With a half-finished post about the pothole that ate half the fans at the Daytona 500 saved to my computer, I learned during the morning commute about an even bigger pothole that’s rocking the Catholic church: as Pope Benedict XVI summoned more than two dozen bishops to the Vatican to discuss a massive sex abuse scandal in Ireland, news broke that some Jesuit schools in the pope’s native Germany have been covering up the same kind of sordid assaults.
I deleted my bemused observations about the Daytona debacle, but didn’t have to change the title of the post, which lost all bemusement when I heard and read about the latest charges against the Church, in which pious prelates have sought protection by drawing a veil of smoke over predatory priests who hide their pedophilia beneath the pompous veneer of their showy vestments. They are learning, however, that brocaded robes and tall poofy hats cannot cover crimes committed against innocent children.
An inquiry group called the Murphy Commission was able to learn, despite obstructionist efforts of the Vatican, that in the Dublin diocese alone, dozens of pedophile priests were found to have abused hundreds of children while Irish Church leaders knew about it — and hid it — for decades. One priest reportedly admitted molesting more than 100 children, while another confessed to abusing at least one child every two weeks for more than 25 years.
An earlier investigation just seven months ago reported “chronic beatings, rapes, near-starvation and humiliation of 30,000 children in state-run schools and orphanages all run by the Catholic Church,” according to the NPR report.
Now, following several confessions, Jesuit schools across Germany are accused of harboring the same kind of criminal clerics who prey upon children. Some of those priests had previously served in South America, where Catholicism is the dominant religion in many areas. What dominoes are yet to fall?
Bishop Joseph Duffy, a spokesman for the Irish Bishops Conference, said he believes Pope Benedict has known about the abuse for some time: “It’s my information that the pope is very well clued in on this whole issue,” he said. “That even before he became pope, he had access to the documentation. That he knew exactly what was in the documentation, and that he wasn’t living in a fool’s paradise, that he knew exactly the issues and total complexity of them.”
If the Catholic Church is so desperate for priests that it must knowingly employ and protect child predators, or so protective of its image that it will shelter pedophilic priests and continue giving them access to children, it has lost all grounding. If the Holy See refuses to see the reality of rot in its foundational institutions, it should not be surprised when the whole edifice collapses.
Please understand that I do not suggest that all Catholics or all priests belong in the same boat with the predators, any more than I think all Baptists are guilty when one of our own falls prey to his baser instincts. I’m admittedly no fan of Roman Catholic theology or the non-biblical notion that priests must be unmarried males, but I’ve known priests, nuns, and Catholic congregants who were among the most devout and committed believers I have met.
Even so, the scale of the crimes known to have been committed in the various U.S. scandals, in Ireland, and in Germany — and the complicity of higher-ups in the cover-ups — lead one to wonder how many more sordid revelations await exposure, and whether the Church will ever regain the respect it once commanded, and whether it should.
When holiness becomes so holey, can it ever be mended?