Criticism and the Vatican, Part One: You Really Want To Go There?
As I suspect many of our readers are well aware, there’s an ongoing abuse scandal in the Catholic Church which really exploded when news broke that Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) could have intervened in some cases of abuse and didn’t. I’ve been following the ongoing issues with the Church and child abuse for years, and the situation became especially disability-relevant when it was revealed that a priest at a school for the Deaf engaged in systemic abuse which went ignored by the Church despite numerous attempts on the part of students to report it.
Curiously, the Church chose Holy Week, which is I understand an especially sacred time for Catholics, go to on the defensive about this. It looked pretty bad, especially when Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa preached:
Holy Father, on your side are the people of God, who do not let themselves be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment, by the trials that sometimes strike at the community of believers. (emphasis mine) 1
The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.2
Yes, that’s right. Criticism=Antisemitism. Let’s reduce reports of abuse to ‘petty gossip.’ That’s fantastic. Sure, Rev. Cantalamessa apologised after the fact, but he certainly thought those particular lines were a good idea when he got up to preach, and I suspect that a part of him still believes it. Still believes that it is entirely appropriate to compare criticisms about institutions which tolerate child rape to the persecution of the Jewish people.
April happens to be Sexual Assault Awareness month, and the Vatican’s defensive and determined reactions to the discussions of sexual assault perpetrated by Catholic priests highlight some especially relevant issues, like the fact that people reported abuse in pretty much every way they could think of, expecting the adults around them to do something, and nothing happened, a common problem for victims of sexual assault which manifests even more in the case of people with disabilities who are sexually assaulted. The Church pretty clearly suppressed reports of abuse and attempts at investigation, as though ignoring them would make the problem go away, and even left priests known to be molesters in charge of young children. And now, the Church wants to pretend that it wasn’t complicit in abuse, just like other institutions which tolerate or even promote abuse attempt to sidestep responsibility.
Which is just not ok on so many levels. And the form the denial is taking is so very horrific and awful. The Church wants to evade criticism by likening it to Antisemitism? Especially when Pope Benedict was a member of the Hitler Youth and certainly has a murky past in regards to the Nazis?
This is a classic tactic which is also taken in response to criticisms in general which involve social justice issues; it seems like Godwin’s Law comes up in pretty much any discussion in which pop culture is criticised, in which language use is challenged, in which any group of people is trying to address and break down a systemic problem like abuse, violence, or discrimination. I don’t quite understand why it is that people think that arguments can be dismissed by comparing them to something utterly horrific, but it’s extraordinarily common and it never ceases to disgust me.
I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that the Church is doing the same.
- The Star: Vatican defends Pope against ‘petty gossip.’ ↩
- New York Times: Vatican Priest Likens Criticism Over Abuse to Anti-Semitism. ↩