First, let me disclose my personal relationship with the Catholic Church so you can decide whether my comments in this blog are biased. Back in my youth, I married a lovely Catholic girl and we had two great kids. But I guess I was too young to settle down and one thing led to another… Anyway, we were divorced. I won’t go into the details; it’s too painful – even after all these years.
Some time later, she wanted to marry again, and petitioned the Church to annul our wedding. The Toronto Catholic Tribunal undertook an investigation of me that included interviews with various relatives and even a trip to Jamaica by a priest who reportedly showed up in Guy’s Hill to question my grandmother. As a result, I received a letter from the Tribunal informing me that I was “a pagan” and therefore could not fully understand the concept of a Catholic marriage; the marriage was annulled.
You can imagine my surprise at being classified as a pagan. My mother was a devout Catholic, and many of my close relatives are Catholics. I was Christened and confirmed as an Anglican (similar to the Episcopalian Church in America) because that was my father’s religion. Two of my father’s uncles were Anglican clergy and he was a committee member at his church. But if the Pope in his infallible wisdom considered me a pagan, who was I to argue?
I am revealing this information only to show that I might have a personal reason to doubt the credibility of the bureaucrats who administer the affairs of “Mother Church.” Still, I don’t think even the most objective observer would try to defend the church’s record on child abuse.
I won’t go into the voluminous evidence of sexual abuse of children by priests in America. Thanks to the media, the lurid details of those episodes are common knowledge. What makes the topic newsworthy at this time is the fact that the Irish government’s Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse has just released its long-awaited report, and as expected, many horror stories have been revealed. The nine-year investigation was repeatedly delayed by church lawsuits, missing documentation and alleged government obstruction.
The commission explored abuses committed against thousands of children who were classified as petty thieves or truants, or who were from dysfunctional families – a category that often included unmarried mothers. They were sent to Ireland’s Catholic-run network of industrial schools, reformatories, orphanages and hostels from the 1930s until the 1990s.
The commission reports that children in these institutions were “beaten on every part of their body”; some of these beatings being administered in front of onlookers with the victim stripped naked. Sexual abuse of minors was commonly linked with violence, and “ranged from detailed interrogation about sexual activity, inspection of genitalia, kissing, fondling of genitalia, masturbation, oral intercourse, rape and gang rape.”
The Irish government established the commission only after the church’s widespread child abuse was revealed in a television documentary series. The commission is not going to name individual child abusers, and none of them will be prosecuted. However, according to the Associated Press, the government is expected to pay more than US$1.6 billion in legal costs and compensation to 14,000 people who were molested, beaten or terrorized as children in the church’s care.
One cause of resentment is the church leaders’ refusal to contribute a fair share of the compensation. Under terms of a deal with the government, the church’s total liability is capped at less than US$175 million.
As I ponder the latest disclosure of the evil that is obviously so pervasive in the Catholic Church, I wonder at the self righteousness with which that institution pontificates on social issues. Surely, by now, Catholic leaders can have very little moral authority in society.