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The long saga of the Vatican protecting priests with history of sexual abuse

The allegations of rape against Jalandhar bishop Franco Mulakkal has added another infamous incident in the long list of sexual abuse allegations against the church. The incidents that followed the filing of the FIR highlighted another sinister truth beyond the widespread malice of sexual exploitations, rape, child abuse and harassment spread throughout the churches of India and associated institutions. That the culture of protection, defending and even rehabilitation of the priests being prevalent along with a strong mechanism of victim shaming and blatant defiance of rule of law.

When a case against Bishop Franco Mulakkal was filed in June, there was a sudden jump in attempts by the church and its associated ecosystem of shielding and defending him. Magazines published articles singing his praise, Christian organisations held press conferences revealing that they had conducted their own inquiry and found the nun guilty, not the Bishop. Powerful men gave statements vilifying the nun and questioned her character. As of yesterday, it was reported that one of the nuns who dared to stand against the Bishop and question inaction of the church authorities, had been dismissed by the Syro-Malabar church. Finally, just a day before his arrest, after 87 days of the complaint being filed, the Vatican suspended him from his duties as the Archbishop of the diocese of Jalandhar.

The culture of shielding the accused and blaming the victim, however, seems to stem from the very top. The church machinery, especially the Vatican itself, has a long history of not only protecting and shielding priests accused of sexual abuse but going out on a limb to blatantly ignore complaints of sexual abuse, even when it involves children. The sheer level of the church’s apathy for victims of abuse when its own priests are the perpetrators is matched only by its sinister dedication in shielding and even rehabilitating the accused priests.

The investigative exposé of the Catholic Church’s well-oiled machinery protecting priests who have a history of sexual abuse by the Boston Globe in 2002, which was made into an Oscar-winning movie named ‘Spotlight’ is rather well known. For years, the Catholic Church had not only protected the priests, but it had also let them continue as priests, despite knowing that children are being abused. The Globe’s investigation had revealed that the Catholic Church even had a legal machinery in place to intimidate the victims and protect the priests.

Last month, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former papal nuncio (ambassador) to the United States had levelled severe accusations against Pope Francis, claiming that the pope was aware of the sexual abuse allegations against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and yet went ahead to promote to a position where he had the power to choose American Bishops. Even Pope Benedict, his predecessor was aware of the allegations but allegedly delayed for years before acting on it.

The Catholic Church faced another major humiliation in Chile, when hundreds of Chileans took to the streets protesting against the papal visit, claiming that he had the knowledge of allegations against Bishop Juan Barros and his involvement in long-running sexual abuse by one reverend Karadima and despite that he went ahead to appoint him as the Bishop of Osorno. Karadima was believed to be Chile’s most notorious paedophile priest. What is more surprising is that despite several cases against Karadima, the Catholic Church had thrown its might against justice system and had ensured that Karadima was never prosecuted for his crimes. Rather, the Vatican had made a token gesture of ‘sending him to a life of penance’.

The authorities in Chile had begun a massive crackdown on churches and abusive priests after several such cases where the Vatican actively indulged in shielding and letting the priests continue to serve among potential victims. The Vatican was accused of misusing its law of ‘Pontifical secrets’ which allows it to protect abusive priests while barring the authorities to prosecute them. What more, the Archbishop’s office in the Chilean capital of Santiago had even admitted that they were asked to cite the ‘pontifical secrets’ law by the Vatican itself. Very conveniently for the abusive priests, the ‘Pontifical secrets’ law even allows the church to withhold the revelations of cases of serious sexual offences, even when the victims are children.

So rampant is the mechanism of shielding and defending that there are reports that claim hundreds of cases of sexual abuse within the confines of Catholic institutions go without even being reported. In 2014, the United Nations had condemned the Vatican, stating in its report that its ‘Code of Silence’ over its own paedophile priests. The research-based report, conducted by children’s rights experts of the UN had lambasted the Vatican, stating that not only the Catholic organisation had let rampant child sexual abuse continue for decades globally, but it had also let ‘known child molesters’ being transferred from parish to parish to cover up their crimes.

Among the very recent cases that have come to light, Edward Hayes, a British citizen had recounted how he was abused and raped by a nun in his childhood and the mother superior of the institution, despite knowing about the abuse had sent another institution in Ireland and had kept tabs on the victim making sure he does not let anyone know of the scandal.

In India, the diocese of Ooty had come under the scanner for reinstating their priest Father Jeyapul, even after he was convicted by a US court and served prison time for raping a minor. Though the diocese later denied that they had reinstated the convicted priest and claimed that they had only allowed him to have accommodation, the case had attracted international condemnation after the victim, a 15-year-old at the time of her abuse, had sued the diocese. She had stated in her complaint that she felt abused and victimised all over again.

Perhaps none of the cases cited above would invoke such disgust and revulsion as that of a fake padre named Paul Henry Dean, a fugitive fraudster from Australia who not only served as a pastor in rural areas of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh for decades, he was even allowed to conduct cataract surgeries and amputations on poor, helpless people despite having no qualification. When allegations of sexual abuse rose against him, he was simply transferred to another location where he continued his abhorrent deeds. The worst part about Dean’s crime was that most of his victims were deaf, mute young boys from hopelessly poor rural areas.

The lists of incidents where the church had defiantly carried out its protection and facilitation of abusive priests while silencing the voices of victims seem to be neverending. In August this year, former Irish president Mary McAleese had alleged that the Vatican had sought a deal with the Irish government to keep their diocesan archives a secret, at the wake of several sex abuse allegations against their priests. A grand jury in Pensylvania had recently stated in its 900-page report that not only the local diocese kept reshuffling the abusive priests from one parish to another, in several cases, but the Vatican itself had also interfered to subvert the local justice system acting against the abusers and kept appointing the abusers. The report pertained to the decades-long sexual abuse of young victims by powerful clergy.

Sexual abuse is a despicable crime. What makes the abuse by church priests even more despicable is that when the perpetrator of the abuse is a man of faith and the victim a believer, it further tilts the power equation. The victim not only is left struggling physically, emotionally and socially for the rest of his/her life, the active participation of the church powers to cast the victim as the sinner and the perpetrator as the man of God adds a whole new dimension of evil to the dastardly act. The Vatican, which hails itself as the leader billions of Christians and often involved in politics and powerplays, needs to urgently end its practice of shielding and helping the priests who are nothing but a blot on humanity itself.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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