008.    

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