Cardinal Pell faced with fresh accusations in first weeks of freedom

The Lord’s Prayer makes no direct mention of sex; nor does the catechism.

However, Catholic doctrine is often deeply concerned with sex. The vows of celibacy; the doctrines against homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, contraception, and masturbation; how could these edicts add up to the Roman Catholic sex abuse scandals?

It seems almost a contradiction in terms to conceive of a sexually criminal priest.

And yet the Catholic Church continues to be dogged by more allegations of sexual assault than any other institution in Australia.

Since Cardinal George Pell’s release from prison in early April, after the Australian High Court overturned his conviction on five counts of sexual assault, fresh allegations have emerged against Pope Francis’s former financial advisor.

These allegations are now accompanied by further evidence from Australia’s Royal Commission, that Pell was aware of the brutally abusive activities of his peers, Peter Searson, Edward Dowlan, and Gerald Ridsdale, found guilty of dozens of child abuse offences. 

Amidst this deluge of new evidence against the Cardinal, the High Court’s decision to reverse a civilian jury’s 2018 guilty verdict is only becoming more controversial.

The Royal Commission has completely exploded Pell’s claims to ignorance of his fellow priests’ activities, and shown that he is guilty of the same Modus Operandi that has seen child abusers shepherded from parish to parish the world over for decades.

The Vatican is taking such allegations much more seriously than they used to.

As Dr. David Cloutier of the Catholic University of America puts it: “The world Church is only beginning to come to grips with the problems.

“I think both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have taken steps that are effective at least in creating a safe environment going forward into the future, and these are modelled on steps taken in the US in 2002 and largely implemented.

“On the issue of accountability for past abuses, the record is more mixed.”

Of course, those steps were only taken in America after The Boston Globe’s investigation into sexual assault by Catholic priests, which uncovered decades of abuse, by close to 100 priests, all overseen by Cardinal Bernard Law.

Law was responsible for settling with alleged victims out of court, usually for a pittance, and conditioned upon non-disclosure agreements.

When his behaviour was uncovered, he received no penalty from the Church, but instead fled Boston, relocating to a cushy diocese in Rome, where secular forces of justice remained unable to reach him until his death sixteen years later.

Having been promoted to a position of great power in a lavish and comfortable parish by Karol Józef Wajtiła in his capacity as Pope John Paul II, he was allowed to vote for the next two Popes.

It may be no coincidence that former Hitler Youth member Joseph Ratzinger – who, in his capacity as a cardinal, was tasked with concealing the sex scandals from 2001 onwards, presiding over the Boston scandal – was appointed by Bernard Law and his fellow cardinals to the papal office in 2005, taking the papal name Benedict.

Since Ratzinger’s tenure ended upon his resignation in 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio in his capacity as Pope Francis has taken greater steps than any of his predecessors to regain public trust, which has been eroded by the crisis faced by the Vatican.

Professor Angela McCarthy, a lecturer in theology at Australia’s Notre Dame University, sees Pope Francis’s appointment as an encouraging one.

“Pope Francis, through my understanding, was particularly chosen for the role of Pope, because he was a man who had the capacity to do something about the terrible underlying problems that were facing Catholicism, and one of them is the sexual abuse crisis.

“I am absolutely sure that he is on a trajectory to ensure that many aspects of the Church governance that have enabled these particular dreadful things to happen, and the dreadful responses of the hierarchy to happen: I’m sure what he is doing is on the road to really moving that out of action.”

This sea-change in approach is welcome, though it is as much thanks to external as internal pressures.

David Clohessy, National director of the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said: “Because of courageous survivors, journalists and law enforcement, the last two popes have simply been forced to publicly address the crisis.

“They have done so selfishly, belatedly and disingenuously. This misguided notion – ‘this new guy’s better than the last’ – is naive and reckless, and tragically common from top to bottom in the church.”

It is important to remember that the stance taken by many Catholics – that previous popes were merely ignorant of the extent of this problem, or that the current one is better equipped to rectify it – is in fact antithetical to Roman Catholic doctrine.

Professor McCarthy says that until recently, the “Catholic Church didn’t understand and didn’t give credence to the damage that this sort of sexual predatory behaviour caused in children. It’s only been really in recent decades that people have begun to understand the depth of that damage.”

However, the Bishop of Rome has since 1870 claimed to be infallible, “ex cathedra […] by the divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter”, according to the first Vatican Council.

Therefore, the current Pope, who seems keener than any of his predecessors to act out of concern for the victims of sexual abuse rather than their abusers, claims papal infallibility.

But so does his predecessor, whose signature is affixed to a document prescribing that Cardinals should deal with allegations of abuse “in a most secretive way … restrained by a perpetual silence.”

In the teeth of mounting evidence against it, the Catholic Church’s ridiculous claims to moral wisdom and infallibility are shown to have an ever-diminishing relationship with reality.

Like any totalitarian regime, the Vatican will never bend, but as the hammer blows of secular justice and courageous survivors continue to fall upon it, it may eventually break.

Image courtesy of 10NewsFirst via Twitter, with thanks.

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