Friday, 19 February 2010

Sexual Abuse & Cover - ups: Echoes in Church History.

A Church Protecting its Own
Yesterday, I prepared two posts on apparently unrelated themes that have been preoccupying my mind for some time. at Open Tabernacle, I have a draft post on the Irish clerical abuse scandal scheduled for publication, while here at QTC I wrote about the little known and neglected history of the church’s active persecution of homosexuals during the Renaissance.  This morning, re- reading a little further into this history, I came across two details which, combining both stories, suddenly puts both issues and the connections between them, into sharp focus.
In the mid-fifteenth century in Venice, the emphasis shifted from simply convicting and executing “offenders” to actively seeking them out, with an array of paid officials instructed to comb the city in search of sodomites and also “boys who were patiente”. In the modern world, young boys would be seen as victims of abuse.  In Venice at that time, boys as young as ten to fifteen were seen as willing accomplices, and were equally subject to torture and punishment.   From 1424 on, the sentence prescribed for convicted boys aged from ten to fourteen was at least three months in jail, and twelve to twenty lashes.  Later, the punishments for boys who were passive partners received the same sentences as their older, active associates. Boys, like Men, were subjected to severe torture to extract their "confessions", in trials where prosecutors were the judges, and where the church and  state, sharing between them the assets of those convicted, had a vested interest in securing guilty verdicts.
Saint Dominic Presiding Over an Auto de fé
(Pedro Berruguete 1475, Prado Museum)

Friday, 12 February 2010

Reclaiming Our Consciences

At NCR Online, Joan Chittister has a thoughtful reflection on the Irish Bishops’ Vatican visit – from a perspective inside Ireland.  After noting that there are fundamental differences between the responses of people in Ireland and America, where the response was  that “people picketed churches, signed petitions, demonstrated outside chanceries, and formed protest groups”, in Ireland the response appeared much more low-key – but in fact was deep, and may well be far more significant for the future of the Church, over the longer term.

In Ireland the gulf got wider and deeper by the day. It felt like the massive turning of a silent back against the bell towers and statues and holy water fonts behind it. No major public protests occurred. "Not at all," as they are fond of saying. But the situation moved at the upper echelon of the country relatively quietly but like a glacier. Slowly but inexorably.

A country which, until recently, checked its constitution against "the teachings of the church" and had, therefore, allowed no contraceptives to be sold within its boundaries, unleashed its entire legal and political system against the storm.

They broke a hundred years of silence about the abuse of unwed mothers in the so-called "Magdalene Launderies." They investigated the treatment of orphaned or homeless children in the "industrial schools" of the country where physical abuse had long been common. The government itself took public responsibility for having failed to monitor these state-owned but church-run programs. And they assessed compensatory damages, the results of which are still under review in the national parliament.