Sunday, 18 April 2010

On The Subject Of Ethics

I've already made a post today - but now I'm angry.

I was going to write a little preamble here about how I used to be much slower to anger, whereas these days I find myself more quickly turning red and reaching for the keyboard. I was going to talk quickly, maybe even make a joke or two, about how I must be turning into a cranky old man before my time. I quickly abandoned any levity or inclination to consider myself overly-sensitive when the gravity of the subject really hit home.

The Pope - Cardinal Ratzinger - is criminally liable for obstructing justice and protecting pedophiles.

And the media - everywhere, but almost especially, it seems, in Australia - is missing the fucking point entirely.

I'm late to the party on this one, but I was spurred to try and articulate exactly what is on my mind by the latest blowhard tripe published by Archbishop George Pell - a man who is increasingly becoming the worst example of ignorance and arrogance that I can name in this country (Maybe besides Andrew Bolt and Steven Conroy). Go read that article - I promise you it is short - and keep it mind.

Many others have dealt with this media coverage better than I could. Among others, we have Miranda Divine, Piers Ackerman, Andrew Bolt - the usual right-wing suspects - all decrying media hysteria against poor Ratzinger, who they see as an innocent victim in all of this. Divine and Ackerman are hung up on this being a game of us versus them, atheists versus christians, and Bolt posts a list of questions that the media didn't ask about Ratzinger. (To give him his due, he has wisely left the issue mostly alone, sticking to a single line of his own dissent - he is a non-believer after all).  How dare these prominent atheists go so hard after the Pope, of all people, to get themselves some publicity? It seems to be the prevailing attitude around the usual suspect publications and blogs and, if the responses from catholic and other christian newsletters can be believed, the congregations.

The Defence of the Pope ranges from the ridiculous (influence of satan himself), to the offensive (it is homosexuality - not celibacy - to blame), to the subversively offensive (molestation levels are no worse than anywhere else), to the legalistic (quibbles over dates, names, places, signatures). Others still claim that the Pope ought to be congratulated (see Cardinal Pell's article) for the steps he has taken to make amends for the actions of the church in the past.

And every single one of them is missing the point entirely.

Certainly, there are those who do not believe that the Pope has done nearly enough. A group representing the molested majority in Ireland claim that Ratzinger's letter was absolutely not enough to satisfy their want for justice. A similar group in Australia is even less willing to accept a letter addressed to the populace of Ireland as a response to their claims against the Church. When Cardinal Pell writes thusly in one of our national newspapers:

Some recent coverage has been inaccurate or reported only part of the story. But when all this has been sifted through, the record shows the Pope has acted decisively and determinedly to care for victims and eradicate sexual abuse from the church.

I find I can only agree with half of the statement. The Pope has acted in some way to care for victims in that he wrote them a nice letter to apologise for what was done to them at the hands of their disgraceful excuses for child carers and moral guardians. But as for taking steps to eradicate sexual abuse from the church, I'm afraid he leaves a lot wanting. In fact, he leaves everything wanting - as he has done absolutely nothing to even reduce the abuse levels, let alone eradicate them. Apart from a stern warning that offenders will "answer before God and properly constituted tribunals for the sinful and criminal actions they have committed", committed to paper alone, he has done nothing. He doesn't mention what these properly constituted tribunals are. Just that the offenders will answer before them.

This is not an action that Ratzinger ought to be applauded for - it's a shameful attempt to write a letter of apology to a group of hundreds of thousands of people who have had their childhoods ruined by disgusting, perverted men.

The Case Against Ratzinger, it seems, gets more damning the more you look into it - not less, as most of our right-wing columnists are trying to claim. Certainly, there was the case of Stephen Kiesle - a man who raped two young boys, aged 11 and 13, in California - whom Ratzinger spoke thusly about on the matter of having him defrocked:

This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favour of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ's faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner.

The Petitioner in this case refers to the Priest - who was 38 at the time. He was seeking to have himself removed from priestly responsibilities, an action that could only be granted by Ratzinger's office in the Vatican. On receiving the request, Ratzinger wrote the above words in a letter describing a course of action to be taken by the local bishop. The letter also stated the following:

It is necessary for this Congregation to submit incidents of this sort to very careful consideration, which necessitates a longer period of time.
In the meantime your Excellency must not fail to provide the petitioner with as much paternal care as possible and in addition to explain to same the rationale of this court, which is accustomed to proceed keeping the common good especially before its eyes.

 A man - accused before the court and in fact limply convicted by them - asked to be removed from the priesthood in 1985. Ratzinger and his 'court' wanted more time to make their decision over whether or not to allow this man to leave the holy order. They eventually made their decision to have him removed - in 1987. All legalistic considerations here - whether or not Ratzinger's intervention could have led to the prevention of future acts of rape and torture, what he was and was not able to do at the time - are secondary to the fact that the man allowed a pedophile to remain a priest for two years while he considered whether or not removing him from his position would have been the best thing for the 'Good of the Universal Church'.

