Thursday, January 20, 2011

Marci Hamilton on Vatican Response to Disclosure of 1997 Letter to Irish Bishops: Tangled Web

Marci Hamilton's analysis of the Vatican's attempt to dodge the significance of the latest document revealing that the cover-up of clerical abuse has been orchestrated from the very top of the church--in this case, the document is the 1997 letter to the Irish bishops--is, as usual, brilliant.  And brimming with moral insight.

Hamilton notes that the 1997 letter suggests the Vatican has been involved, since 1997, in a study about formulating concrete directives to deal with the abuse situation--though learning that this is the case is hardly comforting, when one considers how few such directives have actually been enacted by the Vatican during that time frame.  While real human beings continue to suffer from the effects of real childhood clerical sexual abuse in the here and now.  And need a real pastoral response to their real suffering right now.

Hamilton notes that the letter also hints that the Vatican's concern from 1997 forward has been intently focused on the English-speaking part of the Catholic world.  And there's a good reason for this, she points out: the common-law tradition of English-speaking countries permits abuse victims to bring their grievances to court more readily than is the case in many other parts of the world.

And so what has the Catholic church been doing, concretely, in English-speaking countries since 1997, to address the abuse crisis?  While claiming that it supports the requirement to report cases of clerical sexual abuse of minors to the authorities in these countries, it is fighting tooth and nail to block laws that require the reporting of clerical sexual abuse to the authorities.  Using huge sums of money to try to prevent such laws, and to prevent the extension of statutes of limitation that deny adults the right to report childhood sexual abuse.

(My aside here: why do the Catholic bishops of the U.S. increasingly talk and think like corporate CEOs, why do they increasingly ally themselves with the political party most favorable to the interests of corporate CEOs, and why do they increasingly kowtow to the top business elite of the country?  The bishops are behaving this way because they have to behave this way.  They have to behave this way, having sold their souls to this group of people.  Because somebody with deep pockets has to fund the legal initiatives of the bishops that, far more than any pastoral intent, now dominate their agenda for the American Catholic church: legal initiatives that are all about fighting laws and court actions that would require them to accept their responsibility in abuse cases; and legal initiatives promoting diversionary political actions against same-sex rights, in a desperate attempt to change the moral subject from the bishops' immoral behavior to an easily targeted minority's supposed moral lapses.)

Hamilton's conclusion: since it must whitewash its real agenda of dodging legal responsibility for abuse cases at all costs, while pretending it's being proactive in dealing with the abuse situation, the Vatican is now caught in a horrible tangled web of lies.  Lies that demand more lies, with ever-increasing voracity:

Fourteen years is a long time to consider what to do in the face of entrenched evil. Of course, for the victims, the abuse itself is a life sentence.

This institution has become the epitome of the famous and memorable line by Walter Scott, in his poem "Marmion": "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." The point is that one lie leads to another and another until one is so entangled that escaping the original falsehood becomes virtually impossible. This letter is the latest proof that the leadership of the Catholic Church is inextricably tangled in a web of its own making, and the rest of us have to be the ones to ensure the safety of our children.

And this is a horrific place for an institution that claims to be about salvation, love, and healing the wounds of the world to find itself.  Or for "pastoral" leaders of such an institution to end up.

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