Training God’s Rottweiler: Catholic Church Sexual Abuse Must End

Back in 2002, the Boston Globe first embarked on its Pulitzer Prize-winning series that would shock Catholics in America and around the world. The sexual abuse scandal the Globe uncovered in the Boston Archdiocese, which sparked similar exposes around the country, rocked the American Catholic Church, bankrupted dioceses, and even resulted in the murder of a notorious pedophile priest. The reporting shined a bright light on travesties the Vatican wanted kept in the dark: suicides, abuse, and shattered lives of children and adults who suffered the abuse—the product of malfeasance at all levels of the Church hierarchy, which tried to blame it on “America,” “homosexuality,” and “a few bad priests.”

The story is repeating itself, with a vengeance. Its stench now reaches all the way to the seat of Peter in Vatican City, and the late Pope John Paul II’s “Rottweiler,” Pope Benedict XVI.

The Biggest Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell Outfit in the World

This time, however, the scandal is in Pope Benedict’s beloved Europe, where he has placed so much hope in reviving the Church. Recent news of sexual abuse cases in Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands suggest that much like the scandal uncovered by the Globe reporters, the roots are deep, the crimes unimaginable, the secrecy and subversion of blame epidemic. The Pope’s brother even admitted to slapping children, though not molesting them. As Andrew Sullivan remarked in a recent blog post, “what’s staggering to me is the Vatican response—which is the same as the Boston Church’s first response. Even now, even after all we have learned and seen this past decade, their response is to say it is primarily part of a campaign to vilify the Pope.” Meanwhile, the Pope can’t even control the pimp game in his own backyard.

The recent reporting on scandals throughout Europe could (I hope) prove to be the proverbial straw that breaks a very feeble Vatican back. The Pope’s involvement in the “hot potato” philosophy of moving bishops and facilitating sexual abusers has come back to haunt him in a very real and dangerous way. It is not simply a smear campaign, as Vatican insiders protest. Will the avalanche of revelations and investigations force the Vatican to break its secrecy and double-speak? I doubt it, but it’s clear that celibacy isn’t the only thing that has held Catholics hostage to heinous behavior. The institutionalization of sexual abuse as a matter of course permeates the organization of the church. After all, the Vatican is the biggest don’t-ask-don’t-tell outfit in the world.

Even more sinister, the Vatican could very well be considered the largest pedophile and sexual abuse ring running on Earth. Interpol, are you listening? Pay attention. The bishops of Ireland moved pedophiles to America to get rid of them. If that’s not a sex ring, I don’t know what is. At the very least UNICEF should go after the Vatican for repeated rape and abuse of children.

Make no mistake, the Roman Catholic Church has been hiding a corrupt, morally bankrupt organizational structure that values position over the protection of children and adults damaged by abusive clerics. It is not just the parish or school perpetrators who are at fault, but a hierarchical system that relies on outmoded organizational fealty and structure that deems the harmed to be harmful to the Church. Sex may be the issue, but the bigger concern is the deployment of power to protect the hierarchy at all costs. When Irish Cardinal Sean Brady says he will not resign over knowing about the sexual abuse of two children, it is no surprise. When he has served in a system that has squelched tens of thousands of sexual abuse stories, why wouldn’t he think he could survive the onslaught of criticism?

Finally, and most importantly, no one should think that this current Pope is going to clean up anything. This is the man (yes, just a man) who instructed bishops in a secret 2001 letter that the church should keep allegations of sex abuse cases secret for at least ten years. Who knows what revelations will be discovered that then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, shielded from the public and legal authorities? The “grave sin”—to use the words of the then-Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith—was teaching everyone how to elude prosecution, and not to call out sin. Now, while Pope, his own sins have been found out, trapping him in a web of his own making.

The Silence is Deafening

I have wrestled since January about how to track and write this story for RD, in part because I am so profoundly disgusted with the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve started a few stories and stopped, in part because of the pace at which all of this was unfolding, and in part because of my desire to get my head around this story to write it properly. As a cradle Catholic who went away and then came back, I often ask myself why I bother to even engage with these perverted leaders, starting from the Pope down, who don’t give a damn about anything other than keeping their own power and offices intact. To them, the People of God are only pawns to control, not parishioners to watch over.

The scandal unfolding in Europe is not surprising, because the Church’s inability to dialogue with its own theologians who dissent has taken away the intellectual and moral core needed to bring together a Vatican III, where the Church could finally deal with the issue of sexuality. The entrenchment of a theology of the body that honors a fetus but ignores the child who is raped and molested by spiritual authorities is reprehensible. It is not theology, it is a perverted practice, designed to paralyze people. It claims homosexuals are disordered and those who engage in premarital sex are sinners. Nothing, nothing is said about those in spiritual authority who rape and abuse children going to hell. The silence is deafening.

I am not going to pretend that I can be impartial about this story. This Pope, who relished gutting the Church of prominent theologians like Sobrino, Haight, and Boff, is not the kind of person who is going to admit that the organizational structure he presides over is rotten from the top on down. The only thing that is going to bring this Pope to repentance and change are relentless reporters who will uncover his secrets. It is time to start thinking about the Catholic Church as not just a church, but as an organization that has been allowed to institutionalize rape and sexual abuse on a global scale, while attempting to hold its members hostage to its distorted views of sexuality and celibacy.

I will continue to write about this. In good conscience, I cannot do anything less. Besides, when the third reformation begins with a giant march in St. Peter’s square, demanding justice for the victims of sexual abuse, I want to be there. Someone needs to nail new theses about spirituality and sexuality to that Holy Door.

Anthea Butler [@AntheaButler] is a Contributing Editor to Religion Dispatches. Her forthcoming book, in’The Gospel According To Sarah: How Sarah Palinin’’s Tea Party Angels are Galvanizing the Religious Right will be out in 2013.