Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ireland's Example

I copied this article from Canada's Ottawa Citizen in its entirety because it makes the connection between the Irish and Philadelphia situations which I also saw and says the time for apologetic words with no action is past.


Good for Ireland. The traditionally Catholic country - still (wrongly) viewed in cliché as a devout nation of unquestioning churchgoers - has finally had it with empty words and vacuous apologies.

This week, in a unanimous parliamentary denunciation, Irish lawmakers blamed the Vatican for encouraging Irish bishops to not report suspected abusive priests to the police - thus defying Irish law and permitting the victimization to continue.

This is not a reference to ancient history, either. It was in 1996 that Irish bishops decided calling the cops on priestly abusers might be the right thing to do. And, it turns out, it was in 1996 that Rome nixed that notion. Since then, in this country that has been left reeling by the depth and breadth of the scandal's sickening revelations, the response from Rome has been largely a reliance on canon law - and, effectively, a vast criminal coverup.

No wonder the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, spoke angrily of "the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism - and the narcissism - that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day."

Let the example of tiny Ireland be an international model. No nation that reveres justice and the rule of law should be intimidated by religious institutions, no matter how ancient or influential, if those institutions have been criminally implicated.

Like Ireland, no nation should shy away from telling harsh truths about an institutional culture that, on this file, has turned all the forces of its labyrinthine secrecy to selfprotection - at the expense of justice, morality and countless destroyed human lives.

Not that the current Pope would ever want the world to believe that, not for one second. As a result, Benedict XVI has developed and honed the art of the hollow apology.

The spiritual leader of the world's billion Roman Catholics has become a whiz at saying "Sorry!" - which he does at the drop of a hat. Since taking over the Vatican helm in 2005, the Pope has apologized pretty much non-stop for all the harm done to children by abusive priests.

In Australia three years ago, he said he shared in victims' pain and suffering. In April 2009, he told native Canadians that the abuses in residential schools could not be tolerated. The following spring, he was apologizing to Irish victims (while managing to blame some of the clerical abuse on Ireland's unfortunate "secularization" since the 1960s). A month later, he apologized to abuse survivors in Malta.

In June 2010, from within the Vatican itself, he begged unprecedented forgiveness from those who had been wronged. In London last fall, he expressed "deep sorrow" and "shame and humiliation." He's apologized in the United States and Oceania.

All of which would be quite moving if it were accompanied by any meaningful signs of change. But it hasn't been, as Ireland's surprisingly frank denunciation of Vatican culture this week suggests.

In one Irish diocese, for example, a bishop (and former papal private secretary) actually suppressed evidence of child rape and molestation as recently as 2009. A recent Irish request for an official Vatican response has yet to be acknowledged.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, where a grand jury has filed a criminal indictment against a church official and accused the diocese of harbouring predators - 10 years after U.S. bishops promised to report them - this week saw another meaningless changing of the guard. The city's large Catholic archdiocese, rocked yet again by abuse revelations - this time the alleged repeated rape of a 10-year-old altar boy by three priests and a Catholic teacher (and this as late as 1998) - now has a new helmsman.

But rather than install an archbishop who might actually heal wounds, the profoundly conservative pope has ensured only that a prelate with profoundly conservative bona fides is in place. Charles Chaput arrives with a list of achievements that includes opposing universal health care, stemcell research and gay marriage; condemning Catholic politicians who don't condemn abortion; and keeping lesbians' children out of Catholic schools.

A curiously self-defeating policy, this. The more negative the person, the more likely his appointment as Vatican bridge-builder.

In the end, though, it is institutional Rome's deeply embedded self-interest, its stubborn reluctance to take genuine action to end the abuse of children - action, as opposed to the breast-beating rhetoric of which Benedict is so enamoured - that all moral people must condemn.

For instance, in its recent guidelines against priestly abuse, issued in May, the church could have threatened bishops with severe punishment if they held back files from the police, kept abusers' names secret or failed to suspend credibly accused molesters - a sensible suggestion from the U.S.based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. But it didn't.

And it won't. Not without unrelenting pressure from righteous people willing to call a spade a spade.

Ireland's blunt stand this week for the greater good should be applauded.

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