Above: The mother of one of the abused victims during the press conference in Philadelphia
This article first appeared in Malta Today
I am not the type to go around bashing the Church or the Pope or anything to do with religion just for the sake of it. Of course, I have my own personal reservations about it all, and especially the way some use religion to hypocritically portray themselves as something they are not. Or those who like to imply that simply because they are Church-goers that somehow makes them ‘better’ than those who have drifted away from this weekly rite. But that is between them and their own conscience, so to each his own. I realise that for many true believers who really live their faith, however, their unswerving beliefs and adherence to Catholic traditions and rituals are important to them, and I can respect that.
My philosophy has always been that as long as you do not try to ram religion down my throat or force me to participate in rituals in places which are completely incongruous (like holding a Mass at the workplace or starting off a University lecture or a committee meeting with the sign of the cross) then, fine. I will mind my own business, as long as you do not try to mind mine.
A profound belief in God can be of great solace in our darkest hours, of that I am convinced, but when it comes to organized religion and the all-powerful, hierarchal, extremely wealthy institution that the Church has been turned into by mere mortals, that is when I shift uncomfortably and get my nagging doubts. The latest child sex abuse scandal by priests in Philadelphia, exposed by the Attorney General’s report which took two years to compile, has made it even more difficult for those of us who look at the Church and what it represents with a hefty dose of skepticism, to give it the benefit of the doubt.
I watched the 30 minute press conference as AG Josh Shapiro released the grand jury report, which “identifies more than 300 “predator priests” who allegedly molested more than 1,000 children in six dioceses. The grand jury says it believes the “real number” of abused children might be “in the thousands” since some records were lost and victims were afraid to come forward.” When I say I watched, I mean I forced myself to sit through the whole thing, not because it was too long, but because the details were too harrowing. As much as the details of the abuse were nauseating, what really made me sick to my stomach was the knowledge that the abuse was covered up. “For the first time, we can all begin to understand the systematic cover up by church leaders that followed. The abuse scarred every diocese. The cover up was sophisticated. The church protected the institution at all costs,” Mr Shapiro said.
According to news reports, the grand jury report included hundreds of pages of previously hidden church documents that illustrate how officials handled reports of abuse. “Church officials routinely and purposefully described the abuse as horseplay and wrestling and inappropriate conduct. It was none of those things. It was child sexual abuse, including rape,” Shapiro said. “The pattern was abuse, deny and cover up.”
At a time when people need moral certainty and sanity to hold on to, these latest revelations have further shocked them to the core. Just like corruption scandals make you more wary and suspicious of all politicians, convincing you that everyone must be on the take, there is also the temptation to tar all priests with the same, sick, brush leading you to the conclusion that all of them must be fiddling with little boys (and girls). It’s human nature to react like this, and one cannot blame those who were practicing Catholics to suddenly start questioning everything and everyone, looking at each priest of their acquaintance and wondering, what if?
But this is not a tirade against all priests and the clergy, as I know that there are some good, trustworthy people out there, who truly are doing the work of God. Unfortunately though, it is always the ones who bring disrepute to their profession or calling who make the most ‘noise’ and they are the ones who ruin it for the others. Some have argued that by remaining within the Church, and not speaking up against the pedophilia, the ‘good ones’ are indirectly endorsing this very institution which has gone out of its way to protect and cover up for people who can only be described as monsters. I can understand this sentiment perfectly. It seems to me that if those who are doing real good wish to retain the goodwill of their parishioners then they need to speak out about all this in public – because by remaining silent, it almost comes across as if they too are trying to sweep it under the carpet until it goes away, even though that may not be their intention.
After all, if priests and bishops feel they should be free to comment on social, current, and even political events – as some of them do on a weekly basis – then why not speak about this, a burning issue which is right in their own backyard? It is precisely because it is so close to home that they need to make their views known; anything else just comes across as perpetuating the continued practice of covering the whole dirty little secret up.
The way we treat others is the true religion
I know that I started this article off by saying “to each his own”. However, there is something which really irks me when it comes to religious hypocrisy that I find hard to ignore. This is when I see those who profess to be pious Catholics but who act anything but Christian-like in their behaviour towards others. Granted, they have to answer for their own actions, but sometimes it is hard not to say anything when it happens right in front of you.
Nowhere is this more prevalent than when it comes to racism. Too often, the same people who talk loudly about going to Mass and receiving Communion, and sending their children to Church schools, see absolutely nothing wrong with hurling invectives and abuse at those who are African and Arab. How can they square their hatred of fellow human beings with their profession of faith and Jesus’ teachings? It always does my head in.
This was exemplified again by the story of the immigrants who were living in inhumane conditions on a cow farm, and being charged rent to boot. Some of the comments made my skin crawl. “Oh come on, I don’t see much of a difference between immigrants and cows”, is just one choice example which was cheered and ‘liked’ by several people.
The lack of empathy was in stark contrast to the overwhelming compassion shown towards a kitten which was killed (which is also something to abhor). While animal cruelty is to be condemned, I find it extremely disconcerting that even the Philadelphia sex scandal failed to elicit as much concern as the poor kitten. The hysteria reached fever pitch when a photo of the restaurant owner alleged to have killed the kitten was being circulated on social media, with strict instructions to boycott the place and to “memorize this face”. What were people advocating for exactly? A lynch mob? A bloodthirsty quest for revenge where the man’s head would be bludgeoned in the same way that he had allegedly bludgeoned that of the kitten?
Just to give you a comparative picture: the kitten story went viral with close to 700 shares, while the immigrants story had less than 200 shares. Now I know that animal lovers often claim they prefer their pets to humans, but surely there is something very wrong with our society when people claim to not being able to sleep at night over a dead kitten, but seem unmoved by the plight of human beings being forced to pay rent to be treated like cattle and who have now ended up homeless.
Many tell me that the animal abuse stories spark more outrage because animals are helpless and do not have a voice, but am I the only one who finds the reaction often becomes disproportionate and OTT? Especially when stories of helpless victims like children who have been abused by adults in authority, and women who have been beaten and killed by violent spouses, lead to reactions which are muted in comparison?