I don't seem to possess a word to describe the abject lack of consideration afforded to the victims in this case. Where is the immediate agreement from Ratzinger - the swift and decisive action that Cardinal Pell was talking about to reduce child torture within the Church - to have this man excommunicated for his sinful and disgusting crimes?

This is but one case and seems unwaveringly to be the one that the right-wing usual suspects take issue with. Ratzinger may be innocent of direct prevention in this case - that is not for me to decide - but it is not conclusively clear to me as a citizen.

Far more damning is the case of Reverend Lawrence Murphy from Wisconsin in the US, who despite repeatedly abusing something along the lines of 200 deaf and dumb children in a school was quietly moved from one parish to another, just slightly further north. No justice action was taken against the Reverend because he was, in Ratzinger's opinion, too old. By way of supporting material here I can only direct you to this report in the New York Times, which provides an incredibly detailed paper trail all scanned to PDF to show the timeline of events. If you have time, check them out. If you don't, the article summarises it very well. The case of Lawrence Murphy is an appalling one and I suggest that you familiarise yourself with it.

A quick summary from the New York Times would read like this:

In 1996, Cardinal Ratzinger failed to respond to two letters about the case from Rembert G. Weakland, Milwaukee’s archbishop at the time. After eight months, the second in command at the doctrinal office, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now the Vatican’s secretary of state, instructed the Wisconsin bishops to begin a secret canonical trial that could lead to Father Murphy’s dismissal.
But Cardinal Bertone halted the process after Father Murphy personally wrote to Cardinal Ratzinger protesting that he should not be put on trial because he had already repented and was in poor health and that the case was beyond the church’s own statute of limitations.
“I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood,” Father Murphy wrote near the end of his life to Cardinal Ratzinger. “I ask your kind assistance in this matter.” The files contain no response from Cardinal Ratzinger.

Here is the link to the letter that the Reverend Murphy wrote to the Cardinal. He was never defrocked.

Still, some might argue, Cardinal Bertone was more responsible for the trouble here than Ratzinger. It would be entirely to miss the point, of course - Ratzinger was the head of that particular division at the time, and therefore, as we all know, the buck stopped with him.

What Really Does It For Me is the letter that was sent from Cardinal Ratzinger to every single Catholic bishop in the world. I would refer you here to two reports in the London Observer, in which the non-public letter made its way into the hands of a journalist. They are here and here.

The crux of the matter is as follows.

In May 2001, [Ratzinger] sent a confidential letter to every bishop in the Catholic church reminding them of the strict penalties facing those who referred allegations of sexual abuse against priests to outside authorities.
The letter referred to a confidential Vatican document drawn up in 1962 instructing bishops on how to deal with allegations of sexual abuse between a priest and a child arising out of a confessional.
It urged them to investigate such allegations 'in the most secretive way... restrained by a perpetual silence... and everyone... is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office... under the penalty of excommunication'.

There you have it. The thrust of the whole Pope problem. The one that everyone seems to be missing in the media, and the one that has me so goddamn angry. The bolded words above are mine. Read them through carefully and allow what follows to outrage you as much as it should.

Under no circumstances are the offenders themselves threatened with excommunication. In fact, quite the opposite as the earlier cases show - they are babied by their superiors, it seems. In some cases, offered shelter. In others, allowed to keep their holy garments and title until they died. All the concern, as far as the Vatican goes, is for the reputation of the church. The victims be damned - if you'll excuse the turn of phrase.

Do not mention anything to anyone, it says, until we've investigated it. Under penalty of excommunication.

According to the reports here, also, Ratzinger introduced a statute of limitations of sorts. I give way once again to the Observer report:

The letter states that the church's jurisdiction 'begins to run from the day when the minor has completed the 18th year of age' and lasts for 10 years.

The matter is officially Church-only, it says, until the child that has been molested is twenty eight years old. There is no obligation to contact authorities before that time and in fact you could be excommunicated for it. As Christopher Hitchens points out, 'Nobody has yet been excommunicated for the rape and torture of children, but exposing the offense could get you into serious trouble'.

Ratzinger Is A Man That Cardinal George Pell wants to congratulate and thank for his role in diminishing the rape and torture of children within the Catholic Church. This is a man that is being unfairly attacked by strident and attention-seeking atheists.

So when prominent atheists call for the Pope to be arrested and brought before the International Criminal Court, you have to wonder if they are more concerned about grandstanding than sexual abuse.
As one British atheist observed, it is ironic that some atheists want to conduct their own Inquisition.
Richard Dawkins has even claimed bringing a child up as a Catholic is more damaging than sexual abuse.
This hardly suggests taking sexual abuse seriously. Pope Benedict's role in confronting this evil should be acknowledged. Perhaps others in the wider community could follow his example.

Pardon me? First of all, Cardinal Pell - citation needed. Dawkins has never claimed that bringing up a child catholic is worse than sexual abuse or child rape. He has likened indoctrination to child abuse, but has never suggested it is worse or somehow has an incredibly damaging, direct effect like rape and torture do. I really wish people, when quoting Dawkins, would take the time to include a single supporting quote. They never do. I would expect to be shredded if I ever did such a thing.

