ajva: (stor Anne)
[personal profile] ajva
It's well known that the current Pope sent out a letter to all Catholic bishops worldwide in 2001 demanding papal silence on reported cases of child abuse as part of the aim that all cases could be handled by the Vatican, and only by the Vatican - sorting out the problem 'in-house', as it were.

A common attack from everybody angered by this outside the church (and by quite a few decent Catholics inside, obviously) is to ask: why not open the files to the police, at the very least where they have asked for them? So that the criminals can be subject to the usual course of justice? Fair point.

The purpose of my post here is to argue that the problem for the Pope is that this would undermine Catholic doctrine. Hear me out.

Fundamental to Christian doctrine of all flavours is the idea that no matter how terrible a sinner you are, your heinous actions have already been paid for by God's giving of his only son Jesus to pay for the sins of mankind. Of course, doctrine varies from denomination to denomination, but the philosophy of forgiveness is universal in the Christian religion, and in many ways it's quite a nice, cuddly thing, because it means that everyone can have hope, no matter how terrible the things they have done are. But it has always struck me as very much a double-edged sword (including when I was a very ardent, if rather strange, mixture of evangelical/Presbyterian Christian during my teenage years), for precisely the same reason. It means that intellectually, there is no sin you can commit that God will not forgive if you are repentant. And, at base, that's all it takes: feeling a bit bad about it and asking God for forgiveness. Even if you've committed those sins that the 'non-Christian world' (if you'll allow me to put it like that) would perceive as unforgivable, such as raping small children. There is more rejoicing in heaven over the one sinner who repents than the 99 people who've been lovely to everyone all the time (I paraphrase). I've always thought that was a bit of a flaw with Christianity.

Now, many denominations of Christianity take a more worldly, realistic line on this aspect of the basic Christian philosophy, and I don't imagine many of the clergy of the Church of England, for example, would feel uncomfortable about reporting a fellow vicar for such a crime - but the Catholic church institutionalises the doctrine of forgiveness in an unusually strident form via customs such as confession, for example. It's even a bit of a trope of many books and films that the seal of the confessional is so sacrosanct that if a Catholic priest takes confession from someone who has killed, for example, he is supposed to give absolution - perhaps encouraging the killer to report themselves - but then ultimately, to carry the knowledge of it without spilling the beans. However that plays out in real life, it is technically true. And I suspect it has happened.

And into this comes, inexorably, the doctrine of priestly celibacy.

Now, decent Anglican men and women (for example) are evidently not put off following their vocation to become a vicar by the knowledge that they will be required to sacrifice Earthly love, sexual intimacy, or the joy of having children - but obviously many decent Catholic men will be (and women don't even get to ponder the issue, of course). I'm sure that the majority of men inspired to take up their vocation to become priests are decent human beings, but quite obviously, many indecent Catholic men have also spotted an opportunity to take advantage of the traditional deference to the priest to abuse children. But because in terms of strict Catholic doctrine, nothing is technically unforgivable, they know they'll have both an opportunity and an out. And because of the doctrine of forgiveness as well as the political realities of the modern Catholic church, they know they will be protected.

The Pope has thus found himself in an impossible position: 'betray' his fellow clergy to the police, thus weakening the church via both public scandal and the surrender of his Godly authority to an unthinking secular institution that does not share God's values of forgiveness - or else try to keep it secret so no-one worries about it, and sort out the problem in-house.

Frankly, I wouldn't like to be in his shoes.

But then again, I'm one of those dangerous aggressive atheists.

Date: 2010-09-17 08:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ergotia.livejournal.com
Very interesting post.Just two points to make on an initial reading:

- for God to forgive sin it is necessary that you genuinely repent, rather than "feeling a bit bad" or feeling worried that you are going to Hell because of your sin. Only God can know whether repentance is genuine, so it is not that comfortable or reassuring a doctrine

- I am sure some men become priests solely to abuse children, but perhaps many of the abusers had a vocation but were driven mad by celibacy

More generally, yes, I think you are right about the "impossible position". My heart does not bleed for him though.

