How the Vatican handles sex abuse allegations — by Brian Mark Hennessy
My view of the Vatican has always been that it is somewhat similar to a Cosmic Black Hole which swallows up information with a constant gravitational force to the extent that it can only increase in size because its intrinsic physical nature prevents anything ever being released. The straitghtforward explanation of this is that the bureaucracy of the Vatican is run by clerics who believe that they, exclusively have inherited the Wisdom of the Spirit – and that the everyday run-of-the-mill baptised Catholic layperson is just mindless flotsam that inhabits the dark nether regions of Creation. Nothing has ever given me the slightest cause to believe that the Vatican will ever change despite any overtures made by Pope Francis about collegiality, consultation and inclusion. For the international corporate conglomerate that they are – the standards of their attention to their customers – those that provide them with their funds so that they can invest it and live in princely isolation from the rest of the world – is nil.
For example, our very own Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, obliged me recently and personally took by hand a copy of a document that I had written to Rome and handed it to an official of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The document was entitled, (sorry it’s a bit of a mouthful):
A TEXT BOOK FOR INSTITUTIONS ON HOW NOT TO MANAGE ALLEGATIONS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE – AND WHY THE COMBONI MISSIONARY RELIGIOUS ORDER OF VERONA, ITALY, WILL DENY ALLEGATIONS OF 1,000 SEXUAL CRIMES COMMITTED AGAINST BOY SEMINARIANS IN THEIR CARE AT MIRFIELD, YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND – AND HOW THIS ITALIAN CATHOLIC ORDER HAS IMPLICATED ITSELF, BY DEFAULT, IN THE DISCRIMINATORY RE-VICTIMISATION OF THOSE SAME VICTIMS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE FROM THE BRITISH NATIONS OF ENGLAND, SCOTLAND AND WALES AND THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND.
The document is some 177 pages from start to finish. It took me more than a year to research and write. So – it went right to the very heart of the Vatican. Not a peep from them. No acknowledgement. No name of the Recipient. No indication as to whether or not anyone has even turned one of its pages. It is there – of perhaps not – it may have been shredded by now. I know it was there – and it would have had to undergo the “procedures”. Then the result would have been “secret” and could not be divulged – and so I will never know whether or not any of my efforts produced the slightest reaction, led to any discussions, recommendations or changes – or was a total waste of time. Why the silence – because I am flotsam – and I do not need to be consulted, informed, enlightened, considered!
(I remember feeling a bit deflated like that before. For after I was sexually abused by a priest at the Comboni Missionaries’ Mirfield seminary – and then after that – as an already confused and disorientated 21 year old novice at Sunningdale I was forced to witness the romantic clandestine meetings of a priest and a nun who were in love with each other – I left the Order – unsurprisingly. I then received a letter asking me to sell raffle tickets to raise money for the Order. I refused and sent them back. Then I got another letter saying that I owed them money and should repay it. That was news to me – but apparently my father, who was a good Irish Catholic and had eight children and could not pay the full cost of my boarding at the seminary, had an arrangement to pay less than the normal rate. They now wanted me to pay back the deficit. To them – I was flotsam you see – to be used and discarded. It wasn’t their money anyway – other poor Catholics who were beguiled into putting pennies in their collection plates paid for my seminary education – not them! Sad!)
Back to the point. In April of this year the Vatican, somewhat surprisingly, posted to its site a guide as to how the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith handles allegations of sexual abuse made against Catholic clergy. The guide was posted, according to a report from Catholic News Service, “to illustrate the Church’s commitment to protecting children and punishing offenders.” The online “introductory guide” lists the investigative steps, trial options and possible penalties for clerical sex abuse of minors, including dismissal from the priesthood. It even underlines the local bishop’s responsibility to follow civil law in reporting such crimes to the appropriate authorities.
Wow! I thought – cautiously. Is the Vatican “opening up”? The Catholic News Service continued, “This is to help the public understand how we facilitate, how we proceed. This is transparency – transparency of the Vatican. We have nothing to hide,”. These were the words of the Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman – so it must be true! But hold on a minute! Yes, the Vatican guide does explain the practices adopted in the wake of a 2001 papal document that established strict universal norms for handling cases of sexual abuse by priests against minors and placed these cases under the authority of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
But (I was always told that you cannot start a sentence with a “but” – but it seems very appropriate for a bit of emphasis) did not another Vatican spokesperson say quite recently that it is not necessary to report incidents of clerical child sexual abuse to the civil authorities? Have we not heard oh so very recently that one Cardinal congratulated a bishop for getting a prison sentence for refusing to assist the civil authorities by handing over information to the civil authorities about a paedophile priest? Did not the Vatican itself refuse to give – again oh so very recently – magistrates of the Italian State information in their possession about the offences of another paedophile priest because all information in the Vatican is of a “canonical” nature – and cannot be divulged even to the magistrates of the Italian State – because – well – they are flotsom aren’t they?
And – (yes I know you cannot start a sentence with an “and” either), what about secrecy and cover-up – and denial – and refusal to have dialogue – and what about “truth” – to where has that disappeared – and what about the nasty objectionable habits of calling abuse survivors “money grabbers”? Where does all that fit in to this scenario. Well – you have to go back to the overall picture to understand it – back to the Cosmic Black Hole theory again – because Black Holes are not very transparent. The Vatican Spokesman got that one wrong. Black holes are actually very dense – full of dark matter – stuff goes in. They grab everything they can get, but nothing ever comes out again – and, yes, they do have procedures, and you can read them. I have read them. They are not actually the real procedures themselves, but they are an introductory guide for lay-persons and non-canonists – the mindless flotsam of this world who would not have a clue how to interpret Canon Law. You cannot even understand it, to be honest, if you stand on your head and squint. There is a reason for that. Somewhat unsurprisingly most of Canon Law does not actually mean what it says – and so it can be interpreted in any which way a Vatican Canonist decides – and the Vatican actually states that the Vatican is the only body with a right to interpret it. Not a chance that flotsam would understand it. Indeed most Bishops and the Heads of religious Orders do not understand it. I know that because they do whatever they want and I know a big bunch of them, called the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona, Italy who totally ignore it. You see – that Order is another Black Hole. They have been swallowed up by the Vatican Black Hole. Black Holes can do that. They get denser and denser as time goes on. Lucky we are just flotsam really!