Monday, February 18, 2013

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God

I added HBO to my cable package just to see the original documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God. I had braced myself for the children's stories of sexual abuse, their nightmare of growing up with this paralyzing secret and the descriptions of predatory priests allowed to get away with this shit for decades. What I didn't expect was to find out that the rape of children has been a part of the Roman Catholic Church for centuries and that the Vatican began codifying its response to pedophile priests in the 1800s. Not only have the cases of sexual abuse in American and Irish parishes since the 1960s not been anomalies, but an entire culture of protecting, "rehabilitating" and recirculating pedophile priests is sanctioned by the highest offices of the Vatican, including the pope.

According to the documentary, documents have been found in Spain that show that as early as the fourth century A.D. there were priests sexually assaulting children. Each century thereafter the Roman Catholic Church solidified its standard response and procedures for such cases. In the 1950s the Vatican established the protocol of sending the pedophile to spiritual rehabilitation and then sending him on to another parish, without punishing him or informing anyone of the priest's history.

For centuries the Vatican has prioritized its reputation and the careers of its clergy over the personhood of Catholic kids. FOR CENTURIES. What the fuck? I'm a former Catholic, angry atheist, but even I'm shocked that the Roman Catholic Church, for most of its existence, has built its reputation, wealth and power in part by disposing of its most vulnerable members: its children. I'm enraged by the bloodlessness of an institution that spares not a glance towards the families that have been shattered by the actions of its priests. The RCC has sacrificed its children so that it can maintain its deception of purity and devotion.

There are those in such pain after being sexually assaulted by men of the cloth that they never recover their spirit and live their lives in the shadows. There are people who believe the Roman Catholic Church and its pope should be tried for crimes against humanity, dismantled and the whole thing burned to the ground. I agree when I consider that the RCC is responsible for the destruction of countless children over at least 1,700 years. If that doesn't break your heart, maybe this will: while they were being sexually assaulted, most of those children were also faithful. Their rage came later, to be acknowledged by no one.

But this is also the church of my Mexican American family and millions of good people around the world who do good works every day. Nuns and laypeople carry out the true intentions of Jesus as they understand them: serving the poor, attending to the sick, caring for children who have no place else to go and taking in those who ask sanctuary (maybe nuns are less corrupt because women aren't allowed access to the upper echelons of the Vatican, so they aren't seduced by power and wealth). It's sickening that at the top of the Roman Catholic Church, this religion of Jesus and the Golden Rule and suffer-the-little-children-to-come-unto-me, sits a ruling body so heartless and power-driven that they have institutionalized child rape.

So who is the Roman Catholic Church? Is it the Vatican or is it its millions of faithful? How can we resolve this nightmare of hypocrisy when the head of the organization is poisoned, but the rest of the body is not?

Or is the rest of the body unpoisoned? The organization as a whole will not change until many things happen (like hell freezing over) and one of them is how much Catholics revere priests. Mea Maxima Culpa makes clear that Catholics really see their priests as being closer to "God" than the average person. For decades it was truly inconceivable to the parents of abused children that a man of the cloth would touch a child's genitals, and this deification of priests continues.

I'm not your average Catholic, but even when I was growing up in the Roman Catholic Church I didn't view priests like that. I saw them as authorities like teachers, but not as holy. It's stunning and appalling that anyone could abuse vulnerable children so cruelly, but I don't find it particularly difficult to believe that an ordained minister of the Roman Catholic Church would. They've pretty much always looked to me like just a bunch of guys, and one interviewee in Mea Maxima Culpa makes the statement that Catholics need to start seeing pastors as ordinary humans who make mistakes.

I'd like to hear from one of those humans who's made mistakes. I want to hear from a cardinal on the inside of the highest offices, who can tell us what drives the Vatican to value the lives of its clergy so much more highly than the lives of its children. What fuels beliefs that the deaf don't feel or that children won't remember? The Vatican's dehumanization of children couldn't be farther from Jesus' love of the innocent. I don't believe in Jesus, the bible or God, but the Vatican supposedly does, so how do they live with this destructive hypocrisy?  Is this what they think Jesus would do? I really want to know.

