WORLDWIDE CHILD ABUSE – NEWS IN BRIEF
By Brian Mark Hennessey
So much news regarding child abuse has hit the headlines in the last month that it is difficult to know where to start, but perhaps the success of the film “Spotlight” at the Oscars is one of the most notable – not just for the momentous nature of the film itself – but for the subsequent comments. Certainly, the Vatican went very much on the defensive.
Notable was that Cardinal Gerhard Muller, the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith commented in the wake of the film event that “ only a number of individuals, not motivated by their priestly office but instead disturbed or immature, have been proven guilty of sexually abusing minors. The vast majority of priests have been bitterly wronged by the generalizations regarding abuse,” he said, recalling that criminal statistics showed that most sexual abusers were found within the family circle. “They are fathers and other relatives of the victims. One cannot draw the inverse conclusion that most fathers are therefore possible or actual perpetrators.”
Clearly Cardinal Muller had not watched the film as it was stated emphatically therein by a phsycologist expert that, statistically speaking, only about 6% of all clergy are likely to be active paedophiles – not all of them. Muller’s generalisation that the vast majority of priests have been “bitterly wronged” was thus a red herring – or whatever the German equivalent to that is. (Something to do with frankfurters perhaps)!
Interestingly,of course, to the Mirfield 12 Group is that the Comboni Missionary Order has now some 1,600 clergy (priests and brothers). I was saying only recently to Mark Murray that the abuse that happened at Mirfield would be only the tip of the proverbial iceberg and that it is likely that child sexual abuse will have been a worldwide problem in all the Comboni Order’s mission territories and support bases. We know, of course, from our own experience that no punitive action was taken against three child sex abusers at Mirfield – but two were sent to the Missions and one to an Italian parish. Irrespective of the fact that the Comboni Missionary Curia member, Father Pellucci, remarked not so long ago that there “has never ever been a case of child sexual abuse reported within the Order” – statistically speaking, according to the “Spotlight” psychologist, there are about 100 paedophile clerics within the Order. Some of these will certainly be active.
Well, for the benefit of Father Pellucci, just recently a Comboni Missionary in the United States was listed by a Diocesan Report as a child sex abuser – and yet another Comboni Missionary priest, listed on a diocesan list of banned clergy, was to be reported to the diocesan Vicar General if he ever made any contact with diocesan clergy – who were urged, along with their parishoners to pray for this priest. If anyone out there, reading this blog knows of abuse within the Comboni Missionary Order – then please do get in touch with my email address email@example.com – as I am compiling a list for publication – and also for the beneficial purpose of illuminating Father Pellucci’s psychological information blackout.
Cardinal Muller also said (in an interview with German daily Kölner Stadt Anzeiger on a visit to Germany) that he had a problem with the word “hush up” being used “far too lightly” with reference to bishops and sexual abuse cases. “For me”, he said, “hushing something up means deliberately preventing a recognized criminal offence from being punished or not preventing a further offence from occurring.” The true facts are, of course, that not only have the Civil laws of most advanced countries regarded child abuse to be a crime for more than a century, but child sexual abuse has also been enshrined within the Catholic Church’s Canon Law for many many a year – not just as a heinous sin against the sixth decalogue – but as a criminal act which must be reported to the Civil Authorities. It seems that Cardinals and Bishops routinely ignore Canon Law – or perhaps have never read it.
Thus the truth, that Cardinal Muller has ignored – amongst other things it seems – with all the facts of clerical abuse at his finger tips – is that, routinely, most bishops and religious leaders have never taken action to report child sexual abuse to the Civil Authorities. Indeed, in modern times under the tenure of the previous Pope Bendict XVI, countless thousands of erring priests have escaped any civil action and punishment whatsoever – and have been dealt with in secret Vatican courts without the knowledge of the Victims or their legal representatives. How many, I wonder were “re-instated” in parishes or other religious venues? What “hush up”?, asks Cardinal Muller. “The Vatican hush up!”, I respond.
Caedinal Müller continued, “Now, as we all know, in past decades the state of knowledge regarding sexual abuse was very different from that of today. Unfortunately, no one had their eye on the long-term consequences of sexual abuse in those days, as, thank God, we have today. Seriously admonishing the perpetrator was often thought – somewhat naively perhaps – to be enough.” Is Cardinal Muller suggesting, I ask myself, that, historically, sexually abusing children was OK – simply because the long-term effects were not fully appreciated?
Cardinal Müller then pointed out that great advances had been made in the field of human sciences and therefore the way of dealing with perpetrators and victims has greatly changed. What planet is Cardinal Muller on? Has the way the Catholic Church dealt with the Victims of sexual abuse truly changed? Victims were ignored in the past – and they are being ignored now. If he does not believe me – then let him ask the Comboni Missionary Order why they have refused absolutely to talk to or apologise to a single Victim of the alleged 1000 child sexual abuse incidents – each one a crime in its own right – that were perpetrated against children at their Mirfield seminary.
Cardinal Muller’s words continue: “The church needs to recognize that a paradigm shift has occurred regarding sexual abuse – behind which there is no going back”. Expediently, again, Muller ignores that child sexual abuse has long been a civil crime that should be reported to the Civil Authorities. Does he claim that in the past the Catholic Church had some kind of “extra terrestial” exemption from following Civil Law – and the very Human Rights legislation enacted by the United Nations – and to which the Vatican has signed agreement?
The comments of Cardinal Muller sound to me to have a goodly degree of self-interest at heart. Why? Well, Cardinal Muller himself has been accused of covering up abuse. The Jesuit Fr. Klaus Mertes, has witnessed that abuse (in the Jesuit College in Berlin during Muller’s tenure as headmaster in 2010 and when Müller was Bishop of Regensburg from 2002-2012) was ignored by Muller – who decided not to follow the German bishops’ conference’s guidelines which recommended that priests sentenced for sexual abuse of minors should never again be allowed to work with children or young people. How did the then Bishop Muller ignore the bishops’ guidelines? Well, Father Mertes claims that the now Cardinal Muller reinstalled a priest in a parish who had served a prison sentence for abuse.
