Ten police officers went to the Vatopedi monastery on Mount Athos in Greece on Tuesday to arrest the, Father Ephraim as though he were “a gangster,” raged The Voice of Russian. But as Angeliki Koutantou and Harry Papachristou of Reuters explain:
The abbot of one of Greece’s richest and most powerful monasteries went to jail on Wednesday awaiting trial for hoodwinking the government in a high-profile land swap deal six years ago. Cypriot-born Efraim, 56, chief of the Vatopedi Monastery at the monastic community of Mount Athos, is accused of inciting officials to commit acts of fraud, perjury and money-laundering, a charge that can fetch him a jail term of several years.
The government is said to have lost tens of millions of euros in a series of land swaps with Vatopedi, a monastery with many prominent fans in Greece and abroad including Britain’s Prince Charles, who is a frequent visitor. Exposure of the scandal precipitated the fall of the country’s then conservative government in 2009.
It is obvious that the most visible religious institutions — from the Vatican, to Mount Athos, to the Southern Baptist Convention — are enormous bureaucracies virtually swimming in cash. Their relative immunity from taxation and the normal rules of fiscal oversight are troubling. But this case is especially jarring for the contrast it draws out between the grinding poverty of the Greek people under their new program of enforced austerity and the immeasurable wealth of the Orthodox Church. The same contrast will be drawn out in coming months in Rome, and I dare say in the U.S. as well.
The very public arrest of Catholic priests in Belgium or the U.S. for sexual crimes is one thing; the revelation of the Greek (or Roman) Church’s complicity in white-collar theft, pork-barrel politicking and a form of nepotism whose sole purpose has been to line the clerical elites’ own pockets is something else again.
Without question, the sex crimes are more heinous, but even outside criminal court there is a perhaps growing interest in financial accountability and other kinds. A few arrests, even at the level seen in Greece, aren’t enough action.
I warned that the Catholic church in the U.S. faced “thoroughgoing transformation or irreversible decline.” Yes, the gates of hell will not prevail but that did not guarantee the church’s flourishing or even existence in any given time or place.
He feels The Atlantic’s Ross Douthat has made the same point “even more bluntly.”
Douthat does not say the Roman Catholic Church is finished. Instead he writes:
But if the Church isn’t finished, period, it can still be finished for certain people, in certain contexts, in certain times. And so it is in this case: for millions in Europe and America, Catholicism is probably permanently associated with sexual scandal, rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ. And as in many previous dark chapters in the Church’s history, the leaders entrusted with that gospel have nobody to blame but themselves.
Not that Roman Catholic clergy are alone amid the rising waters and scrabble of feet abandoning ship.
Vatican outrage which greeted raids by Belgian police last week on church offices and a cathedral in the Archdiocese of Malines-Brussels was misplaced.
Doreen Carvajal of the New York Times reports that they were the result of “a formal accusation that the church was hiding information on sexual abuse lodged by the former president of an internal church commission handling such cases.”
The Flemish newspaper Nieuwsblad reported [via Google translate] that Godelieve Halsberghe, who from 1998 to 2008 “directed the [church] commission for handling complaints of sexual abuse in a pastoral relationships,” went to authorities after receiving a phone call warning that she and commission files she had were in danger. She turned over her files and talked to authorities about the possibility that the church was hiding other files.
Taking action on serious, formal complaints like those lodged by Ms. Halsberghe, a retired magistrate, is the responsibility of the police in a free society.
[H/T: Religion Clause]
Pope Benedict XVI announced he is establishing a pontifical council for new evangelization to find ways “to re-propose the perennial truth of the Gospel” in regions where secularism is smothering church practice.
. . .
“I have decided to create a new organism, in the form of a pontifical council, with the principal task of promoting a renewed evangelization in the countries where the first proclamation of faith has already resounded and where there are churches of ancient foundation present, but which are living through a progressive secularization of society and a kind of ‘eclipse of the sense of God,'” he said.
No church planting required, reversing secularization is only in part of matter of reversing or at least slowing the decline in church membership and attendance in countries like Austria, Belgium and Germany. Yet as Philip Jenkins recently pointed out in The Christian Century, it is a battle with many fronts, including replenishing the depleting ranks of the priesthood:
Particularly in Western Europe, Catholic countries have been becoming steadily more secular for at least a generation, quite independent of any claims of priestly deviance. In no sense is European religion dying — just witness the continuing popularity of pilgrimage and other popular devotions — but loyalty to the institutional church has weakened disastrously. Rates of mass attendance have declined steeply, as have the numbers of those admitting even notional adherence to the church. Today, fewer than half of French people claim a Catholic identity. The number of priestly vocations has been in free fall since the 1960s, leaving many seminaries perhaps a quarter as full as they were in the time of Pope John XXIII.
