Hitchens on the Pope

March 15, 2010 • 2:57 pm

Okay, you know what he’s going to say, but hey, it’s Hitchens!  In his weekly column at Slate, Hitch takes on the Catholic Church’s systematic cover-up of child abuse. He places a lot of blame at the door of to-be-Pope Joseph Ratzinger:

Very much more serious is the role of Joseph Ratzinger, before the church decided to make him supreme leader, in obstructing justice on a global scale. After his promotion to cardinal, he was put in charge of the so-called “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (formerly known as the Inquisition). In 2001, Pope John Paul II placed this department in charge of the investigation of child rape and torture by Catholic priests. In May of that year, Ratzinger issued a confidential letter to every bishop. In it, he reminded them of the extreme gravity of a certain crime. But that crime was the reporting of the rape and torture. The accusations, intoned Ratzinger, were only treatable within the church’s own exclusive jurisdiction. Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities or the press was utterly forbidden. Charges were to be investigated “in the most secretive way … restrained by a perpetual silence … and everyone … is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication.” (My italics). Nobody has yet been excommunicated for the rape and torture of children, but exposing the offense could get you into serious trouble. And this is the church that warns us against moral relativism! (See, for more on this appalling document, two reports in the London Observer of April 24, 2005, by Jamie Doward.) . .

. . . The Roman Catholic Church is headed by a mediocre Bavarian bureaucrat once tasked with the concealment of the foulest iniquity, whose ineptitude in that job now shows him to us as a man personally and professionally responsible for enabling a filthy wave of crime. Ratzinger himself may be banal, but his whole career has the stench of evil—a clinging and systematic evil that is beyond the power of exorcism to dispel. What is needed is not medieval incantation but the application of justice—and speedily at that.

Can blame be laid, too, at the door of religion?  I think so.  After all, these crimes are due to a combination of faith-based moral sanctity, inspiring parents to turn their children over to priests for guidance and education, and the twisted Church policies of celibacy and sexual repressiveness, which undoubtedly promoted sexual predation.  Sure, members of other institutions have engaged in child abuse, and sometimes the abusers have been protected, but never on this scale.

Faitheists often cite Catholicism as one of those “benign” faiths.  The sickening conspiracy of silence promoted by Church officials doesn’t look so benign to me.

UPDATE:  Father Peter Hullerman, whom Ratzinger reassigned to a new parish after he was convicted by a German court for child abuse (see Hitchens’s piece), has just been suspended.

28 thoughts on “Hitchens on the Pope

  1. What I said over at RD.net on this:

    Bravo to Christopher Hitchens for putting it all out there in its bare ugliness. Ratzi needs to be made accountable. Stepping down plus criminal prosecution appears to be in order.

    1. I’ve suspected that he was chosen as Pope because of his actions covering up abuse, so that he would be immune to prosecution, and therefore keep the church a little less in the media than it would be otherwise.

  2. “a mediocre Bavarian bureaucrat once tasked with the concealment of the foulest iniquity”

    At the risk of Godwin, c.f. “Heinrich Himmler … born in Munich to a Roman Catholic Bavarian middle-class family.” – Wikipedia

  3. I have a dream that one day the Polizia di Stato will frog-march Ratzinger out of the Vatican while he mutters, stutters and cries, a la Jim Bakker.

    1. Does Italy have an extradition treaty with the Vatican ?

      It is a recognized national territory under international law and has standing in the UN.

      Can a head of state be extradited ?

      Perhaps this is a case for the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

  4. I don’t think there are any words in any language that can fully describe the necrophiliac stench of the RCC rot.

    But Hitch is getting there!

  5. And, true to form, the comments on the Slate article are loaded up with yelps about how that horrid atheist Hitchens shouldn’t be allowed to say bad things about Holy Mother Church.

  6. What would you expect from a man that lives in a monument to scams. Vatican city was built from the money brought in from dispensations.

  7. “Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities or the press was utterly forbidden.”

    Is that statement accurate? I thought the memo was (purposefully?) vague, saying that it had to be kept secret (i.e. don’t go blabbing to just anyone while we investigate internally) but fell short of saying “don’t tell the police”. That’s my recollection, and I’m prone to forgetfulness.

