The 1989 pop movie Lethal Weapon 2 ends in a shootout between Argen
Rudd, a villainous apartheid South African consulate minister and LAPD sergeants
Murtaugh and Riggs. After emptying
his gun into Riggs and still facing his armed partner, Rudd holds up his wallet
shouting, “diplomatic immunity!” “It's just been revoked,” retorts Murtaugh before
firing his fatal shot.
Bad guys are bad guys and there are limits to immunity. So it would seem thought the Belgian
police when, to the outrage
of the Vatican and subsequently of the
Pope himself, they raided Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard’s palace on June
24th and (the next day) the home of his predecessor Cardinal Godfried
Danneels. They seized computers,
financial records and investigative reports, reportedly even drilling holes in
a number of tombs so that cameras could search inside for incriminating
documents hidden there. In the
process the police detained a group of bishops who happened to be attending a
meeting at the palace, preventing their communicating with the outside for the nearly
ten hours of the operation. They
obviously did not want to be interrupted or to have their investigation
thwarted. Insofar as criminal
investigations are concerned, there was nothing remarkable about what the
police did in Brussels. It is even
fair to ask, why did it take law enforcement so long, and why haven’t similar
incursions taken place in other countries?
The Roman church’s record, relentlessly pursued of late by the NY
Times, is one of obfuscation, cover-ups, co-conspiracy and stonewalling
reflecting more the spirit of Watergate than the divine. That includes acts of omission and
commission by Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger, who had ultimate responsibility for policing abuse throughout
several decades before ascending the thrown of St. Peter. Considering the record, the Church
has no reasonable expectation that law enforcement should either trust them or
respect its claimed “autonomy to conduct its own investigations”, nor at this
late date can one make a strong case that it should be protected by immunity. Benedict may be outraged and may
bluster about the “deplorable methods” of Belgian police, but any objective
observer knows the Church essentially brought this on itself.
All these years after the first abuses came to light in the 1980s and
reached what may be considered a tipping point early in this century, new cases
and new countries continue to emerge.
One has to wonder about the arrogance of a church that has treated these
high crimes like the lapses of a school child who, in being exposed, is sent to
the principal’s office and admonished without even informing his parents of the
wrong doing. Had this happened
only once or in one place we might excuse it, but that is not the case. Rome and its representatives across the
globe may see this as an internal in-family matter, but their position is
inconsistent with the way the rest of us, and indeed society, view sex abusers.
Thanks to Megan’s
Law, Americans not only incarcerate sex offenders, but also keep tabs on
them when they are released. To
varying degree, their names and history is made available in every state and
searchable through the National
Sex Offenders Registry. While
that exposure has generated some civil liberties questions, it nonetheless
suggests how seriously we take this matter, an inexcusable offense for which
serving time seems insufficient.
No one could believe more strongly in the separation between church
and state than I, but to proclaim that sex abuse a solely religious matter to
be adjudicated by the Church — any church — is patently absurd. Moreover, what is church and what is
state blurs somewhat in the eyes of the Catholic Church, which in its stance on
sex abuse has generally taken the position of a sovereign state. In fact, that sovereignty applies only
to the Vatican, but it is one they extend opportunistically in contending that
prelates around the world should be considered its representatives and thus be
accorded virtual “diplomatic” status.
I say opportunistically because they do so in claiming the rights of
adjudication for predator priests while holding themselves out as just plain
citizens when trying to force their ideology on others as we saw during the
None of these arguments or comments are new; most have been made or said
better by others. So let me turn
to a somewhat different issue, the naked double standard that is applied to the
Church relative to society as a whole.
Can you imagine the revelation of systematic and widespread sex abuse
and cover-up tolerated in or relative to any other institution public or
private? How long do think the
chief executive of a major corporation, the leader of a non-profit or a politician
would last in similar circumstances?
We essentially impeached a President in this country for consensual infidelity and both corporate
and organizational heads have rolled when the entities they led have gone
amuck. In any other situation not
only would the offending abusers face justice so would anyone in the hierarchy
that either covered it up or conveniently averted their eyes. Much of what the Church has done has
been in the name of protecting the institution, an argument that would never
fly anywhere else.
Religious institutions often hold themselves out as the source, not to
mention arbiter, of righteousness.
They surely are quick to judge others. In this instance righteousness seems to be on the other
side, with those offending cops who entered the inner sanctum. Ornate vestments might hide the stains
on the clothing underneith, the sounds of incantations drown out the cries of
anguish of all those touched by this terrible crime — victims and often entire
families. Infallibility may
protect a pope and his surrogates, but no carpet in the Vatican or anywhere
else is large enough to hide what’s been swept beneath its surface. In the end ordinary believing
Catholics, including the many priests and nuns dedicated to their work and
service are being damaged, many disillusioned. Some of us may
take issue with the doctrine of this or any other religious institution, but
this fall from righteousness is truly sad — tragic. No one should rejoice in it.