John Dalberg-Acton, a British Catholic historian, politician and writer, once wrote of the Vatican and the Catholic Church, Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
No statement could better describe the Vaticans actions (or should I say inactions?) which were exposed like a priest caught with his pants down in Alex Gibneys documentary Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God. As you will see, the description of the Church as the House of God is most certainly in question. Did God teach priests to be sexual predators? Did God tell the bishops, archbishops, cardinals and Pope to cover up pedophilia?
Gibneys film not only documents an extensive number of child abuse cases involving the clergy. It tracks the cover-up of these crimes all the way to Pope John Paul II and to the current Pope Benedict XVI. Indeed, as Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which was responsible for tracking all indiscretions such as child molestation.
According to the documentary, the Holy See saw all of the files documenting abuse yet did nothing to help the victims or discipline the offenders.
Its not surprising.
Should we expect anything different from an organization that still refuses to admit that the torture and murder of thousands during the Inquisition was wrong? Or that the slaughter of Cathars and Huguenots was wrong? Should this behavior surprise us coming from an organization that enslaved indigenous populations around the globe in order to “save” them?
Should we expect more from a Church that officially accepted Mussolinis fascist government in 1929 in exchange for being declared a separate nation? Should we expect better from a Church that helped Nazis escape prosecution by providing them with new identities and guidance from Europe following WWII?
The documentary also gave us a fascinating look at the Catholic clergy’s beliefs and behavior. For example, a former Benedictine monk and therapist conducted a 25-year study on sexuality in the clergy. He found that, at any one time, no more than 50 percent of Catholic priests were practicing celibacy.
You might say it’s hypocrisy of the highest order.
But the faithful are becoming less accepting of the clergy’s hypocrisy. Following the exposure of massive abuse of Irish children and a Church cover-up, the percentage of Irish citizens who were practicing Catholics dropped from nearly 95 percent to just 4 percent!
Don’t misunderstand me. I believe that the institution, its clergy and its followers have also done a great deal of good. But given the Vatican’s on-going history of institutional crimes, should anyone give credence to the Vaticans position on gay marriage? On abortion? On contraception? On the role of women in society? On politics? On anything?
I think not.
It’s time for the Vatican to live up to the best behavior of its followers. It’s time for the Vatican to repeal its archaic demand of celibacy for its clergy. It’s time for the Vatican to open its files, admit its crimes and beg for forgiveness.