    1. You are correct. The document states that cases are “reserved” to the Vatican, which basically means it is telling the bishops “don’t go trying to adjudicate these without letting us know about them.” And the cases fell under the papal secret, which meant that none of the participants could talk about anything that they learned from the adjudicate of the case (as much to protect the victim as the accused), and this quite obviously would not preclude the victim from bringing criminal charges. The problem is that in many of these cases (like the one in Wisconsin) the criminal statute of limitations had already run out.

  8. Hitchens’ reporting on the Catholic child abuse scandals in Germany is both accurate and precise. It has escaped even his notice, though, that the boys’ choir formerly under the aegis of the Pope’s brother, the Regensburger Domspatzen, is among Germany’s foremost liturgic and classical musical institutions, not just a singing kindergarten in some obscure Bavarian backdrop. Imagine an equivalent headline: “Pupils molested and raped at the Juilliard”! Hard to believe that such a long string of abominations could have gone on for so long in such an exposed place without a deeply ingrained culture of denial, connivance, and cover-up.

    On Ratzinger himself, Hitchens is dead wrong. The man is far from banal, and far from a mediocre bureaucrat.
    Ratzinger, ‘Cardinal No’, as the Romans called him, is the most remarkable reactionary in the modern history of the Roman church. That such a pale, uncharismatic bookworm could have mastered the power-play that brought him to the pinnacle is per se a feat, if a deplorable one. But this cold, literate, cerebral apparatchik has developed and is enacting a low-key but fierce agenda of unrelenting roll-back in the fight against modernity, laity, civil society. I doubt that the abuse victims are at all on his radar, not now, not during his bishopric in Munich, except as damn public-relations nuisances. The man reminds me of Giulio Andreotti, minus Andreotti’s mordant cynical wit and worldly wisdom: inches of Teflon covering inches of tempered steel, soapy sanctimoniousness on the outside, gangland morality on the inside. Absolutely impervious to layman’s ethics once his inertial guidance is switched on. Engaging him on his own turf, under the assumption of common decency rules, as Hitchens does, is tantamount to playing chess with the devil. Hitchens’ accusation that the Pope is responsible for “enabling a filthy wave of crime” is off the mark: there is every sign that this is not a mere wave, that this has been going on for a very, very, very long time. This is not a struggle for justice, this is, first and foremost, a power struggle. True justice will become applicable only when a common framework has been assured, once and for all, and benefit of clergy obliterated.

    1. I guess that would have to start with all countries revoking their recognition of the Vatican as a sovereign state, and the Pope as its head.

      It’s a preposterous situation. Imagine Germany’s justice department would be allowed to deal with transgressions of German expats, or worse, of Americans who have sworn allegiance to Germany. That’s roughly what the Vatican now does in practice: even though you can press charges on an RC priest, most countries will let the Vatican get away with some shady self-inspection. If the Vatican were an international company, the lawyers would fleece them.

  9. I always fall over laughing when I hear of the catholic cult being a “benign” religion. This is the religion which until the end of the Second Vatican Council taught its members to hate all Jews because the Jews murdered their immortal god (yeah, how’s that for a WTF??? moment – imagine killing something that can’t be killed).

    The last Italian Inquisition (which over about 4 centuries presided over numerous witch hunts and murders on behalf of a loving god) officially ended little more than 100 years ago, but if Hitchens is to be believed still exists under another name.

    This benign religion also promotes the spread of AIDS in practice if not in principle – but this is nothing new – even the god Janus spoke through two mouths.

    This is the same church which is condemning the second health minister of a third world country for attempting a responsible campaign to promote family planning and the use of prophylactics.

    The catholic church is as benign as any aggressive cancer, but probably less pleasant.

    1. Everyday, while growing up under the influence of a Catholic mother, I was told that the Jews killed Christ. My mother was such an anti-semite, she disowned her own wonderful scientist daughter when my sister married a Jew. But, my mother was just being a ‘good’ Catholic!