Fr Klaus Mertes says, quite rightly, that Bishops who contribute towards covering up abuse cases should be removed from episcopal office or step down. Mertes also commented that, “Instead of stepping down, Bishop Müller, who covered up and obscured sexual abuse when he was in the highest position in the church in his diocese, has climbed the hierarchical ladder just like that. He remarks that Cardinal Muller still continually speaks of ‘malicious press campaigns’ against the Catholic church. Fr Mertes says that Cardinal Muller has not a sign of remorse and certainly not of a willingness to deal with the structural problems that the church has in connection with abuse. “For him it is just the case of a few evil churchmen – but otherwise everything is in order in the church and everything can remain just as it always was. In my opinion, that is intolerable – above all, intolerable for the victims,” Mertes continued. “How can this man, who is the head of the Congregation finally responsible for abuse, of all things, ever again be credible?” Well, Cardinal Muller’s time may almost be up anyway. Vatican Watchers are suggesting that Pope Francis, following his visit to Mexico, is now concentrating on Curia reform – and the only way to achieve that is for staff changes – firings and hirings. Apparently, Pope Francis does not have much love for Cardinal Muller – and there is, conveniently, an Archbishop’s post in Germany becoming vacant very soon. We wait – and hope.
In the United States yet another bishop is closely following Cardinal Muller’s approach to defend his handling of clergy sex abuse allegations. The reporter Brian Roewe (National Catholic Reporter) has recorded that U.S. Bishop Joseph Adamec, just hours after the publication of a US Grand Jury report that harshly criticized his handling of clergy sexual abuse allegations, issued a statement defending his record. In a 10-page statement Bishop Joseph Adamec argued that the criticism raised against him in the stinging report was “unfounded.” The report presented an image of the diocese as “rampant with child molestation for decades” – all told, hundreds of children abused by at least 50 priests and religious leaders – while bishops, including Adamec, enabled and concealed the problem. On Adamec specifically, the grand jury concluded, “his biography in the handling of sexual predators was abysmal.” Bishop Adamec states that he had a process. That process, he said, began with himself or the vicar general meeting with the accused priest, followed by a meeting with the alleged victim, if they were willing. From there, he said he sent the priest for psychiatric evaluation, and would base his decision on the priest’s future in ministry from that report. “The Bishop universally followed the advice of the psychiatric professional,” said the statement. The Grand Jury, however, stressed the difference between a “known offender” not being specifically diagnosed as a pedophile – and a “known offender” being cleared of being a predator. Because of the result of the psychiatric report, it seems, that the bishop had been making decisions as to whether measures taken against “known offenders” should be acted upon. The self-reporting nature of the evaluations rendered them useless, it said, adding that such a simplistic diagnosis approach resulted in insufficient evidence to deem the accused a sex offender, and allowed “justification for poor judgement and reckless conduct.” “Hiding behind that tissue thin layer of justification, the Bishops returned these monsters to ministry,” the Grand Jury said. That rings a bell in my ear! Where was it that the child sexual abusers of the Mirfield seminary were sent? Yes! – you are right – the Hierarchy of the Comboni Missionary Order returned those monsters to ministry!
And last, but not least, we had testimony from Cardinal Pell and I quote from the reporter, Joshua McElwee. “Cardinal George Pell, one of the highest-ranking officials at the Vatican, admitted to an Australian government commission that when a schoolboy came to him decades ago to report that a Catholic teacher was “misbehaving with boys” he did not report the matter to authorities. His excuse was, that when the boy came to him in 1974 “he just mentioned it casually in conversation; he never asked me to do anything.” The boy, the cardinal said, was complaining about a member of the Edmund Rice Christian Brothers named Edward Dowlan, who would later be convicted of abusing at least 20 boys at six Australian schools starting in 1971. Commission Chair Peter McClellan asked the cardinal whether he should have done more to report the event, and possibly put an end to the abuse. “With the experience of forty years later, certainly I would agree that I should have done more,” replied Pell. “I didn’t do anything about it,” he continued. “I eventually inquired with the school chaplain.” The cardinal said he thought Dowlan’s order would handle the complaint. “I had no idea that the Christian Brothers were covering up in the way in which it’s now apparent,” said Pell. It is the first known time that a Vatican official of such authority has admitted historic inaction in the face of possible sexual abuse. Following Pell’s admission, a lawyer representing abuse survivors pressed him firmly on the matter. “Why on earth, Cardinal, didn’t you take the information that you had about the complaint … to the police, to the investigators, to the insurance companies, or to the Christian Brothers themselves?” asked the counsel. “Why do we hear about it this week for the first time?” The response was, “I mentioned it to the principal and he said the matter was being looked after,” replied the cardinal. “Now in the light of subsequent events that was radically insufficient but at that time … given the unspecified nature of the accusations, I thought that was something that was fair enough.” In respect to another report of abuse made to him, Cardinal Pell – now famously responded – “It was a sad story, but it was not of much interest to me at the time!”.
Well, further comment on my part is almost superfluous! I feel as I have been listening to the same tape recording for most of my life. In just the past month the senior prelates of the “reformed” Roman Catholic Church of Pope Francis are continuing to hand out the nails to be hammered into the Church’s own coffin! When will the Pope begin to act firmly on his promises that there is no place in the Catholic Church for those who abuse children – and that Bishops and Religious leaders who cover up the child sexual abuse of children must resign?
Brian Mark Hennessy