It is sometimes said that politicians think in terms of weeks, statesmen in terms of decades and the pope in terms of centuries. Yet even by these standards of longevity, the Vatican’s response to an avalanche of sexual abuse claims is outrageous. Not only did the church fail to protect thousands of children from sexual abuse, it facilitated that abuse by moving the offenders from parish to parish where they continued to abuse and then cover-up their crimes. Indeed, the extent of the cover-up is beginning to read like a plot from a Dan Brown novel. Earlier this month the pope was forced to issue a letter of apology to Irish Catholics for the long history of sexual abuse by priests, nuns and Catholic orders. Unsurprisingly, the letter failed to address the systematic concealment of this abuse by Irish bishops. A scandal emerged just last week around the current head of Irish Catholic church, Cardinal Sean Brady. In 1975 he forced two boys to swear an oath of secrecy and concealed the abuse inflicted upon them by paedophile priest, Brendan Smyth. A 2009 public inquiry into church sexual abuse, found that the church’s motivation was: “The maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. “All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities.”
But as Eamonn McCann recently commented, “That’s the point. There was no decision involved. They will have acted naturally, instinctively. “It is not that they rejected the idea of reporting the abuse to the secular authorities. The thought will not have occurred to them.” However, the cover‑up by the Irish church is simply a microcosm of a wider campaign of deliberate concealment that stretches across the globe and into the highest levels of the Vatican. Benedict is deeply implicated in this suppression, despite protestations to the contrary by Vatican officials. Indeed, it would be astonishing if he were not. Between 1982 and 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as he was then, was head of the powerful orthodoxy watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly the Inquisition. This body is the discipliner of clerics who violate the church’s moral and theological doctrine. The Vatican’s policy under his leadership was one of orchestrated concealment. He himself is directly implicated in two cover-ups. But it is not just Benedict who was involved. Pope John Paul II, who is being fast-tracked for sainthood by Benedict, declined to investigate a priest called Father Marcial Maciel. Maciel founded a cult-like order known as the Legion of Christ and systematically engaged in sexual abuse of minors for 40 years. But John Paul claimed that he had “discerned” that Maciel was innocent.
Right from the beginning the church has failed to address the scale and magnitude of sexual abuse that occurred. John Paul II, pope for much of this period, took an entirely mystical view of the paedophile crisis. He called it a mysterium iniquitatis or “mystery of iniquity”, an apocalyptic reference to the influence of satanic powers. And worse, he tried to equate the sexual abuse of children with homosexuality, claiming that the abuse was restricted to a small number of gay priests. Benedict has continued with the view that the phenomenon is a matter of sinfulness rather than criminality, and he cites secularism and even the influence of liberals within the church for causing the abuse. There is no indication that larger, structural causes are even contemplated, much less in line to be addressed. Even now, despite almost daily revelations of horrific child sexual abuse, the church continues to deny its role in concealing and perpetuating it. Indeed, the Vatican is now claiming that the church itself is the victim in all this. Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, an aide to the pope, set the tone, telling reporters on Thursday: “This is a pretext for attacking the church… There is a well organised plan with a very clear aim.” It is becoming increasingly clear that this is an institution that is rotten to its core and whose only priorities are to defend itself and, of course, the Vatican’s assets.