BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Strategies used by the Church to cover up its worldwide sexual abuse scandal included: the Vatican's refusal to cooperate with civil authorities; officially sanctioned priest shifting; the destruction of evidence; punishing whistle-blowers and rewarding enablers; and, blaming the victims.
Last week, the eyes of the world were on Pope Benedict XVI – who apparently expects to be known as Pope Emeritus – as he left the Vatican by helicopter to spend the final hours of what many would characterize as his scandal-dogged papacy, at the papal summer retreat. According to The New York Times, "Onlookers in St. Peter's Square cheered, church bells rang and Romans stood on rooftops to wave flags as he flew by."
To the thousands of survivors of the Roman Catholic Church's worldwide sexual abuse scandals, however, there was little to cheer about.
A Philadelphia Grand Jury report put the long-lived scandal in unambiguous terms: By sexual abuse, "We mean rape. Boys who were raped orally, boys who were raped anally, girls who were raped vaginally. But even those victims whose physical abuse did not include actual rape – those who were subjected to fondling, to masturbation, to pornography – suffered psychological abuse that scarred their lives and sapped the faith in which they had been raised."
Aftershocks from the decades-long sexual abuse scandal continue to reverberate, even as cardinals gather to choose the next pope. As the Times reported, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Britain's senior Roman Catholic cleric, "said he would not participate in the conclave, after having been accused of 'inappropriate acts' with several priests, charges that he denies." Other cardinals, including some from the United States have also come under fire.
By this time in history, you'd have to either have been in a multi-decade coma or living in a cave somewhere not to be at least somewhat aware of the Church's worldwide sexual abuse scandal. Culpability for trying to keep it under wraps may in fact go as deep as the Vatican itself.
While many of us have heard survivors of predatory priests step forward and courageously tell their stories, the testimonies are still shocking.
"Fighting for the Future: Adult Survivors Work to Protect Children & End the Culture of Clergy Sexual Abuse" a report submitted to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), provided a snapshot of some of heart-wrenching testimony that surfaced in front of a Philadelphia Grand Jury:
- A girl, 11 years old, was raped by her priest and became pregnant. The priest took her in for an abortion.
- A 5th-grader was molested by her priest inside the confessional booth.
- A teenage girl was groped by her priest while she lay immobilized in traction in a hospital bed. The priest stopped only when the girl was able to ring for a nurse.
- A boy was repeatedly molested in his own school auditorium, where his priest/teacher bent the boy over and rubbed his genitals against the boy until the priest ejaculated.
- A priest, no longer satisfied with mere pederasty, regularly began forcing sex on two boys at once in his bed.
- A boy woke up intoxicated in a priest's bed to find the Father sucking on his penis while three other priests watched and masturbated themselves.
- A priest offered money to boys in exchange for sadomasochism – directing them to place him in bondage, to "break" him, to make him their "slave," and to defecate so that he could lick excrement from them.
- A 12-year-old, who was raped and sodomized by his priest, tried to commit suicide, and remains institutionalized in a mental hospital as an adult.
- A priest told a 12-year-old boy that his mother knew of and had agreed to the priest's repeated rape of her son.
- A boy who told his father about the abuse his younger brother was suffering was beaten to the point of unconsciousness. "Priests don't do that," said the father as he punished his son for what he thought was a vicious lie against the clergy.
"Fighting for the Future" pointed out the worldwide scope of the scandal: "The revelations of sexual violence by clergy ... in recent years in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, the United States and elsewhere demonstrate that the rates of abuse in any one country or diocese are not an anomaly but part of a much larger pattern and practice. In light of these revelations, some observers have estimated that the number of victims of sexual violence occurring between the years 1981-2005 is likely approaching 100,000, and will likely be far greater as more situations continue to come to light in Latin America and Africa."
While the scope of the problem is huge, so too has been the Church-sanctioned cover-up; its refusal to cooperate with civil authorities, and the rampant reassignment of priests accused of sexual misconduct. "The vast majority of the priests who committed acts of sexual violence against children and vulnerable adults have faced no punishment or criminal sanction for their actions; many continue to work, and have privileged access to future victims because of their status as a member of the Catholic clergy," the report noted.
"The high-level officials of the Church who failed to prevent and punish these criminal actions, and too often facilitated or enabled the acts of sexual violence described herein have, to date, enjoyed absolute impunity as well."'
Under the heading, "The Policies and Practices of the Holy See Have Helped to Perpetuate the Crimes," the report discusses five ways the church resisted accountability and taking responsibility:
- The Vatican leadership's "refusal to cooperate with civil authorities.
- The "practice of 'priest shifting,' meaning bishops, cardinals or other high-ranking officials have transferred known offenders to other locations where they continued to have access to children or vulnerable adults and who officials knew continued to commit rape and other acts of sexual violence."
- The "destruction of evidence and the obstruction of justice."
- The "rewarding of those members of the clergy who remained quiet or assisted in cover-ups, while punishing the whistle-blowers, i.e., those who sought to prevent other children from being hurt and to have offender priests investigated and held accountable for the crimes they committed."
- "Blaming the victims."
The conclave to pick the next pope is assembling. There is, as has been the case when a new pope is chosen, much speculation about who might be the next to wear the papal vestments and wield papal power.
In late February, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) issued its report, and according to a joint press release, "the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has summoned the Vatican to report on its record of ensuring children are protected from sexual violence and safeguarding children's well-being and dignity, the first time the Holy See will have been called to account for its actions on these issues before an international body with authority."
Pope Benedict XVI has retired, but he's not going off the grid. Now that he's no longer popeing, isn't it time to put him on record and find out what he knew about the Church's sexual assault scandal and when did he know it? Given the Vatican's nearly impenetrable wall of silence, it is doubtful that will ever happen.