Can the Pope be impeached?

Pope Benedict XVI

Something is rotten in the Vatican.

It seems that when Benedict XVI was Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich and Freising, he approved “rehousing” a priest who was accused of child abuse. That means that instead of turning the matter over to the civil authorities, and allowing it to be investigated, he took active steps to ensure that the matter was covered up. That particular priest was later convicted of abusing more children.

Benedict’s PR corps has sprung into action, saying that there have been “aggressive attempts” to drag him into the scandal surrounding priests who abused children and the cover-up by the church. (I can’t find a relevant press release on the Vatican site, just an invitation to accredited journalists to attend a press conference, I think… my knowledge of Italian lies somewhere between non-existent and extremely scanty.)

“Aggressive”. Meaning, their subjects are getting a bit uppity, asking awkward questions, daring to demand that the church’s hierarchy lives up to the ideals it imposes on others.

The spin doctors have also said that Benedict’s participation in the cover-up was “unwitting”. Right… if you believe that, then I’ve got a rather nice painted ceiling in a spiffy basilica in Rome to sell to you. Even so, he was the chap in charge in that diocese, and it happened on his watch. Funny how this allegedly erudite and punctilious man, known as a micro-manager, didn’t known about this event in his diocese. Or maybe it was like being part of the Hitler Youth. Just following the rules, you know. Obeying orders and all that. (There’s some quick Vatican footwork going on with respect to that episode too.)

There’s some very fancy Vatican two-step going on with the blame game and pedophile priests. Take a look at this statement.

[Monsignor Zollitsch, Archbishop of Freiburg] added that paedophilia was not confined to the Roman Catholic Church. [link]

Indeed it is not. Neither is the covering-up of paedophilia purely a Catholic phenomenon. But when a man stands in front of a congregation one day, and tells them how they ought to behave, and purports to act as a channel for God, and the next day rapes a child, then there are two things wrong with his actions. The first is the terrible crime committed against the child, and the second is being a sanctimonious hypocrite. If the Catholic church wants to claim that it is an institution devoted to holiness, then its clerics need to hold themselves to a much higher standard of behaviour than other institutions, and the church itself needs to show that it will not tolerate such horrible sins.

And then there’s this statement from Monsignor Charles Scicluna, who is the Vatican’s prosecutor for clergy sex abuse cases.

Only about 10 percent of the case dealt with “acts of true pedophilia,” Scicluna said, while 60 percent of the cases involved priests who were sexually attracted to male adolescents. Some 30 percent of cases dealt with heterosexual abuse, he said. [link]

I’m not sure what “true pedophilia” is, but I’m guessing that it’s to do with pre-adolescent children. I wonder if that means that Scicluna thinks that it’s not as bad abusing adolescents? Even so, there are still two problems here. One is that many of those adolescents will almost undoubtedly be below the age of consent. And the second is the hypocrisy charge. Because no matter what, when any priest of the Roman Catholic church has sex with any individual, consenting or non-consenting, adult or child, he is breaking his vows, and not living up to the standards that he preaches.

I also detect the makings of a very nasty sidestep here. Benedict has made some horrid statements about homosexuality, saying that it is intrinsically disordered, and that homosexual men can not be allowed to become priests. He is profoundly anti-gay. And in this statement, his delegate is blaming the majority of pedophilia on gay men. It’s a classic scapegoating move.

Benedict is up to his ears in the cover-up of sexual abuse by priests. He wrote the 2001 instruction to clergy to keep abuse cases confidential (that’s a polite way of saying, “cover-up”). Cardinals and bishops world-wide took that as instructions not to go to the police. Now it turns out, of course, that they were the ones who made the mistake. Apparently it was never supposed to be a ban, just something to protect the victims.

At the Vatican, rules on handling sexual abuse were “never understood as a ban on making a complaint to civil authorities,” Monsignor Charles Scicluna said.

But Irish bishops have said the document was widely taken to mean that they shouldn’t go to police. And victims’ attorneys in the United States say the document shows that the church tried to obstruct justice. [link]

The Vatican has tried to make some reassuring noises, saying that even though it hasn’t prosecuted many cases of priests abusing children, it has imposed its own penalties.

