The Culture of Getting Away With it

The first child sex scandal in the Catholic Church took place in AD153, long before there was a "gay culture" or Jewish journalists for bishops to blame it on. By the 1960s, the problem had become so dire that a cleric responsible for the care of "erring" priests wrote to the Vatican suggesting that it acquire a Caribbean island to put them on - Terry Eagleton

Is the pope merely the victim of what one cardinal dismisses as ‘the petty gossip of dominant opinion’ or has he a genuine case to answer in terms of how he handled child sex abuse cases? Last week’s Panorama team cast a critical eye over Joseph Ratzinger, in his role as Archbishop of Munich and, before he became pope, his time as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005. In darker ages it was known as the Inquisition. The function of that notorious institution was doctrinal enforcer. It was in his role as Prefect over this body that Ratzinger wielded enormous power as he hunted down dissidents and silenced opposition. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was in effect the Vatican political police.

Panorama first looked as the case of Stephen Kiesle, a 1970s Californian priest who was convicted for molesting two boys. For A full nine years he was retained in Holy Orders rather than given his marching orders. For the last five of those years the case was being mulled over by the CDF.

Tom Doyle, a priest and church lawyer who is highly critical of the Church’s handling of the abuse issue, told Panorama that the prolonged delay was a result of a ruling by Pope John Paul II that no priest younger than 40 should be allowed to leave the priesthood. ‘I think they saw it that if we made it difficult to impossible to get out of the priesthood then men will stay in.’ It echoes the old IRA line from the James Cagney film Shake Hands With The Devil – ‘once in never out.’ Doyle was scathing in his observation that the attitude of the church hierarchy was that it was better to hold on to a child abusing priest than have one less priest at headcount.

Next, Panorama looked at a case from Tucson in the US state of Arizona. The case of Father Michael Teta came before Ratzinger's office in 1997. Ratzinger had been told by Bishop Manuel Moreno that in his relationships with men and boys Teta displayed a ‘satanic’ character. For seven and a half years angels standing on the head of a pin were looked at from every conceivable angle before this least angelic of characters was expelled. This prompted the acerbic comment fom Lynne Cadiga, the lawyer for one of Teta’s victim, that ‘there’s no doubt that Ratzinger delayed the defrocking process of priests who were deemed ‘satanic by their own bishop.’

Again, it fell to Tom Doyle, the church lawyer, to give a some frank appreciation:

There is no credible answer as to why that case sat there for seven-and-a-half years. I've never in my career as a canonist heard of a case taking that long on appeal - I never have.

Panorama also showed that suspicion of Ratzinger’s mismanagement of child abuse cases reached back into the 1970s. While archbishop of Munich he chaired the meeting examining the case of Peter Hullermann, another erring priest. The meeting recommended that the abuser be given psychotherapy. Werner Huth, the psychiatrist who examined him felt the risk of re-offending to be so high that he informed the bishops of his findings. His advice was ignored. After that Hullermann was brought back into the priesthood, where he took off once more on the trail of abuse until 1986 when he was convicted in a German court of sexually abusing children. At no point had the German police been informed by the Church that the priest posed a danger to children.

Austen Ivereigh of the lay group Catholic Voices sprang to the defence of Ratzinger:

He sat down in 2001 and said I want all these cases on my desk. They began to arrive, 3,000 cases over 10 years. And he spoke later, at the time of his election as Pope, of the 'filth' in the church. I think he, more than anybody in Rome, really got it.

What Ivereigh really should have said was that more than anybody in Rome Ratzinger really got away with it.

The culture of getting away with it has a knock on, filter down effect which has enormous consequences. As Terry Eagleton put it so well:

One blindingly simple reason for the huge amount of child abuse in the Catholic church (on one estimate, up to 9% of clerics are implicated) is that the perpetrators know they will almost certainly get away with it.

How they know they can get away with rape but not with questioning papal infallibility is the terminus any investigation will ultimately arrive at, despite the attempts by the Vatican to divert it into a cul de sac where it can be silently suffocated.


  1. 9% is to low a figure Anthony I,d put it at 95% and the other 4.95% liars

  2. The pope is in an impossible situation and very much one of his and the church's own making.

    The silent insistence behind such official church phrases such as 'forgiveness' and 'absolution' and the practical application of canon law are mere conversational references to the central catholic dogmatic idea that any sin can be forgiven.

    In canon law a priest can commit the foulest crimes and as long as that priest then makes what the church regards as an act of contrition then the priest can be forgiven and as history shows can go off and commit the same crimes again.

    There is a collision here between law as most people understand it and the catholic belief system.

