Thursday, May 30, 2013

The new Christian martyrs.

"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist." .. Keyser Söze ~ The Usual Suspects.

Catholic Cardinal George Pell finally fronted the Victorian hearings into child abuse in non-government  institutions this week. He admitted that the Church had indeed covered up for paedophile priests for decades, moving priests from parish to parish, denying the facts and destroying evidence in many cases. He admitted there had been a systemic cover-up of child abuse within the Church, yet he maintained that Church did not have a culture of paedophilia.
This is an important distinction, as it addresses the most damaging and fundamental issue for the Church. It goes to the heart of the Churches bona fides, it's principal message of hope, love and divinely inspired pastoral care. If there is a culture of paedophilia and abuse the Church has been compromised so deeply that it may not be able to claim to be doing God's work at all. In fact, in terms of its own theology, the Church may be doing the Devil's work. And there is one question we can ask that will give us the answer to this.

If the Church did have a culture of paedophilia, how would it be different from what we have now? The answer, I think, is not much. Hardly at all.

The Dynamics of Paedophilia 

Paedophilia, the aggressive and repeated sexual abuse of children, has a number of dynamics. First, it's an abuse of power. Second, it's a betrayal of trust. Third it's physical and moral degradation. Fourth it's the prolonged enjoyment of secret power over the victim. Fifth, it's enhanced  by bullying the victim into silence, forcing the victim to take responsibility for the crime by using any means to enforce their silence, and with that silence, their complicity. 

In the first instance, in the Cardinal's own words, the Church has clearly abused its power over the lives of its victims by protecting paedophile priests: moving them from parish to parish, hiding the evidence of persistent sexual assaults, and publicly denying the truth while in possession of the facts of persistent criminal behaviour.

In the second instance, the Church failed to ensure the safety of children within its power and control, betraying the children and their parents trust, while engaged in a decade's long systemic cover-up of crimes committed by Church officials in positions of power. It continues to do so by still denying its role in aiding and abetting criminal acts.

Third, in denying the crimes, in covering up for aggressive and recalcitrant paedophiles, the Church has not only denied the suffering of the victims, it has increased their physical and moral degradation and misery. In torment many of the victims have been driven to commit suicide, or have drifted into addiction and despair. These are complications not just of the original abuse, but of the most powerful voice for truth and morality in the victims' own lives denying their suffering and in many cases privately threatening them with dire consequences if they 'cause problems'.

The physical injuries caused by child rape are appalling, and they have lifelong physical consequences. Some adult diseases are almost entirely correlated with childhood sexual abuse. The psychological damage often presents later in life in depression, in psychosomatic illnesses, and in addiction. I remember explaining to an abuser the dynamics of drug abuse:

"The reason he injects the drug, rather than just snorting it, is that he's recreating the original abuse and hoping to get a different outcome. First they feel a prick going in, then a rush of physical feelings and emotions that are completely overwhelming. Then it's shame and despair when the drug wears off.."

The shocked look on the man's face was one of recognition, and finally, understanding.

A child who has been habituated to abuse will carry that behaviour with them for the whole of  their life, making them vulnerable to abusive relationships and easy prey to habitual abusers. They will often marry someone who has the corresponding half of the behaviour patterns they have grown up with, trapped in a cycle of abuse and victimisation.

Fourth, the abuser takes his pleasure not just in the act, but also in anticipation, and more importantly in retrospect. The memories of abuse are a source of permanent and lasting gratification. What's more, if there is ongoing contact between victim and abuser, within a family or a Christian congregation for example, there is a perverse pleasure to be wrung out of every meeting. A surreptitious smile, a knowing look, a particular tone of voice are enough to terrify the child, undermine their confidence and self-worth, and please the abuser with each new aspect of domination.

Which brings us to the fifth dynamic, an ongoing and enforced silence that devalues and degrades the victim anew, and protects and empowers the paedophile even more. And it's here where the Church's self-confessed systematic protection of paedophiles has shown itself to be uniquely damaging to its children, its families and its own raison d'être. 

In every case of paedophilia within the Church the first concern has been to keep the crime a secret. Every compensation settlement has within it a strongly worded and enforceable 'privacy' clause. In one case a clause required that the victim pay back the compensation with interest if he took the case to the police.

It's important here to reiterate one of the most telling facts about the Church's handling of the paedophile-priests issue. In all it has done, in the millions of dollars spent on lawyers to protect the guilty, on counselling and policies and procedures, in all its heavy-handed bullying of victims back into the purgatory of enforced silence, in all of these things there is one thing it has never done. It has never, never reported a priest to the police. In fact, the only case where police were contacted appears to be one in which senior clergy colluded with senior Catholic police officers to derail an investigation.

It's the most telling statistic, and one that is illuminated by Cardinal Pell's own words. When questioned about his support for former priest and "one of Australia's worst paedophiles" Gerald Ridsdale, whom he accompanied to court when he pleaded guilty to child sex offences, he said:

"I felt there was something in the gospels where Christ speaks about being with the lowest of the low ... I had a principle that any time I was asked to go to court on behalf of one of my parishioners I generally did and I always said, 'I'm here just to say that there is a good side to this person ..."

Cardinal George Pell could not identify with the victim only with the priest, his lifelong friend and colleague, "in solidarity" with the paedophile. He didn't accompany the victim through the public recitation of their degradation "in solidarity". He chose to identify with the priest. Presumably in George Pell's mind this was a noble choice and noble act. But it was, without any doubt, a failure of pastoral care. It was closing ranks against the truth, and against God.

With whom does the Church identify? 
With the abuser.

With whom has it sided, every time? 
The abuser.
With whom has it conspired to protect the guilty? 
The abuser.

Who does it see as the real threat to the good name of the Church?   
The victim.

Who does it keep silent with threats and enforceable contracts? 
The victim.

Who does the Church choose to be 'In solidarity' with? 
You tell me.

In all of this the Church through case after case has used the full weight of its power, its unique moral authority, its privileged position in society, its 'God given' rights and freedoms to crush those who have been its victims. It has done everything it can to align itself with the abusers, crushing dissent, destroying evidence, engaging in criminal conspiracy, inflicting more and more suffering without apparently noticing what it has been doing.

Cardinal George Pell does not think that the Church has a 'culture of paedophilia'. What more would it need to do to protect the guilty and punish the victims for him to believe that it has? I can't think of anything. I don't think the Cardinal has bad intentions, necessarily. But his claims of naive ignorance, his 'poor me' attitude and whining about the media victimising the Church, his self-serving logic and rhetoric is astonishing, quite literally incredible.

It's hard to think of anything else the Church could do that would so tarnish its reputation and degrade it in the eyes of the world as a positive moral force. Its priests, its bishops, synods and councils all stand condemned for an ongoing conspiracy to protect the most contemptible of criminals which has dragged the church's spiritual standing lower than could ever have been done from outside. Clearly this is not God's work.


1 comment:

Ellen Shipley said...

A Cogent and well-argued case. Needs to be promoted more widely.