May 28, 2012

The Vatican: Where the Bodies are Buried

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The Vatican is continuing its path toward self-destruction in spectacular fashion. The past week has brought the arrest of the pope's butler for airing dirty laundry, the ouster of the Vatican Bank director, claims from a prominent exorcist that  Emanuela Orlandi was kidnapped for Vatican sex parties, and another priest leading a double-life scandal from the Legionaries of Christ.

Let's start with that last one first because it's such a perfect illustration of how the Vatican makes its own problems with it's rigorous devotion to secrecy. For decades credible claims of outrageous abuses by Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado had been raised, only to be repeatedly dismissed. Previously discussed here and here, Maciel maintained a false identity, the better to keep multiple households with mistresses and children. He molested his own children as well as numerous, young seminarians. There were also financial indiscretions, but given that laundry list, who cares. It's only money. As Father Albert Cutié points out, he was beloved by Pope John Paul II and he got a pass.

Many of these stories were denied for decades by leaders in both the Vatican and the Legionaries, despite the fact that several credible sources, including former seminarians and Legionary priests, tried to bring this misconduct to the Vatican's attention. In 1997, however, a group of these men were fed up enough with the apathy and indifference they encountered within Church circles to organize and present real documentation of their specific accusations. While the institution still ignored them, they caught the media's attention.

The immediate reaction of Church officials, as always, was to deny these rumors as false and malicious. The accusers, who were concerned for the well-being of their Church as well as for possible new victims, were told to go away and be silent "for the good of the Church." Officials repeatedly said that nothing could be done because "the pope holds Father Maciel in high esteem."

And so it goes. Victims of abuse are thrown under the bus to protect the reputation of the Church. Child molestation is a lesser crime by orders of magnitude than rocking the boat. No action is taken until the press is involved and the first reaction from Catholic officialdom is to try to kill the messenger.

Enter Vatileaks, a salacious new book, and near daily eruptions of long buried scandal. "Criminal" screams the Vatican. And they will get to the bottom of it! Oh, not the molestation, the financial misdealing, or possible kidnapping and murder. The leaks!

It's a pattern Father Cutié knows well, having been jettisoned from the Catholic ranks, not after they learned of his affair, but after the paparazzi exposed it.

Like Father Cutié, the latest priest to be sacrificed on the altar of media exposure is a handsome spokesmodel for Catholicism whose vile sin was having consensual sex with an adult female.

In his letter to members, [Father Alvaro] Corcuera said that after he first found out that [Father Thomas] Williams had a child he asked him to "start withdrawing from public ministry" but admitted that the restrictions "were not firm enough" and Williams was allowed to continue teaching.

In fact, Williams continued to appear in public and teach at Rome's Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University.

He appeared as a consultant to a U.S. television network until 2010 and had a contract with the network until May 2011, when it was not renewed, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

Corcuera said in his letter that he did not give Williams an "explicit indication to full withdraw from all public ministry" until March 2012. By that time it was an open secret to a number of television journalists.

See, the first thing I notice about that story is that no crimes were committed. No children were harmed, with the possible exception of a secret, love child. That can be hard. But no one was sexually assaulted, physically abused, or killed. You have to wonder how many of these scandals could be avoided if the Church would just let its priests get married like normal people. Would it cure the pedophilia problem? No. And there is a pedophilia problem. But it might attract more clergy of natural affections. And it might, just might, force the Church to acknowledge that there is a profound difference between a sex scandal and a child molestation scandal, instead of treating it all like "boys will be boys" shenanigans to be swept under the carpet.

As butler Paolo Gabriele and Vatican Bank President Gotti Tedeschi learned this week, its shaking the dust out of those carpets that will bring swift, immediate action from the Vatican. Both have been accused of leaking documents. Gabriele is cooling his heels in a Vatican jail and Tedeschi was forced from his job by a unanimous no confidence vote.

Tedeschi has been under investigation for possible money laundering but that's not why he was ousted. That investigation was deemed to be "motivated by outside political interests," according to USA Today. This is a theme that should be very familiar to followers of the sex abuse scandal. External investigations by secular media or legal authorities are routinely dismissed as malicious conspiracies against the Catholic Church. It takes a little more than being credibly investigated for criminal behavior to raise the ire of the Church itself. Damning public exposure? Yeah. That'll do it.

The bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works, issued a scathing denunciation of Gotti Tedeschi in a memorandum obtained Saturday by The Associated Press. In it the bank, or IOR by its Italian initials, explained its reasons for ousting Gotti Tedeschi: he routinely missed board meetings, failed to do his job, failed to defend the bank, polarized its personnel and displayed "progressively erratic personal behavior."

Gotti Tedeschi was also accused by the board of leaking documents himself: The IOR memorandum said he "failed to provide any formal explanation for the dissemination of documents last known" to be in his possession.

The lengths to which the Church will go to protect its dirty secrets is typified by the embattled Philadelphia diocese where evidence of crimes was kept under lock and key... and "alarms, safes, and computer security programs."

Evidence in a groundbreaking priest-abuse trial shows the men running the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia used elaborate methods to keep sex-abuse complaints from prying eyes.

. . .

One 1994 list shown to jurors Wednesday lists three diagnosed pedophile priests and 13 more deemed "guilty" of abuse, often because they had admitted it. Yet most remained active priests until the "zero tolerance" policy adopted by U.S. bishops in 2002. And some remained priests years later.

. . .

Bevilacqua ordered a top aide to shred Lynn's 1994 list of 35 problem priests, although a copy surfaced at the archdiocese this year, days after Bevilacqua died.

Other documents recovered from locked safes at the archdiocese contain handwritten notes about how to handle the mounting public relations crisis.

Bury the evidence. Manage the crisis. No man. No problem.

But now, Church secrets are being literally exhumed from a Vatican crypt, which bizarrely housed the remains of a Mafia don. I posted about the case of the mobster and the missing teenager here, and the story has just gotten stranger. Now come charges from a prominent Church exorcist that the fifteen year old Emanuela Orlandi was kidnapped by Vatican police, among others, for purposes of sexual exploitation. Father Gabriel Armoth claims that the answers to this decades old mystery are to be found within the Vatican.

'It has already previously been stated by (deceased) monsignor Simeone Duca, an archivist at the Vatican, who was asked to recruit girls for parties with the help of the Vatican gendarmes.

'I believe Emanuela ended up in this circle. I have never believed in the international theory (overseas kidnappers). I have motives to believe that this was just a case of sexual exploitation.

'It led to the murder and then the hiding of her body. Also involved are diplomatic staff from a foreign embassy to the Holy See.'

It's a somewhat outrageous story from a colorful figure who has also claimed that both yoga and Harry Potter are "the work of the Devil." But given the Church's penchant for sexual exploitation of minors and going to incredible lengths to conceal same, I don't know...

One hopes that there will at least be some resolution to the thirty year old crime now that the police have taken the extraordinary step of digging up bones on Vatican grounds.

Two weeks ago, police acting on an anonymous tip opened the crypt of a mob boss in the Church of Sant'Apollinaire in search of the girl's remains.

The Vatican had given investigators special permission to open the tomb of Enrico ''Renatino'' De Pedis following a 2005 phone call to a television program saying the truth would be found there.

Investigators found dozens metal boxes, all containing bones, inside the crypt that contained the remains of De Pedis.

Most are probably hundreds of years old but a source close to the investigation said some are much more recent.

The Vatican claims that it has always cooperated with investigations into the tragic disappearance of the pretty music student whose father was a prominent, non-clerical employee. Her brother says otherwise and along with hundreds of protesters urged Vatican cooperation. And, after all these years, the Vatican is, indeed, cooperating, having taken the unprecedented step of opening even its tomb. It's amazing what a leaked internal document and the glare of a television camera will do.

Today, the Vatican finds itself still in full damage control mode as fresh reports that it is leaking like a sieve hit the presses. And the possibility that a cardinal may be one of the leakers are being adamantly denied.

"I categorically deny that any cardinal, Italian or otherwise, is a suspect," [Vatican spokesman Father Federico] Lombardi said, adding that the pope was being kept fully informed of the case.

"He is aware of a delicate situation that we are living through in the Roman Curia. He continues on his path of serenity, his position of faith and morals that is above the fray."

That's a lot of fray to rise above but as long as His Holiness can keep floating above the fetid ground, I'm sure everything will be fine.

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