Now is the time to be heard

An Open Letter to the Catholics of the UK from Marco Tranchino, a former Catholic

Dear British Catholics,

In this time of great bewilderment, the scandal of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy and the systematic cover-up by Church authorities, it is time to stand up for your values and demand a full inquiry and that the Church be called to account for what has happened.

The Pope’s letter to the Catholics of Ireland on child sex abuse fails to acknowledge the responsibility of the Vatican authorities. It leaves the survivors disappointed and insulted as no apology has been made  for the church hierarchy’s attempt to sweep the scandal under the rug instead of protecting the victims.

Serious crimes and shameful collusions must be investigated fully and the guilty must be punished by the civil justice system; that’s why people no matter their religion or belief require that justice be served.

However it is to Catholics that the Pope’s letter was addressed and it is for Catholics to respond.

You can choose to welcome this Pontiff to the UK when he arrives in September or you can join with the people protesting this Pope being honoured with a State Visit.

You have the duty to look for the truth, and to decide whether you want to accept half-hearted apologies and plain lies or stand up and be counted together with the many progressive voices within the Catholic Church.

The “Protest the Pope” Campaign will demonstrate outside Westminster Cathedral on Sunday the 28th of March. We will be seeking to highlight all the reasons why a State Visit for the Pope is inappropriate. One of the chief reasons is the failure by the Vatican and the Pope to address fully the many cases of abuse of children within its institutions.

We will demonstrate peacefully. We will hand out flyers, display placards and be available to hear comments and engage in discussions between 12 noon and 2pm.

We are asking for a full inquiry, which is the same as the demand in Germany by Angela Merkel, in her first public statement to the parliament in regard to the German scandal.

We will offer solidarity to the victims of child sex abuse, in their disappointment with the Pope’s letter.

We will offer solidarity to the Irish campaigners that have been wounded once again by the arrogance of a Church that is still in denial.

In his letter, the Pope said:

“Like yourselves, I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people”

We have no doubt that the Pope was disturbed by the enormous number of reports of child sex abuse arriving on his desk when he was head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. However the reaction to this information was to bury the scandal rather than protecting the victims.

The Pope’s letter says:

“I know that many of you are disappointed, bewildered and angered by the way these matters have been handled by some of your superiors. Yet, it is essential that you cooperate closely with those in authority and help to ensure that the measures adopted to respond to the crisis will be truly evangelical, just and effective.”

The Pope failed to ask Cardinal Brady, Head of the Irish Catholic Church, to resign now that he has admitted his attempts to cover-up cases of sex abuse and has revealed that he attended meetings where two 10-year-olds were forced to sign vows of silence over complaints against Father Brendan Smyth, who continued abusing children for another 18 years.

However the responsibility for the cover-up cannot be on Cardinal Brady alone, since he was obeying orders from the Vatican. When the Pope talks of the superiors he should mention himself as the main person responsible for the cover-up. For 24 years the current Pope – then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in charge of dealing with all cases of priestly sex abuse reported from all over the world. On the 18th of May 2001 Cardinal Ratzinger sent a letter to the bishops confirming that for all cases of sexual abuse the highest secrecy was required, the so called Secretum pontificium whose violation would have meant excommunication: banishment from the Catholic Church.

The Pope says also:

“In particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations…a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person.”

The error of judgment was to make the Church deal internally with “canonically irregular situations” without involving the State. Cases of child sexual abuse should have been denounced immediately and referred to the civil justice system. Instead, pedophile priests were moved around in order to shield them from civil authorities and prosecution.

When Ratzinger was Archbishop in Munich, a priest was moved from northern Germany to Munich for therapy for pedophilia. This priest should have faced justice and been banned from working with children again. Instead Ratzinger’s deputy, Gerhard Gruber, allowed this priest to work with young people again, allegedly without the Archbishop Ratzinger being aware of anything. Consequently, this pedophile was able to molest another boy.

Regarding whether Ratzinger was directly involved in the cover-up, the Reverend Father and dissident theologian Hans Küng, to whom the Vatican has rescinded the authority to teach Catholic theology after he rejected the doctrine of Papal infallibility, has rightly pointed out that even if the Pope was really unaware of his deputy’s decisions, he was anyway legally responsible for them.

The letter to the Irish Catholics says

“It is true, as many in your country have pointed out, that the problem of child abuse is peculiar neither to Ireland nor to the Church.”

We have heard this before, since the Catholic Church seeks to reject any link between abuse and celibacy.

