Saturday, June 30, 2012

What Did the Vatican Know; When Did They Know It?

The road to the heaven we long for leads through the hell we have created. However apt that observation may be, still, it does not detract from the grueling nature of the pilgrimage.

These days, the priest sex abuse scandal in the United States and elsewhere appears to be gaining momentum as variety of unchurched legal systems pry loose documentation once reserved for locked drawers. Bit by horrific bit, the lawsuits pile up, the dioceses declare bankruptcy, priest applications dwindle, jury and grand jury testimony reaches the Internet, and the convictions for child molestation and/or associated cover-ups by the minions of the Vatican come to light. Gerald T. Slevin has given one pretty good smorgasbord round-up here.William Lindsey's "Bilgrimage" blog collects bits and pieces, snacks and main courses, as they occur. And there are myriad other sites and sources.

But the other day I received a laundry list of Roman Catholic Church documents that goes some way towards answering the question, "what did the Vatican know and when did they know it." The compendium was offered in the decade-old book, "Sex, Priests, and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church's 2,000 Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse." Patrick J. Wall, one of the three authors of the book, sent the compendium and while I do not generally like relying on someone else's presentations, still these documents from within the church itself were so compelling, so first-hand, so sui generis ... well, I was ten years too late to the party, but the music was brand new in my ear.

These documents were not some sappy, hand-wringing blog. They are actual-factual documents -- some complete with the Latin that Wall and his co-authors translated. What they depict is not just what the Vatican knew about sexual abuse and when they knew it, but also the ethos within which these poisonous weeds were nourished. I would love to write something distanced and measured and sane about all this, but I cannot ... and I apologize.

A host of disconnected metaphors chatters in my mind: To read these documents is to become like a steer in the Chicago stock yards -- stunned at first ... dizzy, disoriented, defenseless ... unaware and strangely uncaring that its throat will soon be slit. The language is so sincere, so enveloping and so ornate that you forget the first rule of honest argumentation: Stand up, speak up and shut up. To read these documents is to enter a Chinese opium den where customers were once described as "biting the clouds." Lulling as a mother's croon. You try to yank yourself back from the sweetness of the melody: "Why doesn't someone announce that the emperor is wearing no clothes?!" But the fact is that the emperor's clothes are so lovely that to challenge the loveliness would be to leave yourself, somehow, unloved and bereft. It is all as beguiling as it is diabolical and cruel.

As a matter of disclosure, I have never been a Roman Catholic. To the extent anyone wants to shoot ecclesiastical barbs, I guess I qualify conversationally as a "Zen Buddhist." I am not anti-Catholic. But my gorge rises at depredation and manipulation of the sort practiced in Rome and evidenced in these documents. The abuse of children is beyond the pale. I do not give a shit about the venue -- religious or otherwise. It is true that it has been a long time since I have wasted much time on any belief system, so perhaps my absence from that compulsive need-to-be-convinced realm has raised my vitriol level. I don't know. I do know I cannot apologize.

No one needs to read what is written here. I just felt compelled to compile it.

Below, listed in chronological order, are excerpts I have chosen at random from the entire compilation. I cannot pretend that they are inclusive or even necessarily the best or most compelling of excerpts. Some relate to abuse. Some relate to the backdrop against which the Vatican consolidated its being and ethos... its views of women, homosexuals, money and other aspects of a prescribed life. The excerpts are just what I can manage. I can find nothing in them that proclaims the "caritas" that is the foundation of Christianity. This is the kingdom of man and it is, like all hellish realms, brightly lit. Of all the documents referenced, perhaps the most astounding is that from 1962 -- an instruction on how church officials are to proceed in cases of solicitation or abuse: It is forty-four pages long, describes situations in which those who were not clerics would go to jail ... and yet makes not one mention of civil authority.

Through the centuries -- CENTURIES -- the church has roundly condemned using its confines as a means of  assuring or coercing sexual pleasure... heterosexual, homosexual and for all I know, dog- or sheep-sexual. But this pious condemnation and the punishments the church has proposed on paper stand in stark contrast to the collusive and arrogant maneuvers the church has deployed in the current abuse scandal. Read 'em and weep! Women, homosexuals, and those unconvinced by the authority and truth of the one true church -- duck and cover! It is all as if, when the church looks in the mirror and asks, "Mirror, mirror on the wall/ Who is the fairest of them all?" the answer is always reassuring. To put it bluntly, it is time to break that mirror.

The other day, I was suggesting to Jerry Slevin that he trim his admirable essays on the priest abuse scandal to more bite-sized morsels. Today, the shoe is on the other foot and the laugh is on me.

My thanks go out to Patrick Wall, a man with far greater tact, acuity, and patience than my own, and to my good friend, the Rev. Kobutsu Malone, who both assisted in the Internet creation of this post and remains the creator and sustainer of The Shimano Archive and Bergen Catholic High School Abuse

A complete list of the documents from which I have lifted excerpts is here; what follows are the excerpts:

309 AD or CE               THE CANONS OF ELVIRA

Can. 13. Virgins who have consecrated themselves to God, if they break their vow of
virginity and turn to lust instead, not realizing what they lose, shall not be given
communion at the end.
Can. 21. If anyone living in the city does not go to church for three Sundays, he shall be
kept out for a short time in order that his punishment be made public.
Can. 28. A bishop shall not take a gift from one who is not in communion.
Can. 33. Bishops, presbyters, and deacons and all other clerics having a position in the
ministry are ordered to abstain completely from their wives and not to have children.
Whoever, in fact, does this, shall be expelled from the dignity of the clerical state.
Can. 35. Women are forbidden to spend the night in a cemetery since often under the
pretext of prayer they secretly commit evil deeds.
Can. 47. If a baptized married man commits adultery, not once but often, he is to be
approached at the hour of death. If he promises to stop, communion shall be given him,
if he should recover and commit adultery again, he shall nevermore make a mockery of
the communion of peace.
Can. 67. It is forbidden for a woman. whether baptized or a catechumen, to have
anything to do with long-haired men or hairdressers; any who do this shall be kept from
Can. 71. Men who sexually abuse boys shall not be given communion even at the end.
Can. 81. Women shall not presume on their own, without their husbands signatures, to
write to lay women who are baptized, nor shall they accept anyone's letters of peace
addressed only to themselves.


  1. On a related note, the author of the article linked below makes a good point: do not confuse a "sex abuse scandal" with a "sex scandal".

  2. I was not aware I had fallen into that trap ... couldn't find a "sex scandal" reference ... though the point is obviously well taken.

  3. Genkaku---

    Didn't mean to suggest that you "fell into that trap". Sorry if my comment seemed to imply it.

    After reading the linked article, I couldn't help recalling the NYT piece entitled "Sex Scandal Has U.S. Buddhists Looking Within."

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