Failure of atavistic movements like the SBC’s GCR and the pope’s pontifical council for new evangelization is probably foreordained by the degree to which the secularization they attack is embedded in the cultures to which they speak. Again, as Jenkins observes regarding secularization and the Roman Catholic Church:
One gauge of transformed Catholic attitudes has been the sharp drop in fertility rates and family size. Since the 1970s women increasingly pursued careers and higher education, and the use of contraception spread rapidly, despite stern church disapproval. Fertility rates plummeted, such that Spain and Italy today have among the lowest fertility rates in the world, far below the level needed for population replacement. Catholic Germany stands about the same level. German sociologist Ulrich Beck notes wryly that in Western Europe today, the closer a woman lives to the pope, the fewer children she has. Ireland’s fertility rate today is less than half what it was in 1970.
There is no reason a couple with few or no children should not be fervently pious. But the trend away from large families reflects broader social changes. A society in which women have more economic autonomy is less likely to accept traditional church teachings on moral and sexual issues. The resulting conflicts have steadily pushed back the scope of church involvement in public life. Abortion became legal in Italy in 1978 and in Spain in 1985. The Irish church suffered a historic defeat in 1997 when a referendum narrowly allowed the possibility of divorce. Today, across Catholic Europe, same-sex marriage is the main moral battlefield—with Spain in the vanguard of radical secularism and sexual liberation. The Catholic Church struggles to present its views to a society suspicious of institutional and traditional authority of any kind and quite accustomed to ideas of gender equality, sexual freedom and sexual difference.
A telephone survey of 500 Austrian parish priests found 79 per cent support allowing married men to be ordained, and 51 per cent think women should be allowed to become priests.
Commissioned by ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk: “Austrian Broadcasting”), 51 per cent said the Vatican does a poor job of handling sexual abuse cases.
A survey earlier this month of 406 Austrian Catholic priests by researchers from Kepler University in the Upper Austrian city of Linz found that more than half supported putting an end to celebacy.
Austrians in general support harsher reform, according to the Viennese public opinion agency Karmasin. They reported that “57 per cent of the 500-odd Austrians they interviewed were of the opinion Pope Benedict XVI should resign amid the wave of alleged sex abuse incidents across Europe were there a rule that enabled him to do so.”
Their call for reform isn’t toothless. Like Americans, Austrians have been leaving the Roman Catholic Church in droves:
Earlier this week, the head of the Vienna archdiocese’s church tax office estimated that up to 80,000 of Austria’s roughly 5.5 million Catholics could leave the church this year — a new record. Last year alone, 53,216 people formally had their names removed from church registries, a 31 percent increase compared to 40,654 in 2008.
Adding married men and women to the ranks of candidate priests could find doctrinal acceptance after the practical necessity has departed.
Other fires were lit by incandescent papal response to Thursday’s daylong Belgian police raids.
Neither was quite as blunt as Fr. Rik Deville, 65, interviewed by the Italian newspaper La Stampa interviewed Devillèon June 27. He was, for example, unimpressed by the Adriaenssens Commission, which resigned en masse to protest the Belgian police action:
The problem was its connection with the Archdiocese, and the absence of either a lay component internally or a connection with the civil authorities. I always hoped that a truly independent commission would be formed, an organism whose objective was to help justice take its course. That must be the way. It’s not up to the church to decide who violated the law and who should be punished.
As for whether “the plague of sexual abuse by clergy a common evil?”
It happens everywhere, believe me. Belgium believed itself to be an exception because no case ever came to light. Yet as early as 1994, I had collected 82 accusations. The victims wanted to be heard by the church, they wanted to break the curse. It’s been useless, at least up to now.
Perhaps the most shocking allegation came from the Belgian right, via Dr. Alexandra Colen, MP. She is a member of the Belgian House of Representatives and wrote in The Brussels Journal of a catechism textbook, Roeach. She alleges:
The editors of Roeach were Prof. Jef Bulckens of the Catholic University of Leuven and Prof. Frans Lefevre of the Seminary of Bruges. The textbook contained a drawing which showed a naked baby girl saying: “Stroking my pussy makes me feel groovy,” “I like to take my knickers off with friends,” “I want to be in the room when mum and dad have sex.” The drawing also shows a naked little boy and girl that are “playing doctor” and the little boy says: “Look, my willy is big.”
When the wheels come off, the vehicle may eventually be found deep in the weeds. The question was and remains, how deep?
Father Marcus Stock, the general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, in a remarkable departure from church protocol, rebutted Cardinal Tarcisio Berton’s claims, saying Thursday that research shows child sex abuse is “not a question” of sexual orientation.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s secretary of state, had it exactly wrong when he asserted Monday that psychologists have shown “that there is a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia.”
