FFRF published the very first book, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, calling attention in 1988 to institutional child abuse and its cover-up by churches.
“From God comes the courage not to be intimidated by petty gossip.” — Pope Benedict XVI’s Palm Sunday sermon, March 28, 2010
“Scandalous and disgraceful attacks [against the pope mark the start of a war] between the church and the world; between Satan and God.” — Antonio Riboldi, emeritus bishop of Acerra, Italy, March 2010
Every decade or so, the world is surprised to rediscover that the Roman Catholic Church is covering up, colluding in or aiding and abetting the sexual abuse of minors by its priests.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation was the first to publish a book, back in 1988, sounding the alarm over the ongoing religious scandals in Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. I wrote that book, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children, now long out of print, out of a growing sense of dismay. Not only were the churches failing to police their own, and blaming victims, but police and court systems deferring to the power of religion often refused to investigate or prosecute “men of the cloth” for their unthinkable violations against minors.
Little has changed. (Witness Catholic police dog William Donohue’s ad in the New York Times yesterday blaming the victims.) What makes the current scandals so incriminating and so significant is that many occurred or were reported under the watch of the current pope. Much of it occurred when he was second in command at the Vatican as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly known as the Inquisition). From 1981 to 2005, it was left to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future pope), to decide whether to put accused priests on trial and defrock them if warranted. He presided over thousands of cases.
Look at what the pope so self-servingly dismisses as “petty gossip”:
• As archbishop of Munich in 1979, Ratzinger approved the transfer to a parish in Munich of an accused abuser, Father Peter Hullerman. Ratzinger had approved therapy for Hullerman for pedophilia after three sets of parents reported that he had molested their sons. He did not deny it. A few days after therapy started, Hullerman was reassigned to another parish. Despite claims by the Vatican that the current pope was not personally involved in that decision, The New York Times has documented that as archbishop, Ratzinger led the meeting approving Hullerman’s transfer back to parish work. Hullerman subsequently was convicted of abusing minors in another parish in 1986 and received a 18-month suspended jail sentence. He continued working, including with altar boys. And guess what? According to the Times of London, Hullerman was still working with children as of this month! After media attention two weeks ago, he was suspended from duties at a Bavarian tourist resort for breaching a ban on working with children.
• Closer to home here in Wisconsin is the 30-year nightmare involving priestly predator Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy. He relentlessly preyed on at least 200 deaf boys at St. John’s School for the Deaf. Attempts to report the abuse both to the church and to secular authorities “fell on deaf ears” for nearly five decades. Murphy told one victim the abuse must remain a secret since it happened under “the sacrament of confession” (in a closet). Other victims recall Murphy reading from the bible before reaching to molest them at school, in their dorms, at a parent’s home, during class excursions and Catholic rituals. An extraordinary number of these deaf students tried to report the abuse — including to two sets of archbishops and Milwaukee’s Roman Catholic District Attorney, E. Michael McCann — only to be repulsed. Church policy might as well have been: “Go and sin some more.” Father Murphy, deemed too important a fundraiser to discipline, was let loose to work with unsuspecting deaf people and youths in a variety of church settings for another 24 years! Now we come to Cardinal Ratzinger’s role. The third Milwaukee archbishop aware of allegations against Murphy wrote Ratzinger letters in 1996 urging some kind of “healing” action for Murphy’s victims. Murphy, facing a canonical trial and defrocking, personally wrote Ratzinger pleading for leniency. When Father Murphy died in 1998, he had never been officially disciplined or prosecuted by either church or state.
The Vatican insists that subordinates, not Ratzinger, made the decisions. To hear the Vatican PR machine, Ratzinger should be hailed as a champion of abuse victims! Odd that he has been pope since 2005, yet first publicly uttered a veiled reference to Catholic crimes against children last week (over the unending Irish church scandals). Andrew Madden, an Irish victim, sums up the problem with the pope’s letter: “There is no owning up by the pope to his part in the cover-up. He says he is deeply sorry about what other people did, not what he did.” Arthur Budzinski, one of Murphy’s many deaf victims, was photographed in Milwaukee this week with his poignant sign, directed to the pope: “I’m not ‘petty gossip.’ ”
Ratzinger was and is fully aware that church canon law requires each diocese to collect all documents relating to “morals” suspicions, allegations, investigations, warnings, quashed canonical trials, criminal cases, etc., and put them in a locked safe or cabinet, “to be kept secret,” with the bishop having the only key. The schedule for destruction of said documents is provided for in Canon 489.2, according to the UK Guardian.
The coverup of Catholic crimes against children goes all the way to the top.
As I wrote in Betrayal of Trust: “If religion or any institution depends on the sexual exploitation or subordination of children or women, then it it is better that such institutions should cease to exist.”
It isn’t enough for the pope to resign. There will always be another characterless cookie-cutter cardinal to replace him.
Now is the time for all good Catholics to come to the aid of their children, by ceasing to support an institution that has thrived on sexual crimes, secrecy, hush money, blind allegiance to authority and religious hypocrisy.