Bears and woods

There in a scene described in the New Testament where Jesus, having been asked who will be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, calls a small child to him, and tells his disciples “This kid is, and you guys need to become more like little kids, and furthermore, anyone who hurts little kids should have a big stone hung round his neck and dropped into the deepest part of the sea, am I clear?”

(I’m paraphrasing.)

Pope FrancisNo one knows how many priests in the Roman Catholic Church have abused children and are still active as priests in their communities. In each diocese, there are files on the priests who worked there which would make that clear if all of them were opened up, but the Catholic Church has steadily refused to do that.

Four hundred priests who have been accused of child molestation by the secular law authorities have been defrocked. I know of no instance where the Church has defrocked a priest and turned him and the evidence they had uncovered of his abuse of children over to the secular law authorities so that the legal authorities could act.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has said in its recent report:

“The practice of offenders’ mobility, which has allowed many priests to remain in contact with children and to continue to abuse them, still places children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children.”

The UN panel also criticised the Holy See for refusing to hand over data concerning all cases of abuse brought to its attention during the period in question, and their outcomes. It said that confidential disciplinary proceedings had “allowed the vast majority of abusers and almost all those who concealed child sexual abuse to escape judicial proceedings in states where abuses were committed”.

It also said the reporting of suspected crimes had been strongly hampered by a “code of silence” among the clergy which had seen those who dared to break it “ostracised, demoted and fired”, and cited one well-known instance from 2001 in which a bishop was in effect congratulated for having kept to it.

Although the headline news was mostly about the Catholic Church’s refusal to uncover priests who abuse children, the report also condemned the Catholic Church’s attitudes to abortion and contraception – pregnancy is the leading cause of death for teenage girls worldwide – and the Church’s steady refusal to apologise to or to compensate the women enslaved to the Church’s profit in the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland from 1922 to 1996.

The Vatican has said that this report – this call to hand over evidence against priests who abused children to law enforcement – constitutes “interference”.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has no power to enforce its demands, no authority to insist that any child is protected. All they can do is to investigate and to write reports. This is, the Vatican says, “interference”. The Vatican says they will only hand over evidence against a priest who abused children if secular law enforcement has arrested the priest on charges independently of the Vatican’s help: until secular law enforcement acts, apparently hiding evidence that a priest abused children doesn’t constitute a cover-up.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, described as “one of the most influential Catholic leaders in the US”, went on a rant last November about the Affordable Care Act (at the end of his term as chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops): he complained that Catholic bishops had been unable to support affordable care for everyone in the US because that included the right of women to access abortion, the right of women to get free contraception, and ensuring that organisations and businesses who wanted to enforce their anti-contraception beliefs on their employees were not able to do so.

The Vatican made no protest at Dolan’s “interference”.

In December 2012, the four Catholic Archbishops of Ireland, Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh; the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Cashel & Emly, Dermot Clifford, and Archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, formally announced that they took issue with the Irish government’s decision to legislate to ensure that a woman dying in an Irish hospital, who needed an abortion to save her life, could have that life-saving abortion, without the doctors who saved her life having to worry that they would be sent to jail for two years for doing so.

The Vatican made no protest at this “interference”.

In August 2012, while Scotland was on the road to legislating for equal marriage, Cardinal Keith O’Brien ordered a letter written to be read from every pulpit to Catholic congregations in Scotland, against lifting the ban on same-sex couples getting married. (The legislation was, at this point, very definitely intended to exclude all religious groups who did not wish to be included: a religious body that wished to marry same-sex couples would have to opt-in, and any individuals within that body who wanted to opt-out could do so.) But the letter was written and the letter was read, and the Catholic Church went on campaigning against same-sex marriage for months afterward.

The Vatican made no protest at this “interference”.

Different families, same loveWhen the same-sex marriage bill for England and Wales was being passed, the Catholic Church argued for special “protections” for teachers who wanted to be able to tell their classrooms that in their view same-sex marriage wasn’t real marriage and the children of same-sex couples didn’t have real parents.

Mary Scanlon, Conservative MSP for the Highlands, said in her speech explaining why she intended to vote for same-sex marriage in the Scottish Parliament:

I am a single parent. I was married; my husband walked out when my children were aged one and two. I did not ask him to do that; I did not want that to happen. … When my children went to school in Dundee, my daughter was asked, “Hands up those from a broken home.” I can tell you that that teacher in that school never asked that question again after I visited. [Applause.] I believe that whether we are in our role as MSPs, parents or citizens, we should all, individually or otherwise, address that type of humiliation, embarrassment, isolation and bullying, whenever and wherever it arises.

I can’t think of a good way of ending this post. There exist men who are employed by the Catholic Church, who sexually abused children, who are known to their employers to have abused children, and the Catholic Church says that a report requiring them to uncover these men’s crimes to law enforcement is “interference”.

That’s all.

Mama bear and cubs

Let’s note, of course, that the Catholic Church is really not the only institution or network to casually ignore credible evidence of child abuse. Consider the defenders of Woody Allen, who want to believe that Dylan Farrow is lying about him.

Woody Allen’s twenty-eight year old daughter, Dylan Farrow, has just written a powerful statement outlining the sexual abuse she says she endured by her father, Woody Allen, when she was seven years old. The famous director strongly denies the allegations, and claims that Dylan’s mother, Mia Farrow, is responsible for the false claims.[1] A friend and filmmaker colleague has written a strong opinion piece defending Woody Allen.

Woody Allen is presumed innocent. However, having represented many child sexual abuse victims for decades, I find Dylan’s story is highly credible. – Lisa Bloom, Six Reasons Dylan Farrow Is Highly Credible

The Catholic Church is in many ways just another male-dominated institution with more concern for protecting its “good name” and caring for its employees than it has for the victims of its employees. The only thing that makes the Catholic Church different from the institutions that defend Woody Allen is that the Catholic Church lays claim to international morality: to political interference on the grounds that it is empowered to know right from wrong.

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Filed under Human Rights, LGBT Equality, Religion, Women

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