There are some 1.2 billion disciples of the Roman Catholic faith scattered all over the globe. Right now, their focus is firmly on the Vicar of Christ and holder of the Keys of Peter, Pope Francis, as yet another wave of sex scandals rock the Vatican.
For decades, the Church has battled stories and allegations of child abuse by its clergy, emanating from all corners of the globe. But what is and has been straining the Church’s very credibility and moral authority is the resonant and many times proven accusation, that not only paedophilia is rife within its hallowed parishes, but it has routinely and systematically covered up such abuse. Child rape, molestation and assault is the tip of a very corrupt iceberg; the record for the despicable incidents occurring within and in the name of the Church is never-ending, and with no seemingly end in sight.
History has not been flattering to the Catholic Church – The Magdalene Laundries; the lucrative trade of putting babies born to unmarried mothers up for adoption, many times without their knowledge or consent; the unmarked mass grave in Tuam, where 800 young children died from malnutrition and common diseases at the hands of the nuns, in another mother and baby home – and all this and many more despicable instances in just one country – Ireland.
The record of depravation goes on. The Australian Child Migrant Program scandal which the Church has keenly ignored for generations, has seen families send away their young children from all over the Commonwealth, including Malta, with the promise of a better life, only to be emotionally, physically and sexually abused by the Christian Brothers in Australia.
More recently in 2002, an investigation by the Boston Globe newspaper uncovered a terrifying chronicle of clergy abuse and subsequent cover-up by the Church. The same investigation found that Cardinal Bernard Law, a powerful and leading Archbishop at the time, had systematically moved abusive priests from parish to parish when he became aware of their crimes against children. And what did the Holy See do when confronted with this damning report? It simply relocated Law to the Vatican, where he enjoyed his retirement until his death in 2017.
In August 2018, in the most extensive inquiry into church sex abuse in US history, a Pennsylvania grand jury, named more than 300 clergy in a report which found more than 1,000 children had been abused, stating, ‘‘Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.’’ The report claimed that there are probably thousands more victims who have never come forward…
And also in the summer of 2018, in Chile, thirty-four bishops offered their resignation to the Pope over sex abuse scandals, the outcome of which is still unclear. At the centre of the storm is Bishop Juan Barros who is accused of trying to obstruct an investigation into Fernando Karadima, an influential priest who was found guilty by the Vatican of sexually abusing young boys in the 1970s and 80s and sentenced to a lifetime of ‘penance and prayer’, but as is normal practice within the Church, has never faced criminal prosecution. Despite the widely known allegations of a cover-up by Barros, he was still appointed Bishop by Pope Francis four years ago.
Away from our shores, so many more scandals have surfaced over the past few months, that it’s practically impossible to list them all; allegations of sex slavery, illicit pregnancies and abortions, rapes – the list is endless. Yes, the Catholic Church has wreaked havoc in its wake, with so many victims leading fragmented, tortured lives, many of which have chosen to become yet another suicide statistic.
In our own country, where the culture of omertà within the Catholic Church is a given, stories of abuse are hush-hushed until they are simply annihilated into inexistence. Very few cases manage to see the light of day in Catholic Malta and those that do, drag on for years on end with no effective remedies for the victims. But with the Church fast losing its grip on the faithful, it is only a matter of time until more victims come forward and become more vociferous.
But now we are in the middle of a Vatican summit on sexual abuse, an unprecedented global conference in which a final and sustainable solution for the most pressing crisis facing the modern Church must be found. To date, a document has been published with 21 reflection points on “The Protection of Minors in the Church”, number one of which states that a “practical handbook indicating the steps to be taken by authorities at key moments when a case emerges” must be prepared and goes on to list another 20 points which do nothing or at most very little to address the core issue which has been poisoning the Church for decades. Nowhere in the document, is a zero-tolerance policy mentioned. Nowhere does it say, that perpetrators are to be listed in a sex offenders’ registry, like, you know, in real life. And what does point number 12 “To raise the minimum age for marriage to sixteen years” intend, in terms of eradicating clergy abuse once and for all?
The Pope has rightly mentioned that “concrete measures” must be taken to ensure that abuse is effectively curtailed, but if this document is anything to go by, this whole farce is simply paying lip service to the victims and all those who have fallen prey to the culture of abuse within the Church. What is certain is that in the coming few days, we will hear plenty of condemnations and mealy-mouthed apologies, many of which we have heard time and time again.
Sadly, what is also for sure, is that, as you read this, somewhere in the realms of the Catholic Church, a child is being raped, molested or assaulted by yet another ‘man of God’ and the powers that be will inevitably do what they have historically and consistently done over the centuries… ignore any wrongdoing and deliberately look the other way…