11 March 2010

Better the devil you know?

The more observant of my regular readers may have noticed a tendency to make rude jokes about Catholic clergy and their desire to bugger children. Whether this is an appropriate response to vile actions largely depends on the breadth of your sense of humour, I suspect. But I would argue it is wholly more appropriate than the reaction from the Vatican's chief Ghostbuster, Father Gabriele Amorth, whose remarks about the "Devil in the Vatican" were widely reported across the British press today.

The Fourth Estate seems to have accepted it uncritically as a mea cupla for the many wrongs visited upon children around the world by the Vatican's priests and acolytes, aside from the chance to explore the ghoulish and macabre practices of exorcism. But a closer reading reveals why we will never get to the bottom of the scandal, and the Church will never admit ultimate culpability as a collective: because it wasn't their fault. It was simply a part of the Devil's work, cited alongside the attempted assassination of the previous Pope, as though there were some moral equivalence - yes, we may have ruined the lives of thousands of children in our care, but feel our pain, too, because someone didn't manage to kill our boss.

Far from lapping up the talk of exorcism, and wondering at Ratzinger giving intellectual time to the lurid showmanship of demonic expulsion, we should be outraged that Amorth, and by implication his sponsor, think this is a good enough answer. Citing the influence of the Devil is a specious argument not even fit for a playground: A big boy made me do it, sir. If the Necromancer does stalk the corridors of St Peters, does that get them off the hook? All a big misunderstanding. Naughty, naughty Devil.

The drip-drip of stories of abuse that emerged from the USA and Ireland became a steady flow this week, as investigations conducted in Netherlands, Germany and Austria have added to the pool of suffering (story here). Taken as a whole, apart from being thoroughly unpleasant, surely it is also one of the more statistically unlikely phenomena if explained purely as random distribution. For all our fears, actual incidences of child sexual assault are mercifully rare, and its practitioners drawn from all walks and strata of life. Now, consider what an extraordinary cluster of predators lurks within the Catholic church over such a wide area; this is not a local conspiracy but a global phenomenon that cannot be explained in any terms other than there is something about the organisation that attracts pederasts. It is simply too improbable for the high number of incidents in a single organisation to be a coincidence; the way it has been allowed to conduct itself and how it was viewed by the public provided a perfect cover.

Imagine any other organisation - a company, a charity, a government or police force - with the same sort of track record of its employees raping children. It would not be allowed to exist: the company wound up, charity's status withdrawn, government resigned (or voted out), police force disbanded (as with West Midlands Serious Crime Squad, for example). I think the time has come for the Catholic church to give it up and declare itself out of business. It has proved itself woefully inadequate in policing abusers, preferring to protect not punish, its secretive, male-only hierarchy is a stacked defence against attempts to open it up to scrutiny, and it seems a honey-pot for bullies, giving them means and opportunity to prey upon the powerless.

And beneath it all, at heart its apologists believe its failings were caused by the bad influence of an imaginary friend. That, I think, is the lowest point of all.

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