Are Papal Apologies Enough?
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On his visit to Australia for World Youth Day last month, Pope Benedict XVI made a point of apologizing for the child abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy. He did the same on his earlier visit to the United States. This Pope seems to take the issue far more seriously* than his predecessor who seemed more concerned with dealing with the issue quietly in-house than in seeing justice done to pedophiles through the court system.
But still, are apologies enough?
The very day the Pope was due to arrive in Australia, the UK newspaper, The Independent, reported on the child abuse scandals still brewing in the country.
Australia's most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal George Pell, meanwhile, has spent the past week fending off accusations that he covered up the case of a young man indecently assaulted in 1982 by a priest, Father Terence Goodall.
Cardinal Pell told Anthony Jones in 2003 that a church inquiry had not upheld his allegations, although, in fact, the opposite was true. He also told Mr Jones that there had been no other complaints against Goodall and that, according to the priest, the encounter had been consensual.
On the same day, however, he wrote to another man assaulted by Goodall as an 11-year-old altar boy, informing him that his allegations had been substantiated.
An ABC television programme, Lateline, then produced telephone recordings of a conversation in which the priest admitted to Mr Jones that he knew the latter had not consented.
This Cardinal George Pell, accused of covering up, is the same person as Archbishop George Pell who in 2002 proclaimed at World Youth Day in Toronto that abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people. For his "good work," he was subsequently made a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II. This same pope also appointed Cardinal Law of Boston, also involved in extensive cover-ups of child abuse by Catholic clergy, to several high-ranking Vatican positions in which he remains.
So, are apologies enough?
I don't think so. Should not Pope Benedict XVI get rid of all the morally reprehensible bishops, archbishops, and cardinals who actively engaged in the cover-up of sexual abuse? Fire them all. Or at least order them to spend the rest of their lives in seclusion reflecting on their shortcomings. That would make the point that the Vatican is firmly opposed to child abuse and opposed to sweeping the issue under the carpet. And it would get some new blood, hopefully with a clearer understanding of basic morality, into the Catholic hierarchy.
When those who covered up still have senior positions in the Catholic Church, the apologies, no matter how superficially sincere, are empty.
* In retrospect, this opinion seems to be in error. As the Cloyne report in Ireland shows, the Vatican was still encouraging a cover-up at this time. The Pope's apologies were no more than a public relations exercise.