Apr 11, 2011

Swami PrakashakaBOOM Will Fondle No More and The Vatican Goes on Trial

Hardly a laughing matter, but I love this eclectic little website devoted to tracking down Indian guru child molesters. Even the name - GURUPHILIAC- exemplifies the wit with which these highly intelligent people go about their task - debunking the fornicating fakes and creepy gurus, while also taking time to praise a few well balanced, sane and unpretentious spiritual teachers. Does this have relevance to the Catholic scene? You betcha. Most of the kreepy gurus are accused of fondling young girls - with the exception of Sai Baba who fondled them all, but had a propensity for young boys. A Santa Barbara friend of mine was a devotee until her 14 year old son was groped by Sai Baba in a private 'initiation' ceremony. She hauled him out of the ashram that very evening and they were on the next flight back to the US the following morning. What does this mean as a reflecting mirror on Catholic priest molesters? Don't know, really, and wouldn't want to make a 'gay' connection, of course, only to point out that altar boys are far more available to altar priests than little girls are to worshiped Guru Divinities. The common denominator, however, is the undue reverence and obedience given to exalted male priestly figures who claim to have a monopoly on the dispensation of sacred power, and the easy way this reverence can be manipulated and abused. I appreciate this site, however, because they go out of their way to recommend some very sensible spiritual guides who make no claims to complete enlightenment. See Heart of Now.  I also have to admit to a feeling of relief that 'we are not alone' in the propensity of over-exalted sacred figures to satisfy their wanton desires upon the innocent.

Not so with the cover up, however, and this brings me to Queen's Consul Geoffrey Robertson's book, The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse, which I've just finished (picked it up in a Florence book shop last February).

The book is far too rich for me to summarize quickly - except to say that he does build a very plausible case for Vatican and specifically, Pope Benedict's, vulnerability to charges of 'crimes against humanity' which could very likely be lodged with the European Court of Human Rights. He also demolishes the argument that the Holy See has any legal standing in calling itself a state, and really has no business having six very vocal observers and lobbyists at the UN sessions. The legal arguments are complex and convoluted, but Robertson makes them remarkably clear and logical. I found it an enthralling, if shocking, read. Yes, we've heard it all before, but never in such detail and laid out case after case - of Vatican obfuscation and obstruction of justice. Nauseating is too delicate  a word to describe the effect on the reader, and one is left pondering the folly of humanity in allowing such a scam to continue for so long. The Vatican, quite simply, is harmful to children.

In reference to groping gurus, here is  Robertson's response:

The Church's response, still echoed by those like Alan Dershowitz who defend the present Pope, is that hierarchical sex abuse occurs in all religious institutions and in secular schools, and it is wrong to 'stereotype' the Roman Catholic priesthood. But the evidence does reliably show a remarkably higher level of abuse in Catholic institutions (see chapter 2) and in any event, the defense misses the point, namely that this church, through its pretensions to be a state, with its own non-punitive Canon Law, has actually covered up the abuse and harboured the abusers. Moreover, this particular religion endows its priests with god-like powers in the eyes of children, who are put into their spiritual embrace from the time when they first develop the faculty of reasoning.....'Catholics are indoctrinated from their childhood that priests take the place of Jesus Christ and are to be obeyed at all costs, and never questioned or criticized.' (Fr. Tom Doyle). A church that puts its children from this early age under the spiritual control of its priests, representatives of God to whom they are unflinchingly obedient, has the most stringent of duties to guard against the exploitation of that obedience to do them harm. That duty includes the duty of handing over those reasonably suspected of child sex abuse to the secular authorities for trial and, if convicted, for punishment. It is this duty that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, a.k.a. Benedict XVI, has for the past thirty years adamantly refused to accept. 

Again, the value of the book, in my opinion, is not its exposure of the extent of the cover-up and Vatican intransigence in dealing with requests for confidential information about accused molesters. We've heard all of these stories before, even though Roberson does a great service by gathering so many shocking examples into a single read. The book really packs a wallop because of the tightly argued thesis from a first rate legal mind that the Vatican has no legal ground to call itself a state and therefore no excuse for claiming immunity to criminal prosecution, as it has tried to do on many occasions. The book  has had a wide readership, particularly among other first rate legal minds, and there are already rumblings from Belgium of a test case that will be brought before the European Court of Human Rights charging Benedict with crimes against humanity. The defenses are cracking, and I can only see this as one more hopeful sign of the Holy Spirit - not wreaking vengeance, so to speak, but helping us all to dismantle the false idol we have created out of high priestly authority in the church.

By an odd coincidence,  on the same trip to Italy that yielded this find in a Florence bookstore, I also picked up -in a Vatican bookstore - two books on the traditional sacerdotal priesthood, Jesus Our Priest, by Gerald Collins, S.J. and Goodbye Father, by Richard Schoenherr, a massive sociological study of the Roman Catholic priesthood, completed in 1995, but not published until 2002. Both authors express their deep appreciation and reverence for the mystery of the sacerdotal priesthood in the church and affirm its fundamental necessity for the Catholic charism. Collins is more traditional and more mystical, Schienherr more cognizant of the many contradictions and distortions of sexism in the church which ultimately undermines the very value of the priesthood he so cherishes. But it was a shocking and highly ironic juxtaposition for me to go from Robertson's book to the other two (reading back and forth), and to be reminded so graphically of what horrendous harm has been occasioned by our exaltation of the sacred all male, celibate priesthood. Robertson was, in fact, the antidote to Gerald Collins, even though I found Collin's foray through the history of Catholic reflection on the priesthood to be deeply moving - yet ultimately deeply sad. We have gone astray with something so sacred and have allowed it to be sullied and torn and ultimately discredited. Something of great sacredness is at the core of the Catholic sacerdotal priesthood, but erecting a clerical caste around it (of whatever gender or sexual persuasion), only serves in the end to destroy it. The very nature of the priesthood needs to be redefined and freed from its present straightjacket of ecclesiastical control. How that is to be done I leave to the Holy Spirit - but not in a passive fashion. The signs are being given us of the way forward, it is up to us to properly discern them and then devotedly act upon them with heartfelt dedication.

I end these reflections with Robertson's dammning indictment of Benedict XVI:

What will be required of the Vatican, as a signal of a new commitment to put children first, is the complete abandonment of Benedict's claim that the Holy See has the right to deal with suspected felons under an obscure, inefficient and secret ecclesiastical process. But Canon Law provides a form of power, and perhaps Benedict's fatal flaw is his attraction to power - to the pomp and circumstance of statehood, to the queues of world leaders who come to bend at his knee and kiss his fisherman's ring, and to the satisfaction of having delegates promote his ideology with six seats at UN conference tables. Journalists often tell how this kindly old man offers to share his food with them, but an analysis of his behavior suggests a man in thrall to power and unable to give any of it up - even for the sake of innocent children. When it ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Holy See quoted the words of John Paul II, to the effect that children 'are that precious treasure given to each generation as a challenge to its wisdom and humanity'. John Paul II himself, as we now know, failed that challenge by cosseting notorious child molesters and turning a blind eye to the mounting toll of child victims. So did his closest lieutenant, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. On the question of whether Benedict XVI is capable of the wisdom and humanity to protect the children of his church, the jury is out.

Needless to say, this book was written and published before the recent revelations of criminal cover up in Philadelphia.