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The Catholic Church still doesn't get the horror of child abuse

The Church – to quote the brilliant film “Spotlight” – thinks in centuries, writes Donal O’Keeffe.

Donal O'Keeffe

LAST NIGHT, SPOTLIGHT took home the Academy Award for best picture. It was the surprise of the night, but a deserving win.

The movie focuses on the Pulitzer Prize winning investigation carried out by The Boston Globe into the Catholic Church’s cover-up of child-molesting priests back in 2002.

Recently it was revealed that the Vatican still advises its bishops that reporting allegations of sexual abuse to the police is “not necessarily” their responsibility.

Duty to report 

The Vatican’s training document for new bishops stresses the need to be aware of “the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory” but says “it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors.”

Rather, a bishop’s only duty is to address abuse allegations internally.

Clearly, the institutional Catholic Church still doesn’t get the horror of child abuse and – if it hasn’t by now – it’s unlikely that it ever will. The Church – to quote the brilliant film “Spotlight” – thinks in centuries.

None of this should surprise anyone in Ireland. The Cloyne Report was published in 2011. The then newly-elected Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, told the Dáil:

For the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual-abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic… as little as three years ago, not three decades ago.

And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism….the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.

The rape and torture of children (was) downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.

Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict’s ‘ear of the heart’… the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.

This calculated, withering position being the polar opposite of the radicalism, humility and compassion upon which the Roman Church was founded…

The behaviour being a case of Roma locuta est: causa finita est. (Rome has spoken, the matter is closed).

shutterstock_333649301 Source: Shutterstock/S-F

Ireland’s most militantly conservative Catholics like to pretend that Enda Kenny’s greatest betrayal was the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act, but in truth they will never forgive Kenny for his searing Cloyne speech.

It was, I think – for all his weakness thereafter – Kenny’s finest hour; an address which absolutely nailed the sheer inhumanity that could allow anyone to cover up the sexual abuse of children.

It was a speech which should have changed everything for Irish Catholics – and for the Catholic Church too – but Irish Catholics sometimes seem more willing to forgive their Church than they are to forgive other, more mundane sinners. And where the Catholic Church itself is concerned, the institution is all that matters.

Nothing ever changes and nothing is ever learned.

Secula seculorum. Forever and ever, Amen.

It seems very obvious that the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse problem is only a symptom – a monstrous, cataclysmic evil but still only a symptom – of the Church’s greater sexual problem.

Priesthood became a refuge for many paedophiles highlighting the misogyny, homophobia and sexual dysfunction at the heart of Catholicism.

Recently, BBC’s Panorama programme alleged Pope (now Saint) John Paul II had an intensely-emotional 32 year relationship with a married woman, the Polish-born philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka. While there is no suggestion the relationship was sexual, it is obvious from his correspondence with her that theirs was at the least a deeply loving friendship.

Tymieniecka was one of the very few people allowed to see John Paul in the immediate wake of Mehmet Ali Agca’s 1981 assassination attempt, so the Pope’s advisors certainly knew how close they were. What I found terribly sad was the fact that Tymieniecka’s visits to John

Paul’s deathbed in 2005 were kept secret the Vatican. She called to see him the day before he died but her name is not listed among those who visited. It is obvious Vatican officials thought there might be some shame in her presence.

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shutterstock_117965209 Source: Shutterstock/tkachuk

There is a resonance there. When Pope John Paul II’s predecessor, Pope John Paul I, died in 1978 – only 33 days into his reign – he was found dead in his bed by a nun.

The official story was that the Pope had been found by his private secretary, the Irish cleric John Magee, because it was felt that it would – to use that perfectly Catholic phrase – give scandal if it was known a woman had been in the Pope’s bedchamber.

That same John Magee, by the way, is unique in the history of the Vatican, having served as private secretary to three popes: Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II.

In 2009, Magee stepped down as Bishop of Cloyne to – he claimed – dedicate his full time to the matter of the Cloyne Inquiry. A year later he formally resigned. A year after that, the Cloyne Report found that Magee had falsely claimed that the diocese was reporting all allegations of clerical child sexual abuse to the civil authorities.

Nothing ever changes for the Catholic Church and nothing is ever learned. Secula seculorum. If you’re still going to Mass, perhaps you pray for the victims of abuse. Perhaps it makes you feel better about yourself and the Church you support.

The Church thinks in centuries.

It’s depressingly clear that unless the Catholic Church frees itself of its weird hatred of women and its morbid fascination and repulsion with sex, then child abuse will be as much a problem in the Catholic Church of 2116 as it is today.

Donal O’Keeffe is a writer, artist and columnist for TheJournal.ie. You can follow him on Twitter here.  

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