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Church Sexual Abuse: Tame the Rottweiler

Now here’s a nice idea:   Benedict XVI, in his earlier incarnation as head of the CDF, was known as “God’s Rottweiler”, for his diligence in guarding the faith from all threats . Every dog owner knows that Rottweiler’s for all their skill as watchdogs, need training, lest they themselves become a threat to those they are supposedly protecting.  Ergo – train the Rottweiler.


Benedict’s career has been woefully short on pastoral or administrative experience. He started out as a celebrated academic theologian, in which capacity he made a renowned contribution to the proceedings of Vatican II.  Later, he served briefly  as Archbishop of Munich. Now, recall that the origin of the post of Bishops” was as an “overseer” for the diocese, implying management and supervision.  We now know that in Munich, Ratzinger’s supervision skills in overseeing his priests and protecting the people were somewhat underdeveloped. EITHER he was remiss in allowing a know paedophile priest to return to active ministry against strong professional advice; OR he was remiss in leaving the required supervision to a junior underling, who has now accepted full responsibility.  However, as has been pointed out elsewhere, one can delegate tasks and decisions to subordinates: one cannot delegate the responsibility.

He was soon recalled to Rome to head the CDF (successor to the old and notorious Inquisition) , where he earned the soubriquet “God’s Rottweiler” for his enthusiasm and vigour in reigning in and silencing dissenting opinion:  opinions in dissent, that is, from the views of John Paul II and his own.  It was also here that he sent out  the notorious 2001 letter demanding that all cases of sexual abuse by clergy be referred to his own office, and treated with the utmost secrecy, in another aspect of his role as guard dog – seeking to protect, in this context, not the ideas but the reputation of the Church.

It was clearly this document an the earlier version that it replaced, that were responsible for the widespread cover-ups and protection of abusive clergy that have caused, if anything, even greater anger to be directed against the church than the individual cases of abuse themselves.  They could be seen as the faults of the individuals.  The cover-ups were failings of the Church as a whole.  In seeking to guard the Church from criticism, the watchdog has simply inflicted still greater harm himself. The Rottweiler must be trained.

The problem, of course, is that technically, Benedict as pope is answerable to no one.  He reigns as absolute monarch over a fiefdom  tiny in extent, but with global reach.  He has absolute control over the world’s largest corporation and largest employer, but is controlled by no one. Together with his predecessor, he has colluded to undermine the reforms of Vatican II which might have introduced some measure of collegiality, and is left untrammelled by any human constraints outside of himself.

There is no legal power on earth capable of clipping his, wings, of providing the training he so obviously needs. In the absence of formal constraints, informal ones must do instead.  In a powerful argument at Religion Dispatches, Anthea Butler argues that what is needed is relentless reporting.

Amen to that.

Here are some extracts.

The recent reporting on scandals throughout Europe could (I hope) prove to be the proverbial straw that breaks a very feeble Vatican back. The Pope’s involvement in the “hot potato” philosophy of moving bishops and facilitating sexual abusers has come back to haunt him in a very real and dangerous way. It is not simply a smear campaign, as Vatican insiders protest. Will the avalanche of revelations and investigations force the Vatican to break its secrecy and double-speak? I doubt it, but it’s clear that celibacy isn’t the only thing that has held Catholics hostage to heinous behavior. The institutionalization of sexual abuse as a matter of course permeates the organization of the church. After all, the Vatican is the biggest don’t-ask-don’t-tell outfit in the world.

Finally, and most important, no one should think that this current Pope is going to clean up anything. This is the man (yes, just a man) who instructed bishops in a secret 2001 letter that the church should keep allegations of sex abuse cases secret for at least ten years. Who knows what revelations will be discovered that then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, shielded from the public and legal authorities? The “grave sin” — to use the words of the then-Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith — was teaching everyone how to elude prosecution, and not to call out sin. Now, while Pope, his own sins have been found out, trapping him in a web of his own making.

The scandal unfolding in Europe is not surprising, because the Church’s inability to dialogue with its own theologians who dissent has taken away the intellectual and moral core needed to bring together a Vatican III, where the church could finally deal with the issue of sexuality. The entrenchment of a theology of the body that honors a fetus but ignores the child who is raped and molested by spiritual authorities is reprehensible. It is not theology, it is a perverted practice, designed to paralyze people. It claims homosexuals are disordered and those who engage in premarital sex are sinners. Nothing, nothing is said about those in spiritual authority who rape and abuse children going to hell. The silence is deafening.

I am not going to pretend that I can be impartial about this story. This Pope, who relished gutting the church of prominent theologians like Sobrino, Haight, and Boff, is not the kind of person who is going to admit that the organizational structure he presides over is rotten from the top on down. The only thing that is going to bring this Pope to repentance and change are relentless reporters who will uncover his secrets. It is time to start thinking about the Catholic church as not just a church, but as an organization that has been allowed to institutionalize rape and sexual abuse on a global scale, while attempting to hold its members hostage to its distorted views of sexuality and celibacy.

Read the full post at Religion Dispatches.


One Response

  1. Oh my, that was certainly strong. “An organization that has been allowed to institutionalize rape and sexual abuse on a global scale?”

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