Monday, October 02, 2006

A bit more on this programme

So what was the BBC up to last night in its programme on clerical child abuse? This was another of those programmes that dealt with clergy child abuse, it spoke about a conspiracy of silence and the widespread practice, in the past, of moving priest abusers on from parish to parish, it present several cases from Ireland, from the US and from Brazil. It blamed a secret document, Crimen Sollicitationis issued in 1962, for this conspiracy. It tried to implicate the Pope on rather flimsy grounds.

I find the whole issue of clerical abuse of children, deeply disturbing, not just because it damages children, we should never underestimate, the extra-ordinary damage it does to the child, the pain reverberates down the decades. It is also a sacrilege under so many headings, first of all against the innocence and trust of the child, against the priesthood, against the sacraments, especially of the Eucharist and presumably Penance too, and against the message of Christ.

When I was a seminarian in the 70s and early 80s the assumption was that this never happened in the Catholic Church, if it did it was incredibly rare. It wasn’t until the mid 80s that the Church was rocked by the organised abuse that was revealed in Catholic children's homes in St John’s, Newfoundland, then bit by bit over the next decade more and more stories broke, the most horrific in Ireland and the United States, as well as this country. I am told that the first serious academic study of abuse of children wasn’t made until the late 70s.

The assumption of the programme was that there was deliberate cover-up, I am sure there was, and I am sure too that a document issued in 1962, which I have never seen, would reflect and reinforce the culture of the time. I am sure that it sought to minimise the scandal and limit damage as much as possible. We should compare attitudes to abuse and attitudes to rape at this period, sexual crime was taboo. The prevailing thought was that somehow not only the perpetrator but the victim too was somehow to blame, in the case of rape the victim so often craved secrecy, so it is not difficult to see parents willing colluding with the Church in cover-up and simply wanting the abuser moved on, with no thought ever of punishment, let alone the publicity that would come with criminal trial.

The attitudes in the Church at the time reflected society but were further compounded by the unique relationship of priest and bishop, which was expressed not in terms of manager and managed, but in the biblical terms of father and son, and if the son were prodigal, so much more was a good father called to be merciful, and even try to excuse his crime. Here I make no excuse for bishops, some of whom acted criminally to protect their clergy, but it is important to understand the motivation. I think a Bishop, now, would place the victim first in his heart.

The accusation against the Pope though, I think is unfair, and no evidence was presented for it. The programme accused him of re-issuing Crimen Sollicitationis, in 2002 and amending it to say that all cases of clerical child abuse had to be referred to Rome. This was in fact another document, that meant all such cases had to be reported to Rome, The reason was that so many diocese and religious orders handled such cases badly, and may have been part of the problem, it certainly did not remove the case of from civil authorities but meant that the Church, in it its own courts also tried the perpetrator.
The reason why the document instructs bishops to keep such cases secret is that the Church unlike the BBC believes that guilt has actually to be investigated and proved, rather than merely assumed, even here "secrecy" seems to be more about being discreet, whilst an investigation is in place.

The Pope marked the beginning of his pontificate by banishing the 90 year old founder of the powerful Legionaries of Christ from any public act, because of the charges which had been brought against him. From what I understand the number of depositions from the clerical state (de-frockings) has risen greatly in Benedict’s pontificate.
This was just bad journalism, the BBC at its journalistic worst.


Anonymous said...

Sorry Michael I didn't mean to comment before you.
I remember a friend of mine who was raped c1965, I was the only one she ever spoke to about in in 1995. We were like that in those days.

Anonymous said...

Have school teachers, scout leaders, non-Catholic clergy, social workers, young offenders institutions workers, step parents now stopped abusing children. Is the proportion of abuse by Catholic priests higher in the Catholic Church than outside it, I don't think so.
Therefore to be fair the BBC ought to be making programmes about these as well in proportion to the degree of abuse, but the BBC won't because it is profoundly anti-Catholic.
Incidently I read an article about abuse in a French magazine about abuse in the Moslem community by their clergy, a good subject for a Ramadan programme, but no way will this be done.
Then of course there is the whole subject of abuse within the Asian and Afro-Carribean community, again no way will the BBC touch this.
No it is the Catholic Church that is always the BBC's Aunt Sally.

Anonymous said...

You're quite right about secrecy, Father. Does anyone think the Crown Prosecution Service would show you anything besides the door if you asked to see information about persons under investigation?

Bernard, you've made a forceful point here. It proves that Ian Paisley's in charge of the Beeb.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that Michael Petek approves of my friend Bernard Armitage's point. It is indeed very forceful

Anonymous said...

Michael, I think the Church would, or at least should, never consider itself above the civil law, except if the civil law is contrary to the Law of God.
The investigation Father is writing about is parallel to the that conducted by the civil authorities, and the Church must of course co-operate. The ecclesiastical process has different consequences which will if the priest is found guilty lead to his laicisation.

Anonymous said...

Sister Marion I hope it's clear from my posting that, if it is right and just that the CPS keep secrecy about matters that should be made public only in court, then a fortiori the Church must observe secrecy for matters within its own jurisdiction.

The jurisdiction of the Church and the State in regard to these crimes are, of course, cumulative and rightly so.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry John, I am afraid you have the advantage of me; I live on Lincolnshire, if that is of any help.

Anonymous said...

Why not complain to the BBC?

Anonymous said...

What a curious coincidence for us to meet on this blog. My friend Bernard Armitage came originally from Surrey but I very much agree with your views and I believe that he would too.

Anonymous said...

The CDF letter is so secret that it’s been posted on the Vatican website for some time now. I noticed it months ago. It’s in Latin because it is addressed to all the bishops of the world, and it is common Vatican practice to send out important communications in one common language rather than in umpteen vernacular versions. For those whose Latin is rusty, some versions of the CDF letter include links to websites that translate Latin vocabulary.

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