DARK HISTORY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
GIVE ME A CHILD...'
A vast and powerful institution, wily in the ways of the world, the Church
has seen scandals come and go over 2000 years - but can it so easily shrug
off the problems which beset it now?
'Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them!- Matthew 19:14
'Give me a child until he is seven, and I'll give you the man.' The saying is famously attributed to the Jesuits. Unfortunately, it's come to ring so true in such a shockingly unpalatable way that increasingly few parents these days would feel entirely easy trusting any member of the Catholic clergy with their child. Throughout the 1990s the stories came streaming in of physical brutality and - even more disturbing - sexual abuse in countless orphanages, schools and other institutions, all continuing unchecked over several decades.
Gradually, the realization grew that abuse had been brutal and widespread, that it had involved just about every area of Church life and every religious order, and that in some contexts it hadn't been just
Opposite: Anti-child abuse protesters march with placades in London during the state visit to Britain of Pope Benedict XVI, September 2010. Many critics believed that the Catholic Church were aware of abuse in its institutions but failed to act.
frequent but systemic. In Ireland, for example, the Christian Brothers topped the table for brutality and sexual abuse; reported cases from their homes in other countries, from Canada to Australia, ran into thousands.
While the perpetrators were individual priests, brothers and nuns, the hierarchy as a whole was implicated - and not just in the technical sense of being responsible for what had happened 'on its watch'. For, time and again, it turned out that victims had tried to speak up, to take their complaints to the Church authorities, only to find themselves flatly ignored - or pressured into silence. The backlash was slow in coming, but devastating once it arrived: child-abuse payouts have bankrupted no fewer than eight US dioceses in the past 20 years.
A Nasty Nazareth
For most lay Catholics - and observers outside the Church - the most shocking thing about the abuse scandals was the unimaginable mismatch between what was being reported and the saintly public image of those involved. Critics who were quick to see corruption and cynicism in the Church's hierarchy
An alleged victim of child abuse collapses in distress after being interviewed at a Dublin demonstration. The Church's systematic cynicism in covering up such practices has badly damaged its reputation in an Ireland which always looked on its Catholic clergy with love and trust.
didn't question the commitment of ordinary priests and nuns. And how could they? These men and women had given up the good things in life for the service of others. They lived poorly and simply - that was plain for all to see.
But did they, wondered some of those they 'helped', take the deprivations of their own lives out of others? 'Looking back,' one former inmate of a Nazareth home told the Independent on Sunday (16 August 1998), 'I think one of the reasons was that the nuns weren't happy and they decided we damn well weren't going to be either.'
And they duly damn well weren't. Vera Willshire, who lived in the Nazareth Sisters' home in Middlesbrough, northern England, described a regime of unrelenting brutality. 'I was terrified the whole time and never had a happy day', she said. Once in particular, she reported, she had been 'beaten black and blue, so badly I had to stay in the infirmary for five weeks. When I came out I was given a bag of sweets and told to tell no one about what happened. An aunt who came to visit was told I was confined with an infection.'
Bedwetting, Vera said, 'was about the worst thing you could do. The punishment was being forced to stand in front of a nun's cell with the soiled linen on your head or being sat in the galvanized steel bath while two assistants poured buckets of cold water over your head.'
Of course, the more frightened and traumatized children were, the more they wet their bed.
Commissioned by the government of Queensland to look into abuse accusations against the sisters in that state, Professor Bruce Grundy found evidence of 'ruthless and sadistic madness' among the nuns.
Brendan Smyth, the paedophile-priest, leaves Limavady courthouse after being extradited to the Irish Republic to face charges in 1994. He is believed to have molested well over 100 children in his time, shielded from justice by the hierarchy of the Church.
The punishment was being forced
to stand in front of a nun's cell with
the soiled linen on your head or
being sat in the galvanized steel bath
while two assistants poured buckets
of cold water over your head.
Priest and Paedophile
Among the most notorious cases was that of Belfast-born Father Brendan Smyth. Between the 1940s and 1990s, he molested over 100 children. His victims included both boys and girls in a succession of parishes, first in his home city and then in Dublin and in various parts of the United States. His superiors in the Norbertine order, although well aware of his proclivities from early on, contrived to conceal his crimes. Rather than reporting him, they moved him on from parish to parish - where each time he was welcomed by unsuspecting churchgoers, old and young. The wider Church was implicated, the hierarchy having repeatedly turned a deaf ear to complaints by one of Father Smyth's Norbertine colleagues.
