What is sickening and repulsive is the deliberate cover-up of sexual abuse cases of Catholic priests by the Catholic Church as an institution.
The horrific data coming from an independent investigation conducted in France that concluded that an estimated 330,000 children were victims of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in France during the previous 70 years did not shock me. It just further disgusted me.
The 2,500-page document that has been reported is pure horror and shame. As a journalist, I have been investigating and reporting on different sexual abuse cases of the Catholic Church globally. It disturbs me. As a man from the Christian faith, it makes me feel ashamed that even today, most of us Christians prefer to turn a blind eye to or talk in hushed tones on the seriousness of the immense damage some Catholic priests are doing to young children all over the world.
In our persistent reportage of sexual abuse cases by the Catholic clergy, we have faced a lot of criticism from extended family members and friends from the Christian community in India and globally. But no one has the courage to question the Catholic Church or its priests. Is a Catholic priest ordained by Jesus Christ to rape a minor boy or girl? Certainly not! Then why this global pretence by the Catholic Church as an institution and its believers all over the world on the sacred role of the Catholic priests and their divine role to play in humanity.
There is no denying that there are many Catholic priests who walk the path of faith and humanity, but denying that there are some priests who are sexual predators of our children is to deliberately put our children and vulnerable adults in harm’s way. Even more sickening and repulsive is the deliberate cover-up of sexual abuse cases of Catholic priests by the Catholic Church as an institution. Our investigations have revealed the cover-up modus operandi around the world have also been institutionalized and have their own playbook.
I am still horrified at a case of sexual abuse I came across in India, reported in the BBC, in which Cardinal Oswald Gracias, one of the most senior leaders of the Catholic Church in India, himself took a lackadaisical stand over such serious traumatic incidents. The BBC reported that a woman’s life changed when her son returned from Mass at the church and told her that the parish priest had raped him.
“I could not understand what I should do,” she said. She did not know this yet, but this event would put her on a collision course with the Catholic Church in India. It was nearly 72 hours after the alleged rape that the family briefly met Cardinal Gracias, then president of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India and Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.
The mother of the abused boy said: “I told the cardinal about what the priest had done to my child, that my child was in a lot of pain. So he prayed for us and told us he had to go to Rome…my heart was hurt in that moment. As a mother, I had gone to him with great expectations that he would think about my son, give me justice, but he said he had no time, he only cared about going to Rome.”
The family says they requested medical help but were offered none.
Later, the Cardinal told the media that it pained him to hear this, and that he was not aware that the boy needed medical help—and if he had been asked, he would have immediately offered it. Cardinal Gracias left for Rome and did not bother to inform the local police authorities of the rape of the young boy.
The parents of the minor boy had filed a complaint at Shivaji Nagar police station, claiming that their son had been sexually abused by a priest, Lawrence Johnson. In February, the boy’s parents approached the special Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act court hearing the case, stating that Gracias had ignored their complaint. They said that Gracias did not report the matter to the police. They also asked for the other two bishops to be named as co-accused in the case. The POCSO court directed the police to look into the allegations. Following this, the three clerics were named in a first information report (FIR) registered by the Shivaji Nagar police.
The estimate over the sexual abuse crimes by Catholic priests in France, based on scientific study, covers atrocities done by priests and other clergies, as well as non-religious persons connected in the church, according to Jean-Marc Sauve, the president of the panel that published the report. He claims that roughly 80% of the victims are men.
Francois Devaux, head of the victims’ group La Parole Libérée (The Liberated Word), said it was “a turning point in our history.” He denounced the cover-ups that permitted “mass crimes for decades.” “But even worse, there was a betrayal: betrayal of trust, betrayal of morality, betrayal of children, betrayal of innocence,” he said, calling on the church for compensation. Olivier Savignac, the head of the victims’ association, Parler et Revivre (Speak Out and Live Again), contributed to the investigation. He told the Associated Press that the high ratio of victims per abuser was particularly “terrifying for French society, for the Catholic Church.”
Savignac assailed the church for treating such cases as individual anomalies instead of as a collective horror. He described being abused at age 13 by the director of a Catholic vacation camp in the south of France who was accused of assaulting several other boys. “I perceived this priest as someone who was good, a caring person who would not harm me,” Savignac said. “But it was when I found myself on that bed half-naked and he was touching me that I realized something was wrong. And we keep this, it’s like a growing cyst. It’s like gangrene inside the victim’s body and the victim’s psyche.” Pope Francis expressed his personal shame and that of the Church at the sexual abuse of children by French Catholic clergy after the scale of the problem was laid bare in this devastating report. “I wish to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma they have suffered,” he said during his weekly audience at the Vatican. “And also my shame, our shame, my shame for the inability of the Church for too long to put them at the centre of its concerns. I pray and we all pray together—to you Lord the glory, to us the shame. This is the time for shame,” expressed the Catholic Church pontiff.
But is expressing shame the solution to the reports of sexual abuse by Catholic priests around the world or should there be a plan to weed out the sexual predators in our midst wearing the priestly cassock?
The rot starts within the institution of the Catholic Church itself. It starts when as the institution of the Christian faith, senior leaders of the Catholic Church prefer to cover up sexual abuse crimes rather than investigate them or report them to the local authorities. Most reports of sexual abuse by Catholic priests have been mostly brought forth by independent commissions or court ordered investigations. The Catholic Church tends to be deaf, dumb, and blind in the sexual abuse cases of minors and vulnerable adults. That’s where the problem truly lies.
To the Catholic Church, it is of prime importance that the Christian faith is saved rather than the child who is being abused by the Catholic priest. As long as this shameful attitude continues, the shame that Pope Francis is eloquently speaking of will continue and more skeletons will come out of the dirtiest closet of the Catholic Church.
Savio Rodrigues is the founder and editor-in-chief of Goa Chronicle.