Will the Roman Catholic Church in India Ever Own up to Sexual Abuse by Its Clergy?
By Chintha Mary Anil
March 4, 2016
In one of his interviews, Pope Francis is heard joking about how egocentric Argentians are: “Do you know how an Argentinian kills himself? By climbing over his own ego and jumping!”
And that aptly captures the Roman Catholic Church’s megalomaniac obsession with its existential worldly grandeur thereby plunging itself into a downward spiritual spiral of its own making.
Christians believe that Christ came into the world to reconcile humans with their Creator by shedding His Blood on the Cross. Yet the Catholic Church seems hell-bent in converting itself into a white-washed tomb –the exact phrase Christ used to describe the self-righteous moralists of his day.
The expediency with which the Roman Catholic Church has sought to sustain the church’s divine status in the eyes of her believers at the expense of a massive cover-up of sexual abuse by its clergy is mind-boggling.
Right from the 1980s when the first case of sexual abuse was reported till recently, the Church purposely chose to look the other way whenever any such case was reported.
It was only in 2002 with the Boston Globe newspaper’s comprehensive reporting of how the Church sought to cover up abuse by priests that the issue actually came into public focus.
The paper’s ‘Spotlight’ team -formed exclusively for investigative journalism in 1970- which was responsible for breaking the news, inspired the making of the eponymous Hollywood movie that incidentally won the 2016 Oscar for Best Film.
You can watch the spotlight team here.
The 2006 BBC documentary ‘Sex Crimes and the Vatican’ revealed shocking but hard facts about how prevalent the systemic rot was, with abuse cases being reported from across the globe with United States and Ireland topping the list.
Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Dominican Republic, Ireland, Norway, Poland, US, Tanzania, Philippines, Europe –there was a whole list of them.
We have countless cases of abuse cases in India too which mostly go unreported. The attitude of the Catholic Church in India seems to be: “If I don’t acknowledge it, it simply ceases to exist.”
An apt case of the blind leading the blind…something which Christ himself had warned his followers to beware of!
You can read about one such case here.
Simon Palathingal is another priest who was convicted of first-degree sexual assault of a child in 2004. He was however out on parole on August 23, 2011 and deported to India from the U.S. on November 1, 2011. Now the Catholic Church in India says that they are completely clueless as to his whereabouts.
And these are just a couple of recorded instances with many accused Indian priests still at large both here and abroad.
It was as late as 2015 that the Vatican –to quote a victim- "finally decided to name a tribunal to hold the bishops accountable for having participated in the cover-up. They knew that priests who were in their diocese were abusing kids and yet they were reassigned from parish to parish."
Such deplorable lag in meting out justice to scores of sexual abuse victims naturally translated into an utter loss of faith and absolute disillusionment with everything the Church symbolized.
As one of the members of The Boston Globe Spotlight team chose to put it: “I was a lapsed Catholic at the time of reporting, and now I'm super-lapsed.”
It is indeed disheartening to know that even when the higher-ups were notified of these horrible crimes, all that they did was shunt the tainted priests from one place to another or simply whisk them off to an isolated penitential retreat centre.
Their absence was then passed off as sick leave to the unsuspecting parishioners. Who exactly was sick here is open to interpretation on the part of the readers.
Hush payments to the tune of millions of dollars were forked out by the Vatican to keep the public persona of the Church unstained.
Catholic priests and nuns are expected to keep a lifelong vow of ‘poverty, obedience and chastity’. If a lifetime of celibacy is what is causing such abhorrent crimes to take place, why can’t they just simply leave the priestly garbs behind and opt for a normal married life?
Or is it just a plain case of deviant behaviour? An accused priest even had the gall to say that he never gained pleasure from the actual act and that instead he sought to give pleasure – the workings of a perverted mind indeed!
The 2004 John Jay Report mentions almost 4392 priests and deacons accused of abuse.
In the late 1940s American priest Father Gerald Gitzgerald who founded the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete -a religious order that treats priests who struggle with substance abuse and sexual misconduct- had repeatedly conveyed to his superiors that such sexual offenders were unlikely to change and should not be asked to return to the ministry.
Yet the Catholic Church chose to play dumb rather than eradicate the evil lurking right within its religious corridors.
Though Pope Benedict XVI in 2010 publicly lamented the Church’s lack of vigilance and promptness in responding to this grave crime, the Vatican is still dithering on whether to opt for a ‘full disclosure - complete accountability’ approach which is what the countless victims of abuse really want.
Almost 3000 priests have been sentenced to a lifetime of penance with around 900 defrocked. Yet the cloak of invisibility with which the Catholic Church insists in covering up the perpetrators of this heinous crime leaves a sense of miscarried justice in the minds of the devout.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and the head of Pope Francis’ special commission on clergy sexual abuse was prompt in praising the Oscar winning movie, but that alone will not help in addressing the hidden psychological and emotional scars that the victims carry within them till this day.
As one victim succinctly puts it: “It is easy to assume that when we talk about the crisis of child rape and abuse, that we are talking about something that happened in the past. The Catholic Church would have us believe that this most tragic era in church history is over. It is not. It lives on today. Pedophiles still serve as priests. Cover-ups of their crimes happen even now, and bishops in many cases continue to refuse to turn information over to the criminal justice system. Cases are stalled and cannot go forward because the church wields the power to stop them. Children are still being harmed and victims are unable to heal.”
The lack of transparency in Vatican proceedings and its failure to implement an infallible mechanism so as to prevent further abuse, just serve to accentuate the atmosphere of deep mistrust of any move -however genuine- by Rome to address this recurring nightmare.
Though the Australian cardinal George Pell -the highest ranking Vatican official to testify on sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church till date- admitted that the church had indeed “made enormous mistakes” in allowing thousands of children to be molested or raped by priests over centuries, had “mucked things up and let people down” and for too long had dismissed credible abuse allegations “in absolutely scandalous circumstances”, the victims are -not surprisingly- unconvinced in the least.
Pope John Paul II used to say the world is what it is now because our modern day culture has lost any real sense of sin…on what constitutes right or wrong.
Does the same not apply to the Catholic Church as well?