By the 1970s, the offences still continuing, further action had to be taken. Two teenage boys with complaints against the priest were allowed to bring them forward at a special hearing at their school, St Patrick's College, Cavan - but then bullied into signing oaths of silence on the matter. Smyth was free to re-offend - and his superiors to continue with their cover-up. Father Smyth was finally arrested in 1991 in Northern Ireland but jumped bail and spent three years as a fugitive in the Republic. (The widespread suspicion that the Fianna Fail-Labour government there was deliberately obstructing an extradition request from the authorities in the North caused deep disgust and, eventually, the coalition's fall.) Finally, having served three years in Ulster's Magilligan prison, he was taken to the Curragh Prison, outside Dublin, where - a year into a 12-year sentence - he collapsed and died.
Only after this did Cardinal Sean Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, admit that - as a young priest and professor at St Patrick's - he himself had been among those present at the 1975 tribunal. He claimed that he had seen no reason to bring the case to the attention of the secular authorities. No action was taken against him by the Catholic Church even then, although for many months that followed he was forced to dodge doorstepping reporters outside his Dublin residence. As of the autumn of 2013, indeed, he remains in office.
For the Church's critics, the bland complacency of the hierarchy has been as shocking as the abuse itself. The cliche has it that the cover-up is worse than the crime, but here in truth it's hard to tell the two apart. By conspiring to conceal those sexual assaults that were brought to its attention, the Church allowed further offences to take place. More than that, it arguably encouraged them: the policy of moving a paedophile priest on to a new parish once he'd been reported guaranteed him a fresh flock where no one could have been forewarned.
A New Persecution?
Has the Church had an unfair press? Its most indefatigable supporters would like us to think so - although, even among avowed Catholics, such defenders are comparatively few and far between. There is a case, if not for the defence, at least for the suggestion that the Church has by no means been uniquely at fault in protecting child abuse, and that it certainly hasn't been as bad as it's sometimes been painted. The last few decades have seen accusations of sexual abuse from a bewildering range of different state-run and private institutions, from playgroups and remand homes to youth sports teams and the
IN THE BOX
THE POPE AND THE PULITZER
The scandal of clerical child abuse may well be as old as the Church, and there's no particular reason to assume it's been worse in one place than it has been in another. That the story first broke in the United States was perhaps inevitable, though: loyal Catholic commentators were to blame that country's tirelessly inquisitive, irreverent media, and its traditions of public litigiousness and anti-Catholicism for the furore surrounding a series of exposes in the Boston Globe in 2002.
In doing so, they were clearly blaming the symptoms rather than the cause, but there's no doubt that the American media and political culture was one in which all these things were present. It was, moreover, a culture in which a public apology and a show of breast-beating has been shown to work wonders, but this wasn't the Catholic Church's way of doing things. Instead, the Vatican greeted the Globe's revelations - rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize - with a stubborn silence.
Activists in Los Angeles hold up quits decorated with pictures off those who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the city's priests. Despite paying out over $600 million in compensation, critics claim the archdiocese is concealing other incriminating documents.
BBC. Have Catholic homes and schools been so different? And have priests been so much worse? Men in positions of authority - from the Church to the judiciary, taking in teachers, the police and the medical profession - have historically been prone to take advantage of their power. The risks of abuse are enormous - and enhanced by the tendency of the institutions within which all these abusers work to see off threats to their prestige by closing ranks and covering up.
There may well be a degree of truth in the suggestion that the relative scale of the Church's problems have been exaggerated - mythologized even. Certainly, the institution itself seems awesome and mysterious in the context of a non-Catholic culture - an effect intensified by its own resistance to any sort of transparency. Even Catholics feel that, as individuals, they're at the periphery of an unimaginably far-reaching organization: it's hard to imagine a Da Vinci Code set among Anglicans or Reform Jews. In one sense it may have suited the Church that neither Pope John Paul II nor Benedict XVI were ever directly and definitively implicated in the scandal - but in the absence of a clear chain of accountability, they couldn't convincingly be cleared either. At the same time, as vast as it is, the Church seems monolithic; easy to identify (and, consequently, sue), whereas the word 'Protestantism' represents any number of independent churches and tiny sects.
Whatever the reason, the mud has stuck. As early as 2002, 64 per cent of those responding to a poll commissioned by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News were agreeing that Catholic priests abused children 'frequently'. This despite the fact that a range of authoritative US bodies - from children's charities to the insurance industry - could find no significant difference in the rate of abuse between priests and Protestant clergy (or comparable figures, such as rabbis). Nor, according to more rigorous surveys (most notably one by the independent researchers of Philadelphia's John Jay Institute), was there any difference between the rate of offending between the Catholic Clergy and men in general.