We heard this at the United Nations when accusations were made by the representative of the “International Humanist and Ethical Union” Keith Porteous Wood and the Archbishop Nuncio Tomasi replied without showing compassion for the victims claiming, falsely, that US Protestants have had an even worse record on child abuse.

Scientific research on the subject would seem to confirm links between celibacy of the priests and the cases of sexual abuse, e.g. Knowledge of sexual activity and abuse within the clerical system of the Roman Catholic church, 2004, Richard Sipe.

Many progressive voices within the Catholic Church are calling for an end to repressive attitude to sex imposed by the traditional teaching, one example being the head of the Central Committee of German Catholics, who called for sweeping changes including reform of priestly celibacy.

The pope continues to defend the celibacy of priests, denying the link to sexual abuses. The letter, whilst not properly addressing the central issues, instead takes a swipe at the secularization of society…

“In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society.”

The Pope mentions Vatican Council II:

“The programme of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it.”

Vatican II, organized by Pope John XXIII, had been attended by 2,800 bishops from around the world in four sessions from 1962 to 1965 and it had tried to catch up with a world that was rapidly changing.

“The Council gave lay people a far more important role in the Church’s life, offered accommodation to other Churches by declining to insist that the Catholic Church was the only true one, and counterbalanced the stress on the Pope’s primacy by emphasizing the principle of collegiality, giving bishops a bigger say in deciding the Church’s direction. It opened the Catholic Church to dialogue with other faiths, and spoke of working with all men towards the establishment of a world that is more human. It repudiated the age-old notion that the Jews were to blame for the death of Christ, and declared that the human person has a right to religious liberty”.

At the death of John XXIII, the subsequent Popes took backward steps, betraying the achievements of Vatican Council II. In particular the ban on contraception was established by Paul VI notwithstanding the results of a study done during the Council which was in favour of it.
Since then, the ban has been defended by the subsequent Popes, (John Paul II and Benedict XVI), with the exception of John Paul I who was thought likely to remove the ban, if his papacy hadn’t been interrupted by his death after only a month.

Now after decades of conservatism, it isn’t surprising that his letter fails to lay out a major reform programme to include an end to enforced priestly celibacy, which is what is being asked for now in Ireland by Father Brian D’Arcy, an influential author and television personality.

Worse, to the victims of the abuse and their families, the Pope’s letter dedicates only a few lines. The concern seems to be mainly to rehabilitate the role of the Church rather than to apologise for the abuses and to take full responsibility for the cover-up.

The Pope says:

“Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen.”

These words anger the survivors of child sex abuse, since from the highest level of the Church (the Head of the Irish Church, the Head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – the current Pope – the victims were made to feel guilty and asked to keep the secret! 

The letter goes on to say:

“To priests and religious who have abused children. You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals.”

Finally we come to properly constituted tribunals. Finally.

And he continues: 

“Earlier in my pontificate, in my concern to address this matter, I asked the bishops of Ireland, “to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected, and above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes” (Address to the Bishops of Ireland, 28 October 2006).

And the letter ends with another empty promise.

“I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the situation.”

These are empty words if the actions from the Vatican don’t even comply with the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), as pointed out by Keith Porteous Wood of the International Humanist and Ethical Union.

The Pope mentions prayers and eucharistic adoration, talks about the principles of justice and the need to establish the truth of what happened in the past; but at the same time the Papal Nuncio in Dublin (the Vatican Ambassador), using diplomatic immunity, is refusing to co-operate with the public inquiries into clerical abuse.

So, British Catholics, I urge you to make your voices heard at a time when politicians of all parties are mindful of the forcoming general election and may be more attentive to your demands. Progressive voices in the Catholic Church call for a change of repressive traditional teachings, including priestly celibacy and the ban on contraception.

Wholeheartedly embracing the spirit of Vatican Council II before becoming pope John Paul I, Albino Luciani (whose papacy lasted just a month) said in 1978: “It is true that the pope, bishops and priests do not cease to be poor men subject to errors and often we make errors”.

Papal infallibility was introduced by Pius IX at a time when the Church was a kingdom and ruled part of Italy; it is not in the message of Christ and in fact is rejected by theologians like the Reverend Father Hans Küng.

It is your responsibility in particular to reject the crimes committed by the Church hierarchies and demonstrate that their failure to take full responsibility will not going be tolerated, not in your name.

Marco Tranchino (former Catholic)
Central London Humanist Group
Protest the Pope Campaign