Date: 2010-09-17 09:25 am (UTC)
adjectivegail: (south park)
From: [personal profile] adjectivegail
I agree with all of this :-)

Also small point, I've no idea where I've picked this up from so it's probably not actually a requirement, but I've always thought (was taught?) that in order to show genuine repentance, you had to also try to do something to make reparation. Preferably to the injured party, but if that's not possible then in general Good Works in the same sort of area. And that, for me, is where a lot of this falls down.

Date: 2010-09-17 10:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] valkyriekaren.livejournal.com
Also, the Church seems to be putting all of the focus on the spiritual needs and pastoral duties of the priest (that he should repent, and that he should be allowed to continue working for the good of the Church as a whole), and very little on protecting children from harm. That seems incredibly backwards - I know you're supposed to love the sinner and hate the sin, but I hadn't realised you were supposed to ignore the victim too.

Date: 2010-09-17 01:07 pm (UTC)
adjectivegail: (south park)
From: [personal profile] adjectivegail
Quite. Ministering to the flock seems, as far as I can tell from over here, to be coming a poor second :-(

Date: 2010-09-17 02:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ajva.livejournal.com
Also small point, I've no idea where I've picked this up from so it's probably not actually a requirement, but I've always thought (was taught?) that in order to show genuine repentance, you had to also try to do something to make reparation.

But this is not necessary in basic Christian doctrine. You don't have to make reparation for your sins because they've already been paid for on your behalf; you just have to *feel* genuinely repentant and ask for forgiveness, and it's for God to look into your heart and decide whether you're repentant enough or not. By your own admission, you don't know where your belief that reparation is necessary comes from - and that's because it's a socially useful add-on (or, seen another way, naturally evolved empathetic human behaviour, which would be there whether there were any religion or not) rather than basic Christian doctrine.

Date: 2010-09-18 01:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alextiefling.livejournal.com
I think your characterisation of 'basic Christian doctrine' possibly owes a lot to Evangelical theology. Certainly for me as an Anglo-Catholic, confession and the possibility of reparation form an important part of repentance. The distinctive features of Roman Catholicism here are firstly the insistence on personal confession (rather than general confession or confession in private prayer), and secondly the use of devotions as a form of reparation. If I steal something, the appropriate reparation is to confess to the victim and give the stolen item back. Five Hail Marys doesn't really cut it.

It's hard to imagine what appropriate reparation could be made by the Catholic hierarchy in Belgium at this point. They certainly shouldn't be expecting their victims (or anyone else) to forgive them just because they say they're sorry; they need to show their repentance with deeds.

Date: 2010-09-17 02:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ajva.livejournal.com
for God to forgive sin it is necessary that you genuinely repent, rather than "feeling a bit bad" or feeling worried that you are going to Hell because of your sin. Only God can know whether repentance is genuine, so it is not that comfortable or reassuring a doctrine

But if you are genuinely repentant, then that's all that's required. Bang! Forgiven. Can you imagine if our legal system worked that way?

"Barrister: My client is very very sorry for raping his nephew and promises never to do it again.

Judge: OK then. Ten Happy Birthdays and a dozen Auld Lang Synes and we'll call it quits. Absolvo te."

I imagine some Catholics become outstandingly skilled at feeling very guilty indeed and genuinely repentant - the whole system encourages it.

Date: 2010-09-17 03:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ergotia.livejournal.com
Yes.

However our legal system does allow and listen to please in mitigation.

Date: 2010-09-17 11:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] emmy-mallow.livejournal.com
Hmm. But what about excommunication? A custom retained by the catholic church intended to be the ultimate punishment. So, surely there are some things that man can do that cannot be forgiven.

Wikipedia keeps a list and on that list are crimes such as 'consecrating four bishops without the papal mandate' and 'allowing an abortion alleged medically necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman suffering from pulmonary hypertension.'