Joe Kort, a psychotherapist and gay and lesbian studies adjunct professor at Wayne State University wrote in Psychology Today:
One frequently quoted researchers on the topic of homosexuality and child molestation, Gregory Herek, a research psychologist at the University of California, defines pedophilia as “a psychosexual disorder characterized by a preference for prepubescent children as sexual partners, which may or may not be acted upon.” He defines child sexual abuse as “actual sexual contact between an adult and someone who has not reached the legal age of consent.” Not all pedophiles actually molest children, he points out. A pedophile may be attracted to children, but never actually engage in sexual contact with them. Quite often, pedophiles never develop a sexual orientation toward other adults.
Herek points out that child molestation and child sexual abuse refer to “actions,” without implying any “particular psychological makeup or motive on the part of the perpetrator.” In other words, not all incidents of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by pedophiles. Pedophilia can be viewed as a kind of sexual fetish, wherein the person requires the mental image of a child–not necessarily a flesh-and-blood child–to achieve sexual gratification. Rarely does a pedophile experience sexual desire for adults of either gender. They usually don’t identify as homosexual – the majority identify as heterosexual, even those who abuse children of the same gender.
Herek has addressed the issue directly writing in Facts About Homosexuality and Child Molestation:
In recent years, antigay activists have routinely asserted that gay people are child molesters. This argument was often made in debates about the Boy Scouts of America’s policy to exclude gay scouts and scoutmasters. More recently, in the wake of Rep. Mark Foley’s resignation from the US House of Representatives in 2006, antigay activists and their supporters seized on the scandal to revive this canard.
It has also been raised in connection with scandals about the Catholic church’s attempts to cover up the abuse of young males by priests. Indeed, the Vatican’s early response to the 2002 revelations of widespread Church cover-ups of sexual abuse by priests was to declare that gay men should not be ordained.
Cardinal Bertone is not only wrong but also fostering an invidious myth which in testament to the wisdom of the average American, has fallen into disfavor in this countryl. As Herek explained:
The number of Americans who believe the myth that gay people are child molesters has declined substantially. In a 1970 national survey, more than 70% of respondents agreed with the assertions that “Homosexuals are dangerous as teachers or youth leaders because they try to get sexually involved with children” or that “Homosexuals try to play sexually with children if they cannot get an adult partner.”
By contrast, in a 1999 national poll, the belief that most gay men are likely to molest or abuse children was endorsed by only 19% of heterosexual men and 10% of heterosexual women. Even fewer – 9% of men and 6% of women – regarded most lesbians as child molesters.
Consistent with these findings, Gallup polls have found that an increasing number of Americans would allow gay people to be elementary school teachers. For example, the proportion was 54% in 2005, compared to 27% in 1977.
The degree to which the church’s problems and the victims’ pain are made worse by celibacy is at worst unclear.
It is clear that by peddling an invidious myth in an attempt to somehow defuse the sexual scandal in which the Roman Catholic Church is awash, Cardinal Bertone has brought additional dishonor on all involved.
Needless to say, I did NOT say “I will arrest Pope Benedict XVI” or anything so personally grandiloquent. You have to remember that The Sunday Times is a Murdoch newspaper, and that all newspapers follow the odd custom of entrusting headlines to a sub-editor, not the author of the article itself.
What I DID say to Marc Horne when he telephoned me out of the blue, and I repeat it here, is that I am whole-heartedly behind the initiative by Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens to mount a legal challenge to the Pope’s proposed visit to Britain. Beyond that, I declined to comment to Marc Horme, other than to refer him to my ‘Ratzinger is the Perfect Pope’ article.
[H/T: Andrew Sullivan]
Vatican guidelines of clerical sex abuse at last clearly require church-wide obedience to civil law, the New York Times reported today, while Connecticut bishops fight to limit the coverage of that civil law.
In Canada, there is no statute of limitations after which civil or criminal liability expires. As Child Abuse Effects explains:
When it comes to child abuse, there is no statute of limitations in Canada. Whether the child abuse occurred 5 minutes ago, 5 weeks ago, 5 or 50 years ago, an offender can still be charged. Nowhere is the latter more evident than with our Aboriginal people: more than 7,000 lawsuits have been filed against the Canadian Federal Government claiming sexual, physical and cultural abuse suffered at Residential Schools.
Connecticut bishops don’t want their state to emulate Canada, out of concern for the church as a financial entity. As NBC Connecticut reported, “Church officials say it could have devastating financial effects and could result in claims that are more than 50-years old which would be impossible to defend in court. Currently, victims have until their 48th birthday to file lawsuits.”
Impossible to defend? No. The burden of proof cuts both ways. So as Mark Silk observed, we’re left with the money bishops still don’t want to spend healing victims.