“Pontifical Secret” Why the Pope Isn’t Ashamed Enough

Image from FunDraw.com

Today Pope Benedict XVI made a statement to reporters aboard the papal plane “Shepard One”, on its way to Washington D.C. for the first of a six-day US visit. Speaking about the sexual molestation, assault, and rape perpetrated by clergy upon children he said

[i]t is a great suffering for the church in the United States, for the church in general and for me personally that this could happen. If I read the stories of these victims, it is difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betrayed in this way their mission to give healing, to give love of God to these children. We are deeply ashamed, and we will do what is possible that this cannot happen in the future.

There are several reasons why this statement is inadequate, insulting, duplicitous, and injurious.

  • “…the church in the United States,” implies that the abuse is isolated. As the US endemic has generated the most publicity and causes the most legal threat, the pontiff has taken the opportunity to suggest that only American priests commit such crimes. Actually at least 17 countries have reported multiple cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergymen.
  • “…it is difficult for me to understand how it was possible…” Really? This implies a lack of prior awareness. However, it is well documented that in 2001 the Pope-to-be, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, sent a confidential letter to all of the church’s Bishops. In it he asserted the right of the Catholic church to handle all matters of pedophilia internally (no law enforcement) and to keep all information about said inquiries sealed from the public for exactly ten years after the victim reaches his or her 18th birthday.

According to an article in The Observer, who obtained the letter in 2005,

[i]t orders that ‘preliminary investigations’ into any claims of abuse should be sent to Ratzinger’s office, which has the option of referring them back to private tribunals in which the ‘functions of judge, promoter of justice, notary and legal representative can validly be performed for these cases only by priests’.

‘Cases of this kind are subject to the pontifical secret,’ Ratzinger’s letter concludes. Breaching the pontifical secret at any time while the 10-year jurisdiction order is operating carries penalties, including the threat of excommunication.

Ten years past the 18th birthday? Decades after the abuse? Thanks to most statute of limitations, this seemingly arbitrary time frame is more than sufficient to prevent any legal action or criminal investigation into the crimes. It also prevents innumerable congregations from recognizing the potentially dangerous and predatory nature of their trusted clergy and ensures that every day children around the world will be at risk of suffering sexual molestation, assault, or rape by a man who they’ve been taught to revere, a man beyond reproach, an unquestioned authority, a supposed exemplar of God’s loving grace and Christ’s compassion.

More selective phrasing appears in the letter’s description of pedophilia as “a delict against morals…with a minor below the age of 18 years.” With? Although this could denote a lack of understanding about the true violation of sexual abuse, given many other factors it’s far more likely that the carefully-crafted word choice was calculated to imply consent, however remotely, and minimize culpability.

  • …we will do what is possible that this cannot happen in the future.” Yeah, how? Although seminary enrollment has recovered a bit from the sharp decline of the 60’s and 70’s, the church concedes that the number of those studying for the priesthood is not enough to replace the number of priests who die or retire each year.

Are they suddenly going to introduce some magic could-you-be-a-pedophile quiz that weeds out the bad ones so “this cannot happen” again? What about the functioning pedophile priests already out there? Are the secret inquiries supposed to ferret them out? How do you banish a priest without the publicity?

The only sincere and ethical way to “do what is possible that this cannot happen in the future” is to guarantee that any clergyman who has abused a child will be removed from the ministry and subject to criminal charges, and any member of the church found to ignore or cover up knowledge of abuse will be similarly punished. Yet this is something the church refuses to do.

And what about the children who have already suffered? The church seems to assume that suffering ends when the abuse is over, when in fact it has only begun. The long and uphill battle to heal is greatly entwined with the ability to speak about it, to finding others who’ve suffered, especially at the hands of the same abuser, to witness some sort of accountability. As the church clutches its secrecy, it denies survivors the needs of basic healing.

For most victims, this type of abuse shapes the rest of their lives. Alcoholism and drug abuse are common, psychological issues, psychosomatic symptoms, and suicides have all been linked to sexual abuse. Many victims are chained with a secret shame that they intend to take to their graves. Yet it is only when there are no more secrets that healing can begin. Part of that healing involves facing the perpetrators and the officials who allowed this to occur. It is of this last that the church truly deprives its victims – the right to be acknowledged, the very right to heal.

Yet in the face of this, the Pope pretends to be dumbfounded by the issue, feigns deep shame, and supplies useless utterances of how this won’t happen again.

The Vatican refused to comment on the 2001 letter or its internal policies regarding this issue, on the basis that the document “was not public.”

A statement by Peter Isley of the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) addresses the Pope’s comments, pointing out that condemning church officials for what happens on their watch is the only way to instigate any real change.

Fixating on or condemning the ‘bad apples’ (predators) doesn’t fix the ‘barrel’ (a secretive, self-protecting clerical culture overseen by largely timid, passive, secretive, compromised bishops, who often still refuse or delay suspending predators, calling police, telling the truth).


Sadly, regardless of good intentions, there will always be predators who gravitate toward ministry. The question is “How quickly can we identify and oust them?” In many institutions, that happens quickly. In the church, it happens slowly. The reason, in part, is that virtually no bishop suffers negative consequences for shielding predators, stonewalling prosecutors, shunning victims, and deceiving parishioners.