So, why not excommunicate those found guilty of serially abusing children? Why not? You don't have to turn over the records to the police so you retain the secrecy BUT you publically condemn those who have committed such awful crimes with the ultimate sanction and thus show that you take it seriously.

Unless of course the Catholic church does not consider the sexual abuse of children to be on the same scale as falsely consecrating bishops. Which is out of step with the modern world.

Or the problem is so widespread that the excommunication policy would see the catholic church utterly devastated.

Date: 2010-09-17 01:06 pm (UTC)
adjectivegail: (south park)
From: [personal profile] adjectivegail
Wanting to be very, very clear that I do not agree with the following, but am quoting it for information. Wikipedia says:
In the Catholic Church, formal excommunication is normally resolved by a statement of repentance, profession of the Creed (if the offense involved heresy), or a renewal of obedience (if that was a relevant part of the offending act) by the excommunicant; the declaration of the reconciliation itself, by a priest or bishop empowered to do this; and then the reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation. In many cases, this whole process takes place within the privacy of the confessional and during the same act of confession.


So it looks like you can effectively be excommunicated, attend Confession and be immediately reinstated. Or something.

Date: 2010-09-17 01:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] emmy-mallow.livejournal.com
Yes. I know. I read it too. BUT don't you think it would have been a better plan to excommunicate them rather than the vatican shuffling their feet and saying they'll deal with it?

Date: 2010-09-17 02:06 pm (UTC)
adjectivegail: (south park)
From: [personal profile] adjectivegail
I think if excommunication can be 'undone' simply by attending Confession, then it's probably not actually as much of a deterrent as you or I would like. In which case I'd prefer it if they did something a bit more substantial (though no idea what, what with I thought excommunication was supposed to be the Ultimate Sanction, or whatever).

Or failing that, at the very least something practical.

Date: 2010-09-17 03:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] emmy-mallow.livejournal.com
Yes. I agree.

Though I thought that excommunication was such a serious crime that it was only reserved for very bad people too. It seems the Catholics have an answer for everything.

Perhaps excommunicate them and then only allow them to repent when their victims forgive them. I don't know. I just know that I don't like it, any of it, and I really really can't watch the Pope toddle around the UK without getting angry.

Date: 2010-09-17 04:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] valkyriekaren.livejournal.com
But raping kids IS bad! I mean, it's almost as bad as ordaining women - that's what the Pope said, anyway! Imagine!

The warpedness of the Vatican's moral values is mind-blowing - and almost as horrifying as the sycophancy shown them by our Government.

Date: 2010-09-20 12:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jhg.livejournal.com
"But raping kids IS bad!"

Tsch! You'll never change their minds with extremist rhetoric like that!

Date: 2010-09-17 01:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] valkyriekaren.livejournal.com
The Vatican doesn't even defrock them as priests, let alone excommunicate them!

Date: 2010-09-18 02:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alextiefling.livejournal.com
Whilst I disagree profoundly with how it works in practice, it's worth noting that excommunication is intended specifically as a punishment for breaking the rules of faith, rather than the law, etc. It's not specific to church doctrine that child abuse is wrong - indeed, the Catholic church would be first to say that it's against the natural law. So it's not that the priests are being let off lightly by not being excommunicated - it's a category error to expect them to be.

Had I been in Karol Woytila's shoes, I would have issued a letter insisting that every confessor who learned of child abuse must require the offender to give themselves up as penance; and that every priest convicted of such an offence would be defrocked, deprived of office, and never re-employed.

Date: 2010-09-19 06:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kelemvor.livejournal.com
...it's worth noting that excommunication is intended specifically as a punishment for breaking the rules of faith, rather than the law...

So, it should be applicable, then. These priests have not kept their vows of chastity.

Other than that, yes.

Date: 2010-09-17 12:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jhg.livejournal.com
I'm sure you're right. I'm equally sure that Catholic doctrine is wrong.

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