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Why the paedophilia scandal happened: because of abuse in the Catholic Church

Why the paedophilia scandal happened:
because of the abuse of authority
in the Roman Catholic Church

The paedophilia scandal that has engulfed the Church in North America and Europe reveals it as a systemic problem. The problem was not caused by errors of some isolated individuals, but by the failing of a centralised system that has affected all parts of the Church.

Since the Second Vatican Council a small but powerful group in the Catholic Church has taken control of governance. Continuing a trend that had started from the beginning of the 20th century, this group, headed by conservative Popes, has abused, and is still abusing, spiritual authority in order to block attempts at 'modernising' the Church.

    Sacred Congregation for Doctrine

We speak of a real abuse because

    • their measures go against the real intentions of Jesus Christ to whom they ultimately owe their authority;

    • their actions contravene the clear principles of reform endorsed by the Second Vatican Council (1963-1965), the most authoritative body of vision and legislation in recent times.

We will highlight three aspects of this abuse that have had a significant influence on how paedophilia cases among the clergy were handled in the Church.


I. The appointment of 'party-line' bishops

    From the 1960's, the Popes and their Vatican assistants have tried to appoint only bishops and archbishops who agree to their policies and who see loyalty to decrees emanating from Rome as their highest priority.

      1. As well documented in Papal Power by Paul Collins, a book that we have in its entirety on our website, the Popes have now drawn all authority to themselves, reducing bishops to low-level officials executing their wishes.
      2. A stringent new secret examination of candidates for the episcopacy eliminates any priest who shows signs of disagreement with Vatican policies.
      3. An oath of fidelity ensures that new bishops feel bound to observe to the letter all instructions received from Rome.
      4. Constant pressure is put on bishops 'to resolutely refuse any support to those people, whether individuals or groups, who defend the priestly ordination of women, whether they do so in the name of progress, human rights, compassion or whatever reason it may be' (Letter of the Congregation for Doctrine to Bishops, Osservatore Romano 13 September 1983).
      5. Individual bishops receive detailed instructions from Rome regarding supposed 'dissidents' in their dioceses.
      6. The Synods of Bishops, which were instituted by the Vatican Council to curb curial monopoly, have been deprived of any real influence by a rigging of the agenda, by saturating committees with members of the Roman Curia, by a subtle censorship of bishops' contributions, by selectively omitting resolutions voted on by the bishops. This has been documented in detail for the Synod on the Family. See J. Grootaers and J. A. Selling, The 1980 Synod of Bishops On the Role of the Family, Louvain 1983, 375 pages. Similar manipulations took place at the Synods on Evangelisation, on the Laity, on Africa, on Asia, on Europe, to mention but a few (see The Tablet, correspondence 16 Oct - 20 Nov 1999.

      As a result, in the pedophilia cases, bishops consulted Rome for advice and followed the code of secrecy that was advocated by their Vatican masters.

      The result of the bishops' dependence on Rome is a lamentable reduction of status. Bishops in the Catholic Church are often considered, both by their priests and the laity, to be merely 'yes-men' whose main concern is to please authorities in Rome. Some jokes that do the rounds in the Catholic community illustrate the point.

      A little girl accompanied her mother to the ordination of a new bishop. At one moment in the long rite, the candidate bishop knelt down and the three ordaining bishops surrounded him, stretching their hands over his head. The little girl who stood up high in the pew to have a good look, then whispered to her mother: "Mum, what are they doing now?" "Hush, child", she replied. "They're taking out his backbone!"

      A monsignor who had been newly appointed to the Congregation in Rome that appoints bishops, was taken to St Peter's Basilica by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation. "Now look at these these tiles, these marble flagstones on the floor", the Cardinal said to him. "New bishops are just like that. If you lay them down properly from the start, you can walk over them for the rest of their lives!"


