Monday, 22 March 2010

Abuse: Latin America Takes Its Turn

A few years ago, it was mostly the US that was disturbed by endless stories of abuse, last year Ireland was convulsed. Over the last month, scandals have burst into the open right across Northern Europe, including Germany, with questions asked about both Benedict himself in his years as a German bishop, and his brother.
Now, there are new stories emerging right across the world, in Brazil and Chile, to go alongside the problem of Father Marcial Maciel in Mexico, which has been simmering for years.
In Brazil, the story that has surfaced is not about old crimes that have recently surfaced, but about an incident from just over a year ago - and was secretly videotaped.
Child sex scandals roiling the Roman Catholic church spread to Brazil on Tuesday after the Vatican said three priests were under investigation following allegations of child abuse.The Vatican's acknowledgment takes controversies that have rocked the church in the United States and more recently in Europe to the country with the largest Catholic population in world. About 74 per cent of Brazil's 140 million people identify as Catholics. SBT television last week aired video from a hidden camera showing father Marques Barbosa, 82, having sex with a 19-year-old boy in the northeastern state of Alagoas.
After the act, the priest's face is identified as he looks toward the camera and says "Who's there?" "Who is it?"
The report on the program Conexao Reporter also included charges by three former altar boys that they too had been sexually abused by local priests.
I suppose we should be grateful that the church seems to have learnt something  from recent uproars:  the three priests implicated have been suspended from ministry, and will face criminal charges. (After the footage was screened on national television, a cover-up was hardly feasible.) More extraordinary than the acts themselves, were the words of one of the priests, before he knew he had been busted:
An SBT reporter visited Barbosa's house to conduct an interview and confront him with the allegations. Before raising the allegations of sexual abuse, the reporter asks if the priest had ever sinned. "Who has never committed a sin?" Barbosa responds. The priest is then asked if the region has problems with pedophilia. "I think it is more (a problem) of homosexuality than pedophilia," Barbosa says. Asked directly if he ever abused boys, Barbosa says he could only answer such a question "in confession." He then ends the interview, which was aired Thursday and posted on SBT's YouTube page.
In Chile, by contrast, the issue is somewhat tamer:  mere possession of child pornography.
Elsewhere in Latin America, a Spanish religious instructor was reported to have been jailed in Chile for possession of pornographic images of children. A prosecutor said the priest, Jose Arregui, 53, would be tried for child pornography possession on March 24, the newspaper La Tercera's website reported. The lessons from elsewhere, though, is that once people start to talk about clerical abuse, one story soon leads to another, and another....   For Chile and the rest of South America - watch this space.
Meanwhile, in Mexico , the tale of Father Maciel simmers on.  At NCR on-line, John Allen has just released a story claiming that since becoming Pope, Benedict has stamped down hard on the problem of clerical abuse, adopting a strict policy of zero tolerance. The evidence he produces describes the many priests who have been dealt with by internal procedures, and been suitable punished - by being removed from ministry.  The start of this no tolerance regime, Allen claims,  came with the removal from ministry of Maciel, back in 2006.
When the same axe fell a few months later on Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, the high-profile founder of the Legionaries of Christ, against whom accusations of abuse had likewise been hanging around for the better part of a decade, the message seemed unmistakable: There's a new sheriff in town.
So what happened to him?
In 2006 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, removed Maciel from active ministry, inviting him to spend the rest of his days in prayer and penance.
In May 2006, Pope Benedict XVI disciplined him, inviting him to "a reserved life of prayer and penitence"; no explanation was given to the public or to the Legionaries of Christ. In July 2009, a Spanish daily published an interview with a woman who had a child with Maciel in 1986 and now lives in a luxury apartment in Madrid which Maciel purchased for her.
This is harsh punishment?
In his commentary, columnist Andrew Sullivan puts ithe matter precisely:
How much more do we have to see, how much more damage has to be done to human beings, before the hierarchy cones to terms with its denial about homosexuality, its warped psyche on sexuality, the brutal consequences of its celibacy requirements ... and the total iniquity of allowing children and teens in your care, entrusted to men of God, to be raped and abused and molested with impunity for years?
When will this Pope step down?

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