I began my exit from Catholicism back in late 2001 after beginning my "coming out" journey. I found it impossible to remain a member of a church that so thoroughly denigrated gay individuals. But my exit was suddenly made much easier when in 2002 the Boston Globe broke its story on the rampant sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston - a story that was basis for the Academy Award winning movie, Spotlight, and which let loose the torrent of exposes of similar abuse and deliberate cover ups on literally a world wide basis. Indeed, the cover ups traced all the way to the Vatican and, to my mind, underscored the utter moral bankruptcy of almost the entire Catholic Church hierarchy with very few exceptions. And in truth the problem had been know in some circles long before 2002 as shown here. With the resignation of the vitriolically ant-gay and right wing Pope Benedict XVI, many Catholics had hoped Pope Francis would usher in a new period of reform and serious action against bishops and cardinals who had either aided and abetted predatory priests or turned a deliberate blind eye to the sexual abuse - in some cases actual rape - of children and youths. Sadly, nothing has happened other than lip service and crocodile tears. Now, with the criminal indictment of Cardinal Pell - a main player in Australia's still roiling abuse scandal - for sexual abuse, Pope Francis may be facing a long over due day of reckoning. As Andrew Sullivan lays out, it is mind boggling why Francis ever elevated Pell to the number three position at the Vatican. Here are column highlights:
Well into Pope Francis’s pontificate, one of his closest aides, the third-highest official in the Catholic Church, Cardinal George Pell, has now been credibly accused of several acts of sexual assault, including one of rape. Australian police have concluded that the evidence they have is sufficient to move forward, even in cases that happened long ago. Yesterday, Pell was allowed to hold his own press conference at the Vatican to tell us that he spoke with the Pope only a few days ago about a campaign of “character assassination” against him . . . . The Pope’s spokesperson defended the Cardinal by saying that “it is important to recall that Cardinal Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as important and intolerable acts of abuse committed against minors.” And, of course, we should respect a presumption of innocence before a trial on crimes of this magnitude and depravity.
But it all feels sickeningly familiar. And this denouement comes as absolutely no surprise to anyone who has been following the sex-abuse crisis in the church — including Cardinal Pell’s own behavior — for the last few decades. A cloud has hung over Pell since he was an Episcopal vicar in a parish in the 1970s that has been described as a “pedophile’s paradise and a child’s nightmare.”
A full 15 years ago, Pell was accused of molesting a 12-year-old boy but when the church investigated, a retired Supreme Court justice found that there wasn’t enough evidence, even though the victim appeared to be “speaking honestly from actual recollection.” A year later, Pope John Paul II made Pell a cardinal. Several new alleged victims spoke out in a book published only last month.
In 2015, Australia’s Channel 9 ran a 60 Minutes segment that can only be called horrifying. In it, one of Francis’s own appointees to investigate sex abuse, Peter Saunders, described Pell’s record on sexual abuse as “almost sociopathic.” Pell had a “catalogue of denials … a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness,” Saunders said on camera. “I would go as far to say that I consider him to be quite a dangerous individual.”
The report revealed a pattern of concealment of sex-abuse cases, callousness toward the victims, offers of pathetically small settlements, and testimony demonstrating that Pell moved around a pedophile priest for years who was later convicted of 138 counts of indecent assault and child sexual abuse. That priest, the notorious Gerald Ridsdale, even allegedly raped two of his own nephews. Who was his roommate and close friend in the 1970s? Who publicly accompanied him to his trial in a show of support? One George Pell . . . .
Many historical cases of sex abuse of minors are hard to prove. But it seems to me that multiple accusations of cover-ups and molestations against a Catholic priest from the 1950s through the 1970s should at this point raise, ahem, red flags. Appalling abusers have advanced for years in the church, defending themselves as definitively as Pell has — only to be found guilty. The notorious case of the founder of the Legion of Christ, Marcial Maciel, comes to mind. Protected by Pope John Paul II, coddled by Benedict XVI, he was also defended by an array of theological arch-conservatives as a paragon of virtue.
It has not been easy being a Catholic in the 21st century. For a gay Catholic, it has been close to agony. It comes as no surprise, for example, that Pell has upheld, like Maciel, a highly conservative theology on sexuality — which was why he was so favored by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He opposed the use of condoms to stop AIDS in Africa, refused to give communion to openly gay people, campaigned strenuously against marriage equality, and described the church sex-abuse scandal as not a function of minor abuse and cover-up but of allowing homosexuals to be priests . . . .
What I cannot understand is why Pope Francis chose to advance this man under this cloud so high up the hierarchy. If Pell is found guilty, Francis will have advanced an accused abuser of children to the highest echelon in the Vatican. Far from cleaning the church of this evil, he will have contaminated it at its very apex. That’s why this case is indeed a watershed for Catholicism and Francis himself. If Francis can turn a blind eye to this, we can trust no one.
We were told that this Pope’s overriding theme was mercy. It would be a tragedy if the exception to this rule were to be any youngster whose life has been ruined, body violated, and soul raped by one of the Pope’s own right-hand men.Sullivan - in what I see as a form of masochism - has remained a Catholic. I could not do that. I would literally feel dirty if I remained a part of, and worse yet, financially supported and institution that has no regard for the bodies and psyches of children and youths. With children and now grandchildren of my own, I cannot fathom the callousness and lack of horror over such abuse.
For more background on Pell, this is a good piece from the Sydney Morning Herald.