Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CSI: Vatican City

Crime scenes are so hairy
And sometimes so scary
That only the intrepid should go
Unless it is a new TV show
But real ones are more garish
In your favorite parish
Because they really strike home
When viewed by the Pope in Rome

All right, my mother told me not to talk of religion or politics, but these have recently fused; politics, religion…and crime. I know that my mother would approve this essay.

Pope Benedict, formerly Cardinal Ratzinger, and a uniformed Hitler Youth decades before wearing robes, has, for the record, affirmed that sexual abusers should be reported to the police. Somehow, that message has not been executed effectively, if at all. For Bible readers, Matthew, Mark and Luke all recorded the parable of the coin where we are (advised, admonished, instructed, ordered) to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. That corroboration appears to support the history. I highlight this parable since the Church is struggling with the concept of Caesar and cannot balance secrecy with justice. The parable of the coin is the story behind the daily news of crisis in the Church.

While the Pope has gone on line to instruct bishops to report sexual abuse violations to the police, there are obvious lapses that continue to surface on this pool of corruption. Most recently, we have seen that a serial offender, Rev. John M. Fiala, accused of sexual abuse and the use of a handgun to threaten a 16 year old victim was allowed to languish in a series of 12 priestly assignments in Nebraska and Texas. Archbishop Gomez is being sued for his role in the cover-up while Fiala served in the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Pope Benedict, only days ago, appointed Archbishop Gomez to the Archdiocese of LA. How can the Pope condemn “gossip” about himself while appointing Gomez to the archdiocese of Los Angeles?

Archbishop Gomez, according to the 12 April 2010 Los Angeles Times has stated that he does not believe in the separation of church and state. Here we go again. The state as well as the Pope requires that crimes be reported to the police. Sexual abuse, including rape by priests is criminal, especially when the victims are children who, regardless of circumstances, are unable to consent. Crimes are to be reported to police and some in the hierarchy have failed to do so as is obvious in the settlement of civil cases amounting to some $680 million in the archdiocese of LA alone. What is it that these bishops including Gomez do not understand about the parable of the coin? Why is it that the Pope does not understand that Gomez is tainted due to his handling of Fiala? Does the Pope understand that his appointments color his own reputation?

The Pope has complained that criticism of the Church is unfair and yet it is his job to root out the abusers that have robbed the Church of her reputation and more. The critics only point out the failings and the hypocrisy of the hierarchy. Critics do not violate the law. Archbishop Gomez has publicly chastised politicians who accept the law regarding abortion. He is willing to withhold Communion from politicians who uphold the law but did he forbid Rev. Fiala to give and receive Communion? How, in good conscience, is a criminal given preference over one who upholds the law. Are rapists and abusers preferred because they are priests? The politicians are only giving unto Caesar. Guilty priests are committing crimes that damage the very youth that could have been healthy members of the Church. Instead, the hierarchy has remained silent on crimes that reduce the Church and create hurt that transcends generations and has, instead, become politically noisy over abortion. Abortion is abhorrent, but legal. Sexual abuse is abhorrent and illegal. This should not be difficult.
Instead of protecting all the children, the hierarchy has protected the very priests who have robbed the Church of her name. This is a cruel reward for the hundreds of priests whom I have known over my past 74 years. They were brave in combat in Vietnam and supportive and understanding in everyday crises. They were holy men who were sometimes learned and good teachers and sometimes humble and simply models of human behavior to emulate. They represent the vast majority of clerics and yet have been tarnished by criminals and cover-up.

By protecting her criminals, perhaps the hierarchy has tried to protect the reputation of the Church, but we all know that the cover-up of crimes is a crime in itself that further damages the Church. Would it not be more effective as well as more ethical and legally defensible to immediately suspend an accused priest and to have all religious and lay members report suspected crimes to the police who are trained and equipped to investigate crimes? Give unto Caesar and get back your reputation. Pedophiles are not curable and if the hierarchy continues to confuse sins with crimes, it will continue to seek sacramental confessions and reassignments instead of protecting children while obeying the law of Caesar. That will destroy the Church and continue to raid its treasures for a failed policy that, frankly, has more the scent of sexism and an old boys’ club than a path to redemption.

People are leaving the Church in high numbers to seek spirituality elsewhere or nowhere. I refuse to do so. This is my Church. It has a rich history of saints and sinners although it is sometimes slow to heal itself. The Spanish Inquisition should have proven to us that the Church is not well equipped to conduct investigations. After all these years she remains secret and silent about real crime and shuns the Caesar who has the people, training and other resources to root it out. We deserve better. My meager alms are better used to support corporal works of mercy instead of court defenses and the Church might also support corporal works of mercy by visiting imprisoned priests instead of pretending that crimes are mere sins in its power to be forgiven. Some sins are crimes and some are not, but all crimes are sins. Sins of commission by criminal priests cannot be followed by sins of omission by the hierarchy with the expectation that all is well. CSI: Vatican City is a hopeless show with some bad actors and it is losing audience. Bring on the clowns and distract us from this tragedy.

George Giacoppe
15 April 2010