God and the Pope under attack (P2)

Talk about an attack, almost literally, on the Catholic Church.

Just a few weeks ago, police in the Belgian city of Bruges raided the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and the residence of the recently retired Cardinal of Belgium to gather evidence to bolster accusations of child sexual abuse committed by the clergy.

The investigations accelerated with the resignation, after admitting to having sexually abused a young boy, of the Bishop of the city of Bruges – a center of Catholicism in Protestant Europe, a pilgrim’s city where stands Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child sculpture and the awesome Church of Our Lady.

Pope Benedict XVI protested. Just the other day though, the International Herald Tribune’s top story seemed to explain the boldness of the raids: it was the Bishop’s nephew who accused him of sexual abuse since he was 10 years old, and 500 other Belgians had claimed they were abused by the clergy.

These disclosures stunned the Catholic faithful in Europe. They earned the front pages of most Western capitals’ newspapers, but, strangely were not reported in the world news sections of newspapers of our predominantly Catholic country. To appreciate the shock in Belgium where 75% of its population are Catholics, imagine if our NBI not only raided the Manila Archbishop’s offices at the Manila Cathedral but His Eminence’s residence in Guadalupe Seminary, to gather evidence for some crime.

Almost parallel to the theoretical attack against deism and the Catholic Church at the start of this century (discussed in our June 8 column), has been the assault on the Church as an institution purportedly mediating between God and man: How can the worst kind of sexual deviants – those preying on the innocent – speak for God and morality? Worse, there have emerged documented allegations that the present Pope – in his previous job since 1981 as head of the Vatican unit with authority on such cases – knew about these cases, but failed to act on them.

The accusations actually started in the last two decades of the 20th century but have accelerated to scandalous proportions:

US dioceses by 2009 had spent an estimated $2.6 billion to settle cases, for lawyers’ fees partly but mostly to pay off victims to suppress the truth from the public, that is, to sign confidentiality agreements in exchange for cash. The huge payments resulted in the bankruptcy of several American Catholic dioceses.

According to a study (the 2004 John Hay report) ordered by US bishops, out of 11,000 allegations, 3,300 were not pursued because the accused had died, but 6,700 allegations were substantiated. These involved mainly the seduction of pubescent males, 81% of the total, to undertake sexual acts with the priests. Some 16% of the victims were aged 8 to 10, while 78%, aged 11 and to 17. In Louisiana, one priest admitted to having molested 37 youngsters. A small proportion involved sexual abuse against girls. For instance, in Holland a pastor was sentenced for only 18 months for sexually abusing a 12-year-old girl, apparently aided by pleas for mercy from the parents who were paid 123,000 guilders.

Child sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy spanned the globe. Documented cases were reported in 26 countries in all continents. (In the Philippines, according a report by the BBC in 2002, the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Orlando Quevedo said that “about 200 of the country’s 7,000 priests may have committed sexual abuse over the past two decades.” Fr. James Reuter was reported to have said in 2003 that 34 priests have been suspended from the ministry after being found to have committed sexual abuse against females. The former Bishop of Novaliches, Teodoro Bacani was accused by his personal secretary of sexual harassment. He resigned his office but denied the charges saying that he had made “only inappropriate expressions of affection.” Bishop Crisostomo Yalung of Antipolo was removed from office in 2003 after a 29-year old mother pointed him as the mother of her two children.)

These cases of sexual abuse worldwide have not only severely eroded the Church’s credibility as an institution of morality, and as God’s representative on earth. They have also questioned the very credibility of the Vicar of Christ, the Pope himself.

This is mainly because of the fact that Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, since 1981 headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the only institution in the Catholic Church which had authority over investigating sexual abuse cases. Investigations by the New York Times (and printed in the International Herald Tribune, July 2, 2010) and by other European journalists have definitively shown that Pope Benedict XVI had been informed of