Yesterday, the Pope made big news. In a new documentary, he declared gay people are “Children of God” and therefore entitled to the same civil rights as “traditional couples”. Great! But what about the actual CHILDREN who have been ignored, paid off, dismissed, ostracized and denied basic human rights AND a right to justice because their abusers were servants of the Church? A week before the Pope received accolades for his break from his predecessors’ refusal to acknowledge the gay community, a decades long denial of clergy sex abuse stays very much in the Catholic Church’s tradition. This time, a clergy sex abuse trial is literally taking place on the grounds of the Vatican.
Let me give you some context. The Vatican has its own seminary, Sr. Pius X for boys ages 12 to 18, which is run by priests based in Como, Italy. There are two priests on trial. Rev. Gabriele Martinelli, who allegedly sexually assaulted a young seminarian for five years between 2007 and 2012. That’s not exactly ancient history. Rev. Enrico Radice, the rector, is charged with covering up the crime.
This abuse allegedly occurred within Vatican City itself…knowledge of it dating back to 2012. It appears as though his hideous actions were brushed under the rug by the Vatican and other church authorities until the victim and his roommate went public in 2017. Sound familiar? So much for the Pope’s “zero tolerance” policy.
The Catholic Church “prosecutes”, (and I use that term loosely), priests who are accused of abuse. These “trials” operate under canon law; otherwise known as the church’s in-house legal system. The maximum penalty that can be imposed is defrocking. Defrocking? That’s the punishment? How about we punish Jerry Sandusky by removing “Coach” from his professional title. Would that be an appropriate penance for years of physical and sexual abuse and a lifetime of psychological mutilation? THIS, is an absolute disgrace.
What has the Church’s response been? One of empathy? Impartiality? At the very least, discretionary to the magnitude of the accusations? Not quite. The group of priests affiliated with the accused called the allegations “mud,” and a “violent attack on the church”. In other words, it never happened. Deny, deny, deny.
Fortunately, because the alleged crimes occurred within the confines of Vatican City, the city state’s criminal prosecutors also have jurisdiction. In a decision to be on the right side of history, not to mention humanity, they are charging the priests in a real court of law. It is believed to be the first time a Vatican tribunal has tried a sexual abuse case. For all the money and chess playing done over the years on behalf of Church leaders in an effort to protect its own financial interests and reputation over the health and safety of children…I venture to say, the “mud” is the Church itself; slowly suffocating thousands of innocent lives.
Which leaves the inevitable question, how many more cases are yet to be made public? How many Priests continue to be hidden or simply moved to a diocese in their strategy of “out of sight, out of mind”? I’m hard pressed to believe a single word coming from Church leaders on this issue. The same Church purporting to be “sorry” and promise to take care of the victims, all while making no substantive changes as to how these cases are handled. It’s lip service. Stop with the public relations ping pong game and start practicing what you literally preach. Stop using legal loop holes like bankruptcy to shield assets from victims who deserve justice and compensation. House of God? House of cards is more like it.
We must not leave the punishment up to the people who enable and cover-up these heinous acts. They, themselves are criminals, left to decide the fate of the abusers and the abused. It has gone on for decades and it’s enough. “De-frocking,” shuffling pedophile priests from parish to parish or sending them away for “treatment”, only to be welcomed back to a culture which more or less nurtures abuse. Until the church as an institution looks within itself and implements meaningful change, our children will never be safe. I’m quite certain this was not what Jesus envisioned when he said St. Peter was the “rock” upon which he would build his church.
Until we see institutional change, we must continue to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. And stand up against those who violently and unapologetically use the Church as a sanctuary to carry out their monstrous crimes.
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” — Nelson Mandela, Former President of South Africa