Over the past few weeks, new revelations have cast a startling light on the extent to which the Vatican–and even Pope Benedict XVI himself–may have been involved in preventing clergymen accused of child abuse from facing legal repercussions, or even being removed from contact with children. New documentation reveals that church officials may have ignored repeated warnings from bishops as to the dangers of a Wisconsin priest who is accused of molesting more than 200 deaf children.
The same month, a Munich priest’s alleged abuse showed that the Pope may have directly ignored cases of abuse by the clergy while serving as then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger. This incident is just one in a string of cases that seem to reveal that child abuse by priests has been, contrary to original assertions, a world-wide problem rather than simply an American phenomenon.
As offensive as the possibility of church officials covering up child abuse may be, the church’s reactions to allegations of a cover-up are perhaps even more offensive. During a Good Friday service, Pope Benedict’s personal preacher, Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, equated criticism of the church in these times with anti-Semitism against Jews in the lead-up to the Holocaust. According to Cantalamessa, the perceived “passing from responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.”
Furthering Rev. Cantalamessa’s feelings of persecution, American Catholic League leader Bill Donohue added this month that the abuse of children by priests should have been handled as a private, internal matter within the church instead of a cause for police involvement. He added that, because many of the victims in question were post-pubescent, the issue is one of homosexuality and not of child abuse.
Up to this point in the editorial, the Editorial Board has felt content to simply restate the facts at hand rather than develop an argument. All the same, we will make a brief statement concerning what is, on an intellectual level, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this situation–the idea that criticism of the church’s handling of abuse cases amounts to anti-Catholicism, which in turn amounts to Nazi anti-Semitism.
Aside from being highly insensitive to the actual victims of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, this argument dangerously implies that criticizing the actions of the church, even those that may be illegal, amounts to attacking Catholics as individuals. It is one thing to associate cultural insensitivity with prejudice, but it is an entirely different matter to try to excuse deplorable and illegal behavior by claiming church privilege. It does not offend anyone’s faith or culture to demand that justice be met, and it does not help any organization to allow corruption and abuse to go unchecked. In fact, the Editorial Board would imagine that there are a sizable number of active members in the Catholic community who are also disappointed and outraged by the church’s handling of these cases. When the leaders of any organization permit this kind of corruption to permeate its ranks, they betray the trust of all those who have put their faith in them.
The Editorial Board condemns the assertion that Vatican leaders should not be criticized or held accountable for the failure, or possible unwillingness, to end a world-wide pattern of abuse. Even with all considerations of multiculturalism and church privilege taken into account, there can still be no just argument for excusing this kind of negligence.