Second of all, George, you simply must be familiar with the letter sent by Ratzinger in 2001. You are certainly aware of the 1962 'Instruction on the manner of proceeding in cases of solicitation' (which you can read here in PDF form). You cannot possibly be ignorant of the two cases I outlined above - cases that are just a drop in the ocean when it comes to the accusations levelled against catholic priests.

In light of all of dare you accuse anyone of not taking sexual abuse seriously?

I at least agree with one thing - Ratzinger's role in confronting this evil should be acknowledged.

He should be brought before a secular tribunal and made to explain his actions.

There Might Still Exist A Doubt in some minds as the personal culpability of the Pope, and why he is being so actively pursued by a public that wants action taken. In parting I'll offer a few thoughts for how it might be understood by someone who is viewing it from the inside-out.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a parent. Your son attends the local Catholic school. One day, you overhear him talking to a friend, expressing concerns about a priest at the school. You quiz your son, and discover a shocking story about a school that literally houses bedrooms for priests. Your son has been molested by this man. You are outraged. You go to the school and voice your concerns in no uncertain terms. You are met with absolutely zero action on their part - the priests are not even told of your complaints. Frustrated and angry, you move your child out of the school. The priest continues to work at the school although staff have been alerted to his misconduct. The Church takes no action. It is not until well after your son has turned 32 that the priest is finally convicted, after having molested a further thirty-eight boys.

This is not a work of fiction. It is the real-life account of 'Tim', a man molested by Father Thomas Brennan at St. Pius X high school in Newcastle in the 1970s. You can read a full account of it at Broken Rights in three parts: here, here and here.

Imagine, just for a moment, if the 'Instruction on the manner of proceeding in cases of solicitation' document issued by the Vatican had said something along the lines of 'If you even get a sniff of something like this going on, do what any normal person would do - report it to the police immediately and have the offender in question stood down'. I challenge anyone to deny that this would be the right and moral thing to do in this circumstance. It is the decision that most people - most honest, good, normal and moral people - would make. So the question must then be asked, 'what could make an honest, good and normal person ignore a case like this?'.

Reasons may fluctuate on a personal scale but there is one common thing in all cases. These people had been issued a document from their leader in Rome - the mouthpiece for god on earth - to keep it quiet, in-house, and covered up. Don't tell me that, without such a holy order, the people involved would have acted in the same way. For if they did, they were little more than monsters.

A More Modern Day Hypothetical, this one entirely untrue. Imagine for a moment that Dennis Ferguson, Australia's most prominent piece of subhuman filth, has his crimes (committed in 1988) brought before a Member of Parliament before they are made public. However, Prime Minister Bob Hawke has previously issued a letter that states, for the good of the reputation of Australia, the crime of sexual abuse will be investigated in complete secrecy. Anyone that informs the media will be deported. Of course all due care will be paid to protect the identity of Dennis Ferguson, who will be relocated to a location somewhere outside of Sydney, quite close to three other schools. Once the man's victims - currently aged 5, 6 and 7 - reach the age of 28, then the authorities can be told of the crimes without any concern of deportation or loss of citizenship. Ferguson, who will then be nearly seventy years old, is fair game to serve out a lengthy sentence in prison. Or at least, as much of it as he can before he is released into respite due to old age.

It is discovered by one of this country's right-wing media columnists that Ferguson's crimes were covered up. They discover the letter issued by Bob Hawke, his signature on the page. It doesn't relate to this case specifically, but the very act of sending it has allowed Dennis Ferguson to molest more children and foster an atmosphere of secrecy and cover-up within the country.

I invite you to imagine just how many heads would roll and just how many people would be lining up to drop the gallows on Hawke personally. It was nearly too unpalatable a proposition to even write that hypothetical.

If someone can detail for me the reason that the Prime Minister in this fictional case should be rightly cast out of office and spend an eternity in prison whereas Ratzinger, in his real life, actually happening right now  case, deserves not just leniency before the law but to be CONGRATULATED FOR REDUCING SEXUAL ABUSE LEVELS IN THE CHURCH, I would be very grateful.

Forget atheists versus christians. Forget Dawkins versus Pope. Forget all of that absolutely irrelevant babble. The issue here is that priests - specific, catholic priests - committed unspeakably awful crimes against children and were not dealt with in a satisfactory way. In fact, they were covered up and protected by the man who would later become the head of the organisation.

I don't care what organisation you're talking about - catholic church, Australian Government, high school football team, local book club. It is illegal, it is disgusting, and it abhorrs everything we consider moral and just about the world.

Bring those responsible to justice. Let go of your baggage. Recognise the victims. And act morally.

1 comment:

  1. I've said it elsewhere: if the Catholic church would just say: "We're sorry"; if they would admit that some of their number had done appalling things, and that the church itself had been complicit in keeping it quiet - *and that doing so was wrong and immoral and they have no excuse* - but that the church will now work with the proper authorities, co-operate fully, and keep paedophiles away from children ... they could be worthy of some respect.

    Failing that (in other words, in reality), I cannot see how any moral Catholic could fail to be ashamed of their church - or how any of the rest of us can be attacked for pointing out how wrong the church's actions are.