Over the past 10 months I have watched with a broken heart as my community was torn apart by child pornography charges against our Roman Catholic bishop. In the following months, it was like a sacred vessel was shattered open and hellish sludge poured out as more and more cases of sexual abuse have been uncovered around the world at the hands of Roman Catholic priests and bishops. Even more alarming has been the isolationist, protectionist attitude of the Holy See, “Above all else, protect Mother Church”.
And so the headline this week, Pope Benedict lashes out at ‘deplorable’ Belgian police raids, shocked and saddened me.
I deeply appreciate the cry of the Belgian bishops’ investigative panel to maintain the confidentiality they promised to victims in their process. But it was a naive promise to make, and is rooted in a core misconception in the Roman Catholic church. It is articulated in this quote by Pope Benedict XVI:
I have myself repeated numerous times that these serious facts must be dealt with by civil law and by canon law, in reciprocal respect of the specificity and autonomy of each… (emphasis mine)
It is in this that his Holiness is naively mistaken. The Church, any church, is not an autonomous authority outside or even alongside civil authority. If we ever had that autonomy and authority, we gave it up long ago when we started abusing it. One sad thing about this whole story is that civil law has been quicker to act to protect victims than the Church has. For this we should be ashamed and be thankful to civil authorities for protecting those who we have not.