      II. The suppression of lay authority in the Church

      In spite of the Second Vatican Council's decrees that define the Catholic Church in terms of the People of God and that call for real co-responsibility of the laity in all levels of the Church: national, diocesan and parish, Vatican authorities have done everything possible to reduce the influence of lay people on Church governance.

      If the ordinary laity, men and women, had been involved in the decision making on local, diocesan and national level, the abuse by pedophile priests would have been exposed and dealt with long ago. The desire to keep everything under central control and to hide the truth through secrecy delayed discovering the full extent of the problem and the need of drastic action.

      III. The suppression of the free speech of theologians and experts

      In order to maintain total control of opinion and action within the universal Church, the Popes and his Vatican lieutenants have created a climate in which all form of 'dissent' or 'protest' against the official party-line is vigorously suppressed. This applies especially to theologians and all experts who enjoy a specific expertise.

      Let us start by looking at the principles laid down in Church documents (Vatican II):

        1. Do theologians enjoy ‘academic freedom’ in the Church?
          They do by law, but not always in practice.
        2. Can a theologian legitimately dissent from officially taught doctrine?
          Yes he/she can, if there are good reasons for it.
        3. Do theologians at times have a duty to express dissent from officially taught doctrine?
          True obedience to the Gospel and truth may demand open opposition to the teaching authority.
        4. Can clear guidelines for dissent be formulated?
          No, since many situations are unique.
        5. May a theologian’s dissent be voiced through the public media?
          Yes, it may. Often the attitude of the Roman authorities leave no other way.

    In reality, however, the Vatican suppresses all forms of legitimate disagreement or protest.

    1. Theologians. Professors in seminaries and theological colleges are required to swear the oath of loyalty which now, since Ad Tuendam Fidem (28 May 1998), includes agreement to the ban on women priests. Theologians have been dismissed from their teaching posts because of their dissenting views. Others have been warned that they will be dismissed if they speak out on controversial issue. Rome has issued new instructions that put Catholic Colleges under more direct ecclesiastical control.
    2. Editors, Writers, Publishers. Many Catholic newspapers and magazines are vulnerable because they are owned by dioceses or by publishing houses owned by religious congregations. Rome has issued strict instructions to book censors not to give the Imprimatur or Nihil Obstat to books that advocate change in the Church. The Liturgical Press of St. John's Abbey, Minnesota, North American publisher of Woman at the Altar by Lavinia Byrne, allegedly burnt its stock of 1300 copies when it was informed by the local bishop that Rome was displeased with the book.
    3. Parish Priests, Lay leaders. Through the new oath of loyalty priests too are put under pressure to fall in line with Rome's opposition to women priests.
    4. Congresses and Meetings of Catholic Organisations. The outcome of such consultations is often manipulated by Roman interference. An infamous example is the Third World Congress for the Lay Apostolate (Rome 1967) that manifested the wide range of 'hierarchical control mechanisms' that Rome has used ever since. Read J.G.Vaillancourt, Papal Power. A Study of Vatican Control over Lay Catholic Elites, Berkeley 1980.
    5. Donum Veritatis, the Roman ‘Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian’ was written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger before he became the present Pope.
      This document makes the papal and curial magisterium the final norm of truth.
    6. The situation has led to a climate of terror, with theologians and others in Church service, showing external assent while disagreeing inside.
      a. The magisterium has become ‘ the battle-cry of intransigent people’ (Prof. Bernard Häring)
      b. ‘I look at my church and I am troubled’ (Mgr. John J. Egan)
      c. ‘There is much untruth in the Church. There is hypocrisy and humbug at all levels. There is pretended loyalty, outward profession of the official line accompanied by inner denial; there is the corrupting power of fear’ (Fr. Owen O’Sullivan)
      d.‘Violence in the Church’ (Fr. Camilo Macisse)
      e. The Impact of Humanae Vitae (John Mahoney S.J.)

      Practical and academic experts in many disciplines have been trying to point out the failings of the present system. Their silencing contributed significantly to the culture that allowed the pedophilia abuse to continue unchecked.

    John Wijngaards

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