QUENCHING OF THE SPIRIT – BY THE VATICAN
Written by Brian Mark Hennessy
In 2014, Pope Francis ordered an investigation into the Italian diocese of Albenga-Imperia, situated on the Italian coast between the port of Genoa and the state of Monaco. The Papal Nuncio, Adriano Bernadini, was given the task of finding out the truth behind the headline scandals in the Italian press. Shortly after he reported back to the Vatican, a new bishop, Guglielmo Borghetti was sent to the diocese to act as the de facto Bishop – and ultimately the former Bishop of 25 years, Mario Oliveri, handed in his resignation – which has been accepted by the Pope. Why?
Part of the reason is that Bishop Oliveri was a “traditionalist” – or at least he tolerated “traditionalist” priests who refused to abandon the Latin Tridentine Mass which was introduced in 1570 and was discontinued after Vatican II. This Mass, referred to now as the “forma antiquior”, is still favoured by some today even at the highest levels and, whilst it may be said by a priest in private, it is unacceptable in a public liturgy. Pope Francis admonished a Cardinal Prefect just a few weeks ago for publicly supporting it – and it is clear that the Tradentine is now a certain “gonner” in the public domain. Nevertheless, however much the old-headed Bishop, Mario Oliveri was under Vatican pressure on that issue, he did not resign over that matter specifically and just shortly before his normal retirement age. The reason is somewhat more topical and truly a scandal of major proportions.
What the Papal Nuncio Bernadini uncovered was a host of lurid claims: priests and seminarians posting naked photographs on gay websites and on Facebook, the sexual harassment of parishioners, accepting clerics from other dioceses with either questionable reputations or who had been dismissed already for misconduct by their previous Bishops, playboy priests moonlighting as barmen, priests who had committed theft from parish revenues, one priest accused of operating an under-age prostitution ring – and others living in non-celibate , openly gay relationships.
Jose phine McKenna, writing in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR online) says that Bishop Olivera distributed a farewell message on the diocesan website stating that he loved his diocese “and especially his priests”. The new bishop, Borghetti, said that he would seek to renew the diocese and his actions would please neither “traditionalists” and nor “progressives” – by whom he means, I suppose, clerical barmen and actively gay seminarians and priests who post nude photographs on Facebook and gay websites – and any priests running prostitution rings.
It might seem to some readers that the culture of the Irish Maynooth seminary, referred to in my recent article on this blog, has influenced the goings on in this Italian diocese – or vice versa – for both are running concurrently in the news. How did we get to this situation whereby it seems to be common practice now for clerics to indulge in unseemly activities “full face” in the glare of the public? Well in short, we have not just got to it now. It has always been there – both openly and in the background. The difference is that modern technology moves the shadowy, indiscreet, sexual and sometimes depraved acts of clerics into the public domain and limelight before the Church Hierarchy, traditionally more centrally placed in the aristocracy of both national and local communities, could stamp their foot on it. Yet – it does make you wonder what is still under wraps today – and what cannot get out into the public forum easily because it is still controlled by and within the impenetrable walls of the Catholic Church itself.
One such matter is the physical and sexual abuse of nuns by priests. The Vatican has known about this dark secret throughout history, but it has not yet surfaced to any extent, because it happens “in house” and is suffocated by vows of silence and obedience – and female oppression by dominant, male figures in cascades of ultimate authority over them. It is further complicated by the physical vulnerability of women who have no rights of appeal to anyone other than the male priests and male bishops in the local hierarchy. The record of the Vatican is not a beacon of light in this regard. An expert, professional, independent, civilian study of the large scale and widespread abuse of nuns, particularly in Africa and in Asia, was presented to the Vatican decades ago. The National Catholic Reporter in the United States took the issue on at the time. There was an initial clamour – then silence. The Vatican took no action that was made public. Nuns were told to report such matters to their Bishops. This the nuns had already done in many, if not all, cases before, but the Bishops had not even reported it to the Vatican as Canon Law dictated. They dealt with it locally by taking no appropriate and meaningful action at all against the priests – other than ultimately relocating them to places where they could re-offend. The blistering expert, professional, independent report was consigned to a “pending” office tray in the Vatican – from where it has never reached the light of day since. In this case, St Paul’s famous and oft’ quoted, “Quench not the Spirit” has been well and truly quenched by the all-male Vatican traditionalists.
That is not the end of the story, however, and there is hope. Some nuns have been emboldened by their female counterparts in civilian life and may no longer be prepared to accept the indignity of being abused without recourse to their full rights of justice – which include the full and rightful list of punitive measures of both Canon Law and the Civil Law being taken against offending clerics. The official Vatican taboo of uttering a single word about the physical, mental and sexual exploitation of nuns by priests may just be about to crack open again – and that opened can of worms may soon be swarming all over the marble floors of St Peter’s Square. For the readers of this blog who anticipate that somewhere in this article I will be making a reference to the Comboni Missionary Order of Verona Italy in this same regard – you need not hold your breath any longer – allegations of abuse of nuns by clerics of that Order are known to have been made.
Brian Mark Hennessy