Just how reassuring should we find this, though? Shouldn't Catholic priests be better than men in
When trust goes, it goes completely, Bishop Wilton Gregory finds, addressing an incredulous press corps for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
general? Don't such defences rest on precisely the sort of 'moral relativism' the Church and its supporters are supposed to scorn?
And, granting that Christ asked us to love the sinner, would he have wanted his legacy on Earth to be an institution which, by covering up for him, connived in the sinner's crimes? And which, by its systematic refusal to examine its collective conscience, let evil thrive and suffering continue among the innocent and vulnerable children in its charge. 'Truly I tell you,' Christ was to remind his disciples in Matthew (25: 31), 'Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me.'
IN THE BOX
THE EMBITTERED ISLE
Back in 1984, it is estimated, 90 per cent of Ireland's people regularly went to mass. If you chose not to, you were regarded with suspicion. By 2011, in contrast, only an ageing 18 per cent were regular attenders. Now, it seemed, the stigma was attached to going. An international poll of 2012 found fewer than half of its Irish respondents prepared to describe themselves as 'religious' - 47 per cent, compared to 69 per cent just seven years earlier.
How far the blame for this precipitous decline can be lain at the doorstep of Father Smyth's presbytery or Cardinal Brady's residence is hard to know for sure: we should be wary of reading too much into anecdotal evidence, however vivid. Church attendance has been declining across the Western world for many years, a function (arguably) of everything from expanding education to televised football, from changing family structures to DIY. Apathy is one thing, though; outspoken atheism another: Ireland is now among the world's most godless countries. Ten per cent of the population were prepared to describe themselves as 'convinced atheists'. Again, the contrast with the situation just seven years earlier was stark - then only three per cent would have claimed this status. Few commentators doubt that the child-abuse scandal has transformed attitudes to the Church in what was once the world's 'most Catholic country'.
Pope Benedict XVI addresses an emergency meeting of senior Irish clergy at the Vatican in the wake of an ever-growing and seemingly never-ending child-abuse scandal which had thrown this most Catholic of countries into a deep crisis of faith.
CONCERNING THE POPULARITY OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH: THE PRESENT POPE FRANCIS IS MAKING HUGE STRIDES TO POPULARIZE HIS CHURCH. HIS HUMILITY IN LIFE STYLE; HIS FRIENDLINESS; HIS WARM SMILE; HIS OPEN "POPE-MOBILE" AND HIS WILLINGNESS TO GO TO THE CROWDS TO TOUCH AND BE TOUCHED, IS "BRINGING THE HOUSE DOWN" AS THE SAYING GOES. WILL IRELAND CHANGE BACK TO ROMAN CATHOLICISM? MAYBE, ONLY TIME WILL TELL. THE FIRST VISIT OF A POPE TO THE USA, AND SPEECHES BEFORE CONGRESS AND THE UNITED NATIONS, WAS GREETED WITH ENTHUSIASM AS LIKE A "ROCK STAR" OR "FILM STAR" - I THINK IT TOOK THE PRESS AND TV NEWS STATIONS BY SURPRISE. THE ROMAN CATHOLICS OF THE USA ARE A GROWING POPULATION.
SO COMING BACK TO ALL THESE STUDIES: SURELY THE READER WILL, IF THEY HAVE READ THEM ALL, AND MEDITATED UPON THEIR DARKNESS, SEE THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CLAIM TO BE "GOD'S TRUE CHURCH ON E ARTH" WITH THE POPE AS THE NEAREST THING TO GOD ON EARTH, IS FAR FROM THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER!!
WITH ALL THAT RECORDED HISTORY SHOWS US, DECLARES TO US, SURELY IT IS PLAIN TO SEE, THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH HAS, EVEN FROM THE DAYS OF THE FIRST APOSTLES, BEEN THOSE WHO "WENT OUT FROM US" AS IT IS WRITTEN, AND FORMED AN EVER INCREASING THEOLOGY THAT WAS ANYTHING BUT THE FAITH ONCE DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS.
THE NEW CORRUPT AND FALSE THEOLOGY THAT CAME AS THE ROMAN CHURCH INCREASED, IS BAD ENOUGH ALL BY ITSELF, BUT THE PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL ABUSE [WHICH IS HARD TO WRAP YOUR HEAD AROUND BEING SO VILE AND HORRIFIC] IS…. WELL…. DIFFICULT TO PUT INTO WORDS, BECAUSE OF ITS STARK HORRIBLENESS.
TRULY THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH CANNOT BE GOD'S TRUE CHURCH ON EARTH; WHICH LEAVES YOU THEN WITH ONLY ONE OTHER ALTERNATIVE AS TO WHO REALLY CONTROLS THE ROMAN CHURCH…… TWO GUESSES AND THE FIRST ONE DOES NOT COUNT!!