    All legal systems consider the danger to society when a criminal is up before a court. The canon law court system does not which is why the church's criminals appeared able to walk away from internal disciplinary 'hearings' and commit crimes again. The secular legal systems would imprison such people as an ongoing danger to the community.

    The pope cannot submit to secular law as he would be admitting that catholic dogma is subservient to criminal law. This is impossible for any pope to admit as papal pronouncements on catholic dogma have been regarded by catholics as infallible since the middle of the 19th century.

    It would be an admission that popes can make mistakes on dogma and this is quite literally anathema.

    Until such time as secular authorities, (given the nature of the 'universal' catholic church, they would have to be some organisation such as the UN or Interpol) take the view that catholicism is a religious cult the same as any other and subject to justice for its actions, then the idea will still linger that the pope and the church are 'above' all that.

    The catholic church and the pope are on a natural collision course with justice and there's no dogmatic way out which is why the Vatican has been clutching at ever dafter straws like a man sliding down a wet thatched roof in the effort to blame anything and everything among its traditional critics except its own hideously self-damaging canon law.

    There is another worldwide issue approaching for the catholic church I feel and it may well be an international one like the abuse scandals across the world. At some point the secular international judicial systems are going to have to make the Vatican's mind up for it on the status of canon law- it ain't going to be pretty and to a certain extent events have overtaken the Vatican as it no longer can control the messaging about itself.

    News on catholicism is now out of the Vatican's hands and it is a very damaging genie out of a very self-absorbed bottle.

  3. Excerpt from Auschwitz,The Nazis & The Final Solution, by Laurence Rees,..The matter was resolved in Berlin.The Slovak goverment agreed to pay the Germans 500 Reichsmarks for every Jew deported,on condition that they never came back to Slovakia and that no claim was made by the Germans on the property or other assets they had left behind.the Slovaks,whose head of state was a Catholic priest,(Josef Tiso)therefore paid the Germans to take their Jews away.end. At least Tiso got his just deserts at the end of a rope, its a pity a lot more of his fellow clergy werent facing the same end,

  4. shake hands with the devil- once in
    never out, jesus cagney would get his eyes opened now a days- there
    are more x members now than when the war was on,

    sex crimes by the catholic church
    in 175ad, 2000 years on and its the
    same story but still thousands went to see the pope last week,
    in 2000 years time it will be the same story no matter how many
    truth's are told.

  5. Con,

    a lot there to think about. Thanks for posting it.


    would be surprised if you calculated it any other way!!


    That's the problem - they will turn up as long as we are afraid of the dark. Sad, given all the problems you have drawn attention to.

  6. Well Mickeyboy slowly but surely the message is getting through,I cant see to many of these churches remaining in 100 years time,there was never any priests in Star Trek.but then again I,m not possessed with gift of future sight like those in the higher echelons of psf the bearded on can see as far as 2016, Martyboy he sees as far as 2012, Mickeyboy well he,s a bit like auld Adolf he,s seeing 1000,s of years ahead, just one thing Mickeyboy remember what happened to the fuhrer,

  7. Had the Pope thrown himself on the ground and begged forgiveness on behalf of his church then just maybe, the people might have viewed him in a different light.

    The scandal was endemic, globally very few parishes escaped the abuse.

    Mc Guinness has forecast he will come here in 2012!
    Notice he did not venture a visit, himself and Mr Robinson were other wise engaged?

  8. Nuala,

    I see they are protesting in Italy as well about clerical abuse of children. As you say it is globally endemic.

  9. The Culture of Getting Away With it.


    ‘sex crimes by the catholic church in 175 ad, 2000 years on and its the
    same story but still thousands went to see the pope last week,
    in 2000 years time it will be the same story no matter how many
    truth's are told.’

    Something wrong there – why do you think that should be?

  10. Actually lads there were preists in Star Treck, the Vulcan hand signal is representative of the Hebrew letter shin, the first letter in Shaddai (Nesiat Kapayim) - Solemn Blessing #10(Ordinary Time I) in the Roman Missal.
    On Canon Law...
    Extract from 'Light Of The World'-
    Quote His Holiness,
    “The Archbishop of Dublin told me something very interesting about that. He said that ecclesiastical penal law functioned until the late 1950s; admittedly, it was not perfect – there is much to criticise about it – but nevertheless it was applied. After the mid-sixties, however, it was simply not applied any more.
    “The prevailing mentality was that the Church must not be a Church of laws but, rather a Church of love: she must not punish . . . This led to an odd darkening of the mind, even in very good people.”