Many of you have read my articles concerning the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church (links are in the sidebar). I've watched the unfolding of events concerning the Catholic Church in Belgium over this past week with dismay, frustration and a ghastly sense of déjà vu.
For those of you who may have missed the news, back in April this year the Bishop of Bruges admitted that he'd been guilty of child sexual abuse, and resigned. This was the last straw for many Belgian Catholics, and particularly for law enforcement authorities, as there had been a number of scandals unearthed there in recent years, but very few prosecutions. Last week the authorities took action, as the Guardian reports.
The Roman Catholic church was once again at the centre of a child abuse scandal today when police raided the headquarters of the church hierarchy in Belgium. They carried away computers and hundreds of files, amid rumours that church leaders were continuing to cover up abuse cases despite a public plea for forgiveness last month.
Belgian officers today sealed off and searched the headquarters of the church at Mechelen, north of Brussels, where the Belgian bishops' conference was in session, with the papal nuncio taking part. They also searched the home of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, until last year Belgium's most senior prelate, who enjoys a reputation for being a liberal.
In nearby Leuven, east of Brussels, police also searched the premises of the independent church commission investigating hundreds of cases of alleged molestation by clergymen. They took all 475 files belonging to the commission, prompting bewilderment and panic among investigators and victims of sexual abuse.
. . .
Police sources told the Flemish newspaper De Standaard that the raids were carried out because of suspicions that church leaders were failing to hand over all the necessary materials to the commission of inquiry.
There's more at the link.
Over the weekend the Vatican responded angrily to the police measures.
The pope on Sunday called the raids carried out by Belgian police investigating priestly sex abuse "deplorable" and asserted the right of the Catholic Church to investigate abuse alongside civil law enforcement authorities.
Pope Benedict XVI issued a message Sunday to the head of the Belgian bishops' conference, Monsignor Andre-Joseph Leonard, expressing his solidarity with all Belgian bishops "in this sad moment."
The June 24 raids targeted the home and office of a retired archbishop and also the graves of two prelates. The Vatican has slowly ratcheted up its criticism of the searches, with the Vatican No. 2 on Saturday complaining they were unprecedented even under communism.
On Sunday, Benedict took the criticism to a new level, issuing a personal message of support to the Belgian bishops for the "surprising and deplorable way" in which the raids were carried out.
. . .
In his message to the bishops, Benedict stressed that justice must take its course.
But he also repeated that such crimes are handled by both civil and canon law "respecting their reciprocal specificity and autonomy."
He said he hoped that the "fundamental rights" of individuals and institutions are guaranteed in respect of the victims and recognizing all efforts at collaboration.
Again, there's more at the link.
I'm profoundly saddened to see that the Church, and her Bishops, and even the Pope, still don't get it. The reason the Belgian authorities raided the hierarchy and institutions of the Church last week is because they don't trust them to reveal all they know, and they're afraid they may suppress or even destroy evidence. They don't trust them because throughout the world, this crisis continues to rumble on, and on, and on. When the first major allegations surfaced at the end of the 1980's and the early 1990's, there were many words spoken by Church leaders about how dreadful this was, and what they were going to do to stop it; but it hasn't stopped. It's continued to this day.
I'm very sorry to have to say it, but as a former Catholic priest (and still a Catholic by faith), I don't trust the Bishops either. Whenever I hear a Bishop complaining about the actions of secular authorities in connection with clergy sex abuse, or protesting negative publicity in the media, or claiming that the Church is working overtime to deal with the problem and protect her members, my instant reaction is to wonder what he's hiding. I automatically associate pronouncements by the hierarchy concerning this scandal with a pathological, organization-centered mentality that will do anything, moral or immoral, to defend the institution of the Church. I simply don't believe that most of the hierarchy have learned anything. Far too many of them put doctrine, dogma and structures ahead of people, justice and truth. They still cling to power and privilege, rather than pursue meaningful change in the way the scandal is and will be handled. They still keep 'outsiders' as far away from their seats of power as they possibly can, and regard those of us speaking up 'from the inside' about the scandal as the next best thing to heretics - certainly, dangerously close to committing treason against our Faith.
They don't get it. It seems that they simply can't get it.
And that's why the Church continues to suffer, and will continue to suffer . . . because too many of her modern Apostles, the Bishops, have allowed themselves to become like the Pharisees whom Jesus addressed so scathingly in Matthew 23. They are blind guides . . . so blind that they don't know their own blindness. And that is perhaps the most tragic thing of all about this whole scandal . . . because blind guides can't and won't find the way through and out of this mess.
That means the Church will not recover, and the distrust, suspicion and anger of the world will inevitably continue to grow. How can they do otherwise, when so many of those charged with the governance of the People of God have, by most objective standards, proved so incompetent as to render them incapable of governing?