Apr 12, 2010

The Vatican: Always a Day Late and a Dollar Short

The Vatican announced today that it has made its peace with the Beatles and forgiven them for their "dissolute" lives and "Satanic" messages.

Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano paid tribute to the Fab Four in its weekend editions, with two articles and a front-page cartoon reproducing the crosswalk immortalized on the cover of the band's album "Abbey Road."

The tribute marked the 40th anniversary of the band's breakup.

"It's true, they took drugs; swept up by their success, they lived dissolute and uninhibited lives," said the paper. "They even said they were more famous than Jesus," it said, recalling John Lennon's 1966 comment that outraged many Catholics and others.

"But, listening to their songs, all of this seems distant and meaningless," L'Osservatore said. "Their beautiful melodies, which changed forever pop music and still give us emotions, live on like precious jewels."

Big of them... and only 40 years after the fact. I took them 350 years to forgive Galileo for that nasty business about his being right on the whole earth circling the sun thing. In an interesting synchronicity, today is also the anniversary of Galileo's trial before the Roman Inquisition.

And then there was Pope John Paul II's sweeping apology in 2000 for the church's entire history of persecution, torture, and warfare. So they're definitely getting better at being timely. Two of the Beatles are even still alive.

In another bold move, the Vatican has also posted guidelines on how to do deal with sex abuse charges on its website.

Official website www.vatican.va called it an "introductory guide which may be helpful to lay persons and non-canonists (referring to 'canon' or internal church law)" to rules for local churches on how to respond to sex abuse allegations. 

It made clear high up that bishops must report crimes to the police, saying "civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed." 

Bishops should probe every allegation, and any accusation with "a semblance of the truth" referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

So that should clear things up... and not a moment too soon. But it is heartening move in the direction of transparency and a departure from years of secrecy in the interest of protecting the church's reputation.

The Catholic Church's worry about the scandal sex abuse allegations will cause – often leading to their cover-up – reflects a deeply rooted legal principle that governs the church, a leading canon law expert says.

"The principal of scandal is very important in penal canon law," says Marco Ventura, a professor of religious law at the University of Siena, referring to the Vatican's legal code.

"Preventing scandals from taking place is crucial from all points of view. The bishop is in charge of determining how to fight against scandals which could affect the good image of the church," he added in an interview.

As a religion writer William Lobdell discovered early in the clergy abuse scandal in the US, some churches went to such great lengths to protect pedophile priests and the church's image that it meant throwing abused children under the bus.

While reporting the Harris story, I learned -- from court records and interviews -- the lengths to which the church went to protect the priest. When Harris took an abrupt leave of absence as principal at Santa Margarita in January 1994, he issued a statement saying it was because of "stress." He resigned a month later.

His superiors didn't tell parents or students the real reason for his absence: Harris had been accused of molesting a student while he was principal at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana from 1977 to 1979; church officials possessed a note from Harris that appeared to be a confession; and they were sending him to a treatment center.

. . .

By this time, church leaders possessed a psychological report in which Catholic psychiatrists diagnosed Harris as having an attraction to adolescents and concluded that he likely had molested multiple boys. (Harris, who has denied the allegations, now stands accused of molesting 12 boys, according to church records.) But they didn't step forward to set the record straight. Instead, a diocesan spokesman called Harris an "icon of the priesthood."

Harris' top defense attorney, John Barnett, lashed out at the priest's accusers in the media, calling them "sick individuals." Again, church leaders remained silent as the alleged victims were savaged. Some of the diocese's top priests -- including the cleric in charge of investigating the accusations -- threw a going-away party for Harris.

Nothing like being revictimized by your own church. But this has been the unfortunate pattern regarding clerical abuse. The victims seem to the be the last people they consider. Who knows. Maybe they'll forgive them 40 or 50 years from now for having gotten themselves molested.

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