Until that changes, predatory priests will continue to be removed after molesting 33 kids, instead of after molesting 3 kids.

In fact, even as I write this, and as Shepard One lands at Andrew’s Air Force Base, survivors gather in protest at a D.C. church where recent abuses occurred. According to the release

Catholic molestation victims to hand out fliers & hold 3 hour vigil. As Pope lands, they gather at church where recent pedophile priest worked. Despite credible sex abuse reports, they kept accused predator working for 2 years. Then, even after being suspended, priest abused a 3 year old & a 6 year old in 2004-05. Case shows that little has changed despite bishops’ claims to have reformed themselves.

The respectful request to meet with the pontiff by moderate survivor group Voice of the Faithful was scoffed at by top church officials.

According to an article in the UK’s Telegraph

The Vatican insists that any meeting with the victims would reopen old wounds, and several senior aides have indicated that they felt the matter was “now closed”.


Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope’s second-in-command, said the church had already “responded with great dignity” to the situation, and added that the “clamour created in the US around this scandal is really unbearable”.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, said the media had “exaggerated” the issue of paedophile priests. [Em Mine]

The Pope will visit the UN on Friday and, as he is expected to chastise countries with human rights violations, SNAP has requested that the UN investigate the Vatican’s failure to provide documents in concordance with the U.N. Charter on the Protection of the Rights of Children. It is unclear yet whether they will do so.

Further Reading:

Bishop Accountability -“Documenting the abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church.”

Catholic Hierarchy – Current and historical information about bishops and dioceses.

Boston Globe Spotlight Investigation Coverage of the 2002 breaking news in Boston.

Jim Hopper, PhD – Professor at Harvard Medical professor has an extremely comprehensive site with in-depth reports on child abuse, sexual abuse effects on males, research and statistics, and professional services in the MA area.

Bill Maher outrages Catholics with his “New Rules” segment in which he compares the Catholic Church to the recently raided polygamist sect in Texas. It’s extreme, pointed, and incendiary. It’s also funny and makes a good point. If you’re easily offended, don’t watch it here. And stop reading now…

From HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher April 11, 2008:

And, finally, New Rule: Whenever you combine a secretive compound, religion and weirdos in pioneer outfits, there’s going to be some child-f*cking going on. In fact, whenever a cult leader sets himself up as “God’s infallible wing man” here on earth, lock away the kids.

Which is why I’d like to tip off law enforcement to an even larger child-abusing religious cult. Its leader also has a compound. And this guy not only operates outside the bounds of the law, but he used to be a Nazi and he wears funny hats. [photo of the Pope shown]

That’s right. The Pope is coming to America this week, and, ladies, he’s single! Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Bill, you can’t be saying that the Catholic Church is no better than this creepy Texas cult! For one thing, altar boys can’t even get pregnant.”

But, really, what tripped up the “little cult on the prairie” was that they only abused hundreds of kids, not thousands all over the world. Cults get raided. Religions get parades. How does the Catholic Church get away with all of their buggery? VOLUME, VOLUME, VOLUME!

If you have a few hundred followers and you let some of them molest children, they call you a cult leader. If you have a billion, they call you “Pope.”

It’s like if you can’t pay your mortgage, you’re a deadbeat, but if you can’t pay a million mortgages, you’re Bear Stearns, and we bail you out. And that’s who the Catholic Church is, the Bear Stearns of organized pedophilia. Too big to fail.

When the – when the current Pope was in his previous Vatican job as John Paul’s Dick Cheney – he wrote a letter instructing every Catholic bishop to keep the sex abuse of minors secret until the statute of limitations ran out. And that’s the Church’s attitude: “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”

Which is fine. Far be it from me to criticize religion. But, just remember one thing: if the Pope was, instead of a religious figure, merely the CEO of a nationwide chain of daycare centers where thousands of employees had been caught molesting kids and then covering it up, he’d be arrested faster than you can say, “Who wants to touch Mister Wiggle?”


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3 Responses to ““Pontifical Secret” Why the Pope Isn’t Ashamed Enough”

  1. Eddie Rogers Says:

    Your comments are clear and precise. I do agree on everything you have stated. A Google Alert brought me to this page I will be coming back to get the facts as correct, clear and precise as you express. Congratulations. You should try to get your remarks published in the print media. This public relations visit by the Pope is trying to bury the pedophilia scancal. You are right. This pedophia abuse is worlwide. Many countries who are predominantly Catholic the Church has been successfull in covering all the abuses. Even in Italy the goverment did not allow a BBC documentary about the Church and pedophilia to be aired on TV. One group of Italians published the documentary on YouTube with Italian subtitles. Good luck. ER

  2. rationalpsychic Says:

    Great post. It’s amazing that the liars who get away with their lies are almost always not those who tell minor lies of little significance. It’s the liars who tell huge lies that truly affect the public who get away with their lies. The Pope feigning ignorance, George W. Bush claiming that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq to keep them from American streets, Hillary Clinton telling us about landing in Bosnia under sniper fire…the list goes on.

  3. jos Says:

    Love your post. It is cases like these that reminds me why I am a staunch atheist and why I’d never send my children to any religious institution.

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