Saturday, October 14, 2006


A recent and contested BBC programme has highlighted once more the continuing terror and tragedy of sexual abuse in the church. Even more devastating is the US film Deliver us from evil. A recent article on makes it clear why institutional denial and defence are entirely inappropriate responses to what is at stake in all this. We are dealing with profound sickness, not mere symptoms.

"What may be hard to stomach for some Catholics is Amy Berg's intimation that cases like Fr Oliver O'Grady's [pictured] are not merely terrible moments in the church's history, but intrinsic to its structure. After all, as a psychologist specializing in clergy abuse points out, if all sex acts outside of marriage are regarded as sinful by the church, what's to differentiate child molestation from adult consensual sex? Another interviewee, a scholar of the church, points out that 10 percent of graduates from one well-known seminary are known pedophiles and wonders whether the church's refusal to relinquish the celibacy requirement might not be attracting sexual deviants to the priesthood.

"Former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating's comparison of the church to the Mafia drew widespread ire when he made it in 2003, but Berg's rigorous investigation of the O'Grady affair can't help but give it some credence. Watching Cardinal Mahony lie, mumble, squirm, and lie some more in taped court depositions also can't help but evoke the Watergate hearings—Mahony even looks a little like Nixon. But whether you think of the pedophilia scandal as organized crime, as political allegory, or just as a tragic aberration, Berg makes a compelling case that it went all the way to the top. Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, helped tweak church law to prevent the internal release of documents that might incriminate pedophile priests. After Ratzinger took office as the new pope, he requested immunity from investigation from George W. Bush—a favour he needn't have asked for, since all heads of state are automatically granted diplomatic immunity."

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