During his recent visit to Britain, Pope Benedict advanced the Catholic Church’s latest excuse for the child abuse suffered by children at the hands of its clergy. He blamed lack of proper vigilance by the Church for what he agreed were the “unspeakable crimes” perpetrated upon its youngest and most vulnerable.
Yet, as has been revealed, Australia’s newly canonised saint, Mary MacKillop, suffered excommunication in 1871 after reporting child sex abuse by a priest at Kapunda, north of Adelaide.
So it would seem that the Church has exercised that lack of vigilance against sex offenders within its own ranks, for nearly a century and a half, or longer, and the Pope’s claim would appear disingenuously ill-informed at best, and at worst, a lie.
The truth, affirmed by the revelations regarding Mary MacKillop, is that the Church has long tolerated criminals in its clergy, and either shuttled them around to other parishes where they remained free to molest other children, or intimidated their victims into silence. Indeed, thousands of Catholic clergy now stand accused of sexual crimes, against a vast number of children around the world.
The real question we should ask, and that the Church will not honestly do, is why? How has this happened, and been allowed to happen, if we discount the Pope’s excuse of lack of vigilance?
Nearly all religions, cult leaders, authoritarian regimes and fascist dictators, enforce their power by exerting control over sexual among their functionaries and followers. The vow of chastity, and the prohibition of marriage for the clergy, fill that function within the Church.
But the frustrating of human sexual desire, while possibly fulfilling the goal of entrenching power for authoritarian elites, can lead to other potentially tragic consequences.
Anyone who visits a men’s prison can see what happens to male sexuality when denied. The prison blocks get their male inmate floozies, and they become the sexual outlet for the others.
Appallingly, the Church has long treated the children of its followers as little more than prison floozies, so that it can enforce its sexually prohibitive authority over its clergy.
That is what lies at the core of this most ghastly of serial crimes, the pragmatism of the Church itself, which is why it has tried so hard to deflect attention from itself.
When confronted by child abuse over many decades, it has denied, smeared, bought off, covered up.
Called to account at last now, it tries to blame lack of proper vigilance, just as previously it blamed the evils of modern society, blamed child molesters who had somehow joined its ranks in numbers undetected, blamed homosexuals taking holy vows. It has blamed every one and every thing, except itself.
It steadfastly refuses to recognise still its own complicity in these crimes, because to do so would require it to act, to end celibacy, and to end the patriarchal misogyny, with women excluded from any real power within it.
The Church knew what was going on. It did nothing.
In essence, its leaders didn’t think it was a problem, except in terms of public relations.
The sad truth is that it has been far more concerned about any loss of its authority, prestige, power and money, than about the systematic rape of children entrusted to it over many decades, if not centuries.
It has chosen to tar and feather individuals as deviants, perverts and monsters, when in fact the Church itself created them through its institutional culture of totalitarian control over their sexual urges, for its own selfish ends.
What the Church still fails to recognise, is that it cannot be trusted, because its clergy cannot be trusted not to rape children given into their care. Who in their right mind now would let their child to go on a camping trip in the company of a Catholic priest - even down the street to buy an ice cream? Who in their right mind would enrol their child in a Catholic school without a written agreement that they be informed first of any visit to it by a priest, and an undertaking that their child must never, ever be left alone with a priest?
It is not a matter of an apology or excuse for the Church any more, but of credibility, of trust, belief and faith. And what is a religion without faith?
Larry Buttrose is the author of Tales of the Popes: From Eden to El Dorado, published by New Holland.
My Day, by Pope Alexander VI