Is the Pot Calling the Kettle ‘Black’?
By Brian Mark Hennessy of the Comboni Survivor Group
My Mother was a wise, intelligent woman who read more books in a week than I ever read in a year – as well as completing the Guardian crossword puzzle, doing the housework, incessantly knitting pullovers, darning socks and preparing dinner for a family of ten who would descend upon the house from all directions at differing times in the evening. Her conversations were rich in memorable guidance in the form of sayings which still crop up in my mind today when the occasion demands a moral decision. I was reminded in the last few weeks of some of them because they cropped up in various forms as I was blogging or tweeting: “It’s not what you say, it’s what you do” – “It’s not your beliefs, it’s your behaviour that defines you” and “Don’t hold on to a mistake just because you spent a long time fashioning it”! Then of course, straight out of olden days when cooking was done on a wooden fire and when one of us was being critical of another, mother would quote “the sooty pot shouldn’t call the kettle black”!
Today, I belatedly read in ‘L’Osservatore Romano’ the text of an address made by Pope Francis on the occasion of the World Congress: ‘Child Dignity in the Digital World’ – on the 6th October 2017. He said “A society can be judged by the way it treats children”. I have no “beef” with that whatsoever. He went on to say something else – with which I am in full accord also – “Every child’s life is unique, meaningful and precious and every child has a right to dignity and safety. Yet today, global society is failing its children. Millions of children are being abused and exploited in tragic and unspeakable ways, and on an unprecedented scale all over the world”.
And the Pope continued, “While undoubtedly the Internet creates numerous benefits and opportunities in terms of social inclusion and educational attainment, today, content that is increasingly extreme and dehumanizing is available literally at children’s fingertips. The proliferation of social media means insidious acts, such as cyberbullying, harassment and sextortion, are becoming commonplace. Specifically, the range and scope of child sexual abuse and exploitation online is shocking. Vast numbers of sexual abuse images of children and youth are available online and continue to grow unabated”.
That all needed to be said, and the Pope, considered to be one of the prominent moral leaders in the world, is of the right stature to endorse it for other leaders to adopt. Or, is he? Is not the ‘pot calling the kettle black’ in this instance. Day by day we hear meaningful words from clerics relating to child sexual abuse that are not supported by action. The Vatican has many Canons regarding crimes of sexual abuse by clerics:
The Canons allow for clerics who have sexually abused children to be handed over to the civil authorities for investigation. Few Bishops and even fewer Religious leaders do so. The Canons demand that all offences by clerics against the sixth Commandment are to be reported to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), but compliance with the Canon is regarded as optional by many. If a cleric admits to the sexual abuse of a child, the Canons require that again that the offence is to be reported to CDF and, following validation of the allegation, a recommendation should then be made for the dismissal of the cleric by a Papal Decree. It is also stated in the Canons that after such an admission, if retained within the Church (because of age or infirmity etc) the cleric, if a priest, should never celebrate Mass in public again, but that is ignored by some hierarchs. It is pretty obvious too, that a cleric who has abused a child should no longer be in a position to abuse another. Bishops and Religious leaders ignore that as well.
For example, in the case of priests of the Comboni Missionary Order, I know of one priest who was incardinated into an Italian parish, one who was sent to Uganda to manage the Catholic Boy Scouts, another who was sent to a parish in Uganda where he established a school. I know of yet another placed in a similar situation in another African State. All of these priests were given further access to children. Indeed, following the recall of one priest from Africa to answer allegations of child sexual abuse and his admission of the facts, it was intended by the Comboni Missionary Order to dispatch him back to his African parish whence he came. It was only following the insistence of the Victim that the Order had second thoughts and restrained him in their Verona Mother House. (Well not altogether it so happens, but that is another story).
In a nutshell, from the dioceses to the Religious houses to the Vatican there is a lot of bluster about child sexual abuse and how clerics should be managed – and how victims of clerical sexual abuse should be treated, but in the vast majority of cases it is just “bluster”. Bishops, Religious Superiors, Vatican officiados from the Prefects of Congregations down to their junior clerics just carry on as normal. Indeed, many of them, regrettably, are ‘mavericks’. Sadly too, Pope Francis, is shielded from reality by Papal courtiers by the dozen and he appears to be very much a puppet with no independent voice of his own. He responds to the tug on his strings that are pulled by others in his Court.
The moral voice of the Papacy needs to be heard in this world, but it must put its own house in good order before the world will listen. For the moment the world has stopped listening and so has the worldwide flock who are deserting Catholicism in droves. In a crisis of failed moral authenticity – such as that which the Roman Catholic Church faces in respect to the demonstrable mismanagement of issues relating to child sexual abuse – you either repair the leak in the dyke or you will be drowned by the wave of the inevitable tsunami.