      As an ‘insider’ to Catholicsm, I knew it was was rotten to the core: at the least it was a petty, mean, cold organization, at the worst, criminal. My own childhood parish blew up rather recently (NYC/Queens) when its head priest was found guilty of using church funds to support his homosexual lover.

      I take great pleasure via google maps street view of checking out how dilapidated and isolated this former bustling compound (rectory, convent, primary school) now is.

      Now, finally, it is not just ‘insiders’ who were forced to follow this very un-benign religion who know how rotten and disgusting the Catholic church is.

      Viewing this despicable organization as benign has often to do with it’s ‘acceptance’ of evolution. However, as a student attending Catholic schools, evolution was just given lip service. I had no idea until recently what an elegant and potent scientific theory evolution is.

      1. You could have told your mother that the Jews only fulfilled their role in prophecy; it was a dirty job but someone had to kill Jesus for all of us to get salvation!

        Don’t stare at me, I didn’t think this out.

        1. I guess that must be true. If he had’ve died peacefully in his sleep of old age, or got run over by a donkey cart….

  10. “Can blame be laid, too, at the door of religion? I think so. After all, these crimes are due to a combination of faith-based moral sanctity, inspiring parents to turn their children over to priests for guidance and education, and the twisted Church policies of celibacy and sexual repressiveness, which undoubtedly promoted sexual predation.”

    An assertion like this is certainly more opinion than deduction. It equates the RCC and religion. It identifies celibacy as twisted, when it is a personal choice, whether religious or not, and suggests that choice , by its nature promotes sexual predation. Does this mean that sexual predators are religious and to cure them they need become non-religious?

    I suspect sexual predation is a psychological problem arising independent of religious affiliation.

    Citing a few references would be helpful. All I have are personal experiences which are limited.

    1. Oldfuzz apparently has the cause and effect turned round. Celibacy doesn’t require religion, religion demands celibacy.

      It is unlikely that anyone would become a priest because of the desire for celibacy – if they wanted to be celibate they could without becoming a priest. Most priests are probably very frustrated by the celibacy commandment and that could be a deciding factor in them taking out their frustrations on innocent victims of christ.

  11. Father Frania added that he had heard no accusations against Father Hullermann during his time in the parish and said that people should practice forgiveness toward him. “If we can no longer believe in forgiving sins, we might as well close the whole store,” he said.

    Translation: If we can no longer use moral relativism, we might as well close the whole business.’

    Well, one could certainly hope so.

  12. Update for all who read the tiniest bit of German:
    The renowned dissident Catholic theologian and former professor of theology at Tübingen, Hans Küng, has just published a scathing indictment of Ratzinger’s role and responibility in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung:

    The difference with Hitchens is that Küng writes from a well-informed insider’s perspective, which is all the more damning.
    The factual accusations do not differ from Hitchens’, they are, if anything, a tad more formal and precise. I expect the article to cause some stir among German catholics, as well as world-wide.

  13. “Imagine being forced to go to work every day and, as part of the job, profess something that you absolutely don’t believe.”

    What a devastating thought. Fortunately, I was raised a Methodist and usually encouraged to think. As an adult that concept continued and when I arrived at that place where my thinking detoured from the body of encouraged thinking, I became a Unitarian Universalist, where all thought forms are encouraged.

    In my experience, the clergy are in a tough place: they must satisfy their congregation. Imagine a leading scientist having to gain the acceptance of his staff. It works the other way. When junior scientists become unruly they can be fired. Clergy can’t fire their congregants, especially when the most are the largest contributors to the church.

    If they were not human they could leave and seek success elsewhere, which is what the best among them do, often as teachers where they can question the status quo.

    This is no excuse, but as a good friend of mine–ordained minister, professor, first religion then philosophy–liked to say, “A minister can’t preach what they learn in seminary…not if they want to have a job.”

    The result is the declining church affiliation. If churches had the courage to do what they do best–form community, work for social justice–and encourage their congregation to explore every thoughtful treatise available, they would become humanist in their mission as were Jesus, Confucius, Buddha and Socrates: four from whom we can all learn, with or without a deity.

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