[Sicluna] said that 60% of the cases had not come to trial, largely because of the advanced age of the accused, but that they faced other “administrative and disciplinary provisions”, including being required to live in seclusion and prohibition from celebrating Mass. [link]

In other words, the offenders have been allowed to run away and hide, and they have never faced prosecution by the authorities in the countries in which they live. It’s criminous clerics all over again.

I see an on-going, organised, liturgy of lies, and failures to tell the truth, a determination to be untruthful and to dissemble. Benedict seems to be completely unable to face the horrible reality that abuse of children has been systemic in the Roman Catholic church. Even worse than that, it now seems that he has assisted in allowing clerics to escape prosecution for their crimes, and he continues to allow the church he leads to cover-up and minimise these terrible deeds.

I do not think that this is just a matter of one bad man in power leading the church astray. Benedict was elected by the College of Cardinals in 2005, only four years after he sent out his cover-up rules. The men who elected him knew that he was responsible for that directive; they knew the calibre of the man they were electing. They too must bear some of the responsibility for allowing this man to become the leader of the church.

Of course, they might shuffle their feet, and claim that it is the holy spirit working through them who elected Benedict. But do they really think that this is what the holy spirit is working for, a church that engages in lies and deceit and sophistical obfuscations. Or perhaps the ghostie is playing a long game, hoping that the maldeeds of the church hierarchy will become so noisome that the whole structure will collapse. That is of course, somewhat immoral with respect to the treatment of the people who are damaged en route, but I suppose god might be a utilitarian after all.

What of the ordinary Catholics, the priests who are doing good and faithful service, the people sitting in the pews, doing their best to lead good lives, and to follow the teachings of their god? I suppose that many of them just accept the church hierarchy as something over there, far away from them, and get on with the affairs of their own parish. Others, I think, must feel that the church they love is being stolen from them, and the only thing that they can do is keep gong to church, and hope that they will in time, be able to take it back. And others must actually support the Pope and his scarlet cohorts.

The problem is that it is impossible to tell which Catholics support the Pope, and which are just people hoping to save their church. At present, their attendance in the pews looks very much like support for the church hierarchy, and for its misdeeds. When will they stand up, and demand change?


7 responses to “Can the Pope be impeached?

  1. “The Ratzinger letter was co-signed by Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone who gave an interview two years ago in which he hinted at the church’s opposition to allowing outside agencies to investigate abuse claims. ‘In my opinion, the demand that a bishop be obligated to contact the police in order to denounce a priest who has admitted the offence of paedophilia is unfounded,’ Bertone said.”

  2. It sure makes me glad I’m not Catholic.

  3. Violet – don’t mistake sins of the father for the virtue of the family.

    This story is an interesting tale of the performance of institutions/organisations (if you can allow yourself to get over the emotional disjust about pedophile behaviour) and how they respond to internal problems. You can look to the public and private sector for numerous examples of systemtic failure of an institution/organisation e.g ENRON, the hadley centre, UK MoD on the lead up to Iraq war, Lehman etc.

    These tell us about problems of internal communication within organisation and the cassandra problem ( no one wants to hear bad news). This can result in internal paralysis and group think.

    I have sympathy for the reformist elements within the catholic church (as well as presbyterian, anglican etc) at the moment – their daily representation of the best that the christian faith offers to the world (hope, compassion, love, understanding and forgiveness, care for others) is swept away in public opinion by the sins of the fathers who are failing by refusing to take responsibility and leadership.

  4. “The virtue of the family.” LOL. Religion in general is a con game, WH, and the Catholic church is one of the vilest around. If you want to commune with your imaginary friends, go right ahead, but I’m going to sneer at anyone who keeps throwing into the collection plate.

  5. Isn’t this already covered by the Church’s argument against the Donatist heresy (ca 450-600 AD), which argued that the sin of corrupt priests invalidated the sacraments? The official position was that the Grace of God can flow through the mouth of a dead dog, if necessary (they had a way with words in the early church polemics!)
    ie that the Holy Spirit is independant of the individual sin of the priesthood. Dante was able to consign a surprising number of popes to Hell while remaining committed to the church.

  6. The pope in his letter to the Irish church asks that they pray to redeem themselves of this sin, so if you can’t blame the gays, push the blame to every single catholic, make them do penance, fast and pray, as long as he doesn’t have to do anything that might crease his dress.

  7. Here is the smoking gun showing Ratzinger covering up child abuse.