Maybe it goes back to the Old Testament practice of sacrifice. Maybe throughout history, the popes and cardinals of the curia made peace with sacrificing the psyches and lives of millions children. After all, it's for the greater good. But if it were true that the curia were in lock step about sacrificing children, there wouldn't be so much conflict over it. Mea Maxima Culpa recounts instances in which a priest, bishop or cardinal wanted to take action against a pedophile, but was restrained. Our current pope (for a few more minutes) headed a Vatican office called the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faithful. As head of this office, then-Cardinal Ratzinger received every piece of evidence documenting the sexual abuse of children by clergy and wanted to begin an investigation into one of the worst serial violators. He was unable to do so while Pope John Paul II lived. As often happens, the most dangerous predators in the church can be the best at ingratiating themselves to those in power, and Father Marcial Maciel was well loved by Pope John Paul II (and then Maciel died before John Paul did, so he was safe).

But then-Cardinal Ratzinger also had documentation on countless other pedophiles who were leading parishes, clergy who should have been removed from contact with families immediately. His Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faithful contains data on child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church since the 1990s. Did Ratzinger take action against any of these active pedophiles when he became pope in 2005? Nope. (By the way, Ratzinger's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faithful was established in the 16th century and was originally called The Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition.)

That's why I support any attempt to arrest Benedict/Ratzinger on charges of crimes against humanity: besides organize files he did little to stop the rape of children when he was head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faithful, and he's done no more as pope. As pope even.

Remember him acting shocked by news that Boston priests had been sexually assaulting kids? He knew all about that before he even became pope. The hypocrisy and mendacity of the Vatican as presented in this film astounds even this cynical post-Catholic atheist. According to the documentary, the Vatican is also aware that less than 50% of American Roman Catholic priests actually practice celibacy. Apparently they're cool with it. (I'm against clerical celibacy and think it's fine if priests don't practice it, but this just shows more Vatican hypocrisy.)

I'm trying to keep in mind that the Vatican is not the entire RCC. Millions of Catholics had nothing to do with this. Burn the whole Roman Catholic Church down and be done with it? That isn't my opinion when I think about all the good that individual Catholics have done, Catholics that weren't corrupted by their own hubris and supposed closeness to God. But those millions of Catholics are responsible for stopping the worst practices of its church, once they know about them. I hope this documentary serves as a further call to arms for the faithful because priests are violating children right this minute all over the world. There could be a pedophile in your parish, but you'd never be informed of it. The only way you'd know if a priest is inappropriately touching your child would be if your child told you and you listened.

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God is currently only available on HBO, but I hear you can pre-order it on Netflix. Those who don't do HBO or Netflix might have to wait for it to hit Hulu or Amazon, but it's worth the wait. If you can stomach watching it, use what you learn to educate others about the importance of holding the Vatican responsible for the rape and assault of millions of children throughout the centuries. And if you're a Catholic parent whose children have any contact with priests at all, let this history strengthen your resolve to protect your sons and daughters against any predator, even if he's been ordained.


Anonymous said...

Would you like to see a world without the Catholic church?

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I think you said so much that must be said. Somehow the church and the people who believe in the church and those who were raised in the church have stopped being shocked by these crimes. And I speak not only of the crimes of priests, but of the behavior of a spiritual organization that aided and abetted these criminals and continues to do so. It just enrages me that a priest who openly talks about ordaining women will be excommunicated from the church, as one of the Fathers from the Maryknoll order just was, while a priest that raped children is given penance and allowed to continue to remain in the church. Shows you their priorities more than anything else. I have great fondness for the church on one level, but I really have never been that impressed by the vatican. And now? Yes, let the vatican burn.


Regina Rodriguez-Martin said...

Ceece - What I want next is a book that explains the rationalization of the men of the Vatican and how they can allow horrible things to happen to children so they can keep their power, wealth and image. Is it self-hatred that causes someone to dismiss the personhood of children? Is it that someone who thinks kids don't remember has completely forgotten his own childhood pain? As my dad used to say, "If we can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat." The idea of this fight almost makes me want to be a practicing Catholic again!