Apologizing popes

Brian Jones
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News reports about Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation said he was the first pope in 600 years to quit. Usually, a pontiff stays on the job until he — or she, in Pope Joan’s case in the 9th century — dies.

No news report mentioned that sometimes popes have had “help” with the dying part, i.e., having been  murdered by ambitious, ruthless schemers.

The vast majority of these instances — as well as additional alleged or suspected cases — happened centuries ago, but some modern Catholics likely recall the rumours and theories that swirled after the untimely death of Pope John Paul I, who died a mere 33 days after being elected Pope in 1978. God works in mysterious ways, indeed.

The standard story line is that his successor, Pope John Paul II, chose his papal name as a tribute to his predecessor. On the flip side, it’s also reasonable to suspect the Vatican’s back-room boys saw it as a way to obliterate the memory of John Paul I.

Missed opportunities

But back to Benedict XVI.

He and John Paul II have a special bond, a relationship unique among the hundreds of men — and, supposedly, one woman — who have held the office established by St. Peter.

Their bond is this: they are the only two popes in history to have presided over the Catholic Church when hundreds of cases arose of priests and clergy sexually abusing children.

Rather than cast the transgressors out of the proverbial temple — as Jesus would have done, if precedent is anything to go by — the sex-abuse-era popes each opted to defend the guilty and ignore the victims.

Convicted men of the cloth, rather than getting what they deserve — being cast out — have generally been gently eased into church-supported retirement. There’s something to think about when you drop some silver into the collection plate.

Sorry is easy

Being pope doesn’t mean never having to say you’re sorry, and John Paul II and Benedict XVI both did.

Pope John Paul II apologized for the Crusades and the Inquisition; he apologized to Galileo, to Jews, to aboriginals and to women, among others. He apologized to nuns who were raped by priests or missionaries.

But he didn’t apologize to people who, as children, had been sexually abused by priests or clergy.

At the time of John Paul II’s death in 2005, such crimes had been public knowledge in Newfoundland for more than 15 years; in Boston, such cases became public in 2002; worldwide, cases arose in numerous countries.

In 2008, Benedict XVI made a verbal apology for the sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy.

In 2010, he wrote a letter of apology to Irish Catholics, amid revelations of broad abuse in Ireland.

Apologies are fine, as far as they go. But the papal apologies did not extend to saying sorry for the many proven instances of coverups by various Church authorities — the bishops, archbishops and cardinals who knew about the sexual abuse of children, but chose to protect priests rather than inform the police and see justice served.

Nor did the apologies extend to telling Church lawyers to cease and desist, and stop battling sexual abuse victims in court. If “sorry” is not accompanied by an admission of guilt and a willingness to take responsibility for that guilt, it is meaningless and, worse, conniving.

How long have some former residents of the Mount Cashel orphanage been fighting for justice? Their court case against the church has been ongoing for more than a decade. It’s as if the church is saying, “We’re sorry — now see if your lawyers can prove our lawyers wrong.”

Brian Jones was an altar boy at Christ the King Chapel and is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at bjones@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Catholic Church, The Telegram

Geographic location: Vatican, Newfoundland, Boston Mount Cashel

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Recent comments

  • Colin Burke
    February 26, 2013 - 16:18

    Quite so, Mr. Power, quite so: Ignoring the existence and energy and efforts of NAMBLA cannot possibly have anything to do with whether one ought to condemn priests for being predators or instead despise predators for being priests. I see that clearly now. A wholly impartial ruling that I myself, since I even mention the two in the same set of sentences, am more concerned to deflect attention from predation already committed than to prevent predation being projected, makes it even more abundantly clear. It would pretty well have to do so, wouldn't it?

  • Ed Power
    February 25, 2013 - 20:45

    I know what NAMBLA is, Mr. Burke, I just have no interest in whatever tripe Rush Limbaugh would have to say about it. It also isn't relevant to the subject of this column, or my earlier comments, and is but a poor attempt on your part to deflect the arguement away from the subject at hand - predatory paeodophile priests and the Pope(s) who protect them. (That does alliterate nicely, doesn't it?) I would suggest, however, that you GOOGLE Rush Limbaugh, or watch/listen to some of his more......entertaining rants and ravings on You Tube. Anything he feeds his rabidly rascist and misogynistic fanbase has just a passing acquaintance with truth or accuracy. (See his comments about law student Sandra Fluke last year on contraception, or his "revelations' about Muslims in the White House, Birther Bulls**t, Commies, etc.) He quotes Rush Limbaugh, God (pun intended) help us all.....

  • Colin Burke
    February 24, 2013 - 17:41

    So, Mr. Power, you chose not to Google "NAMBLA" but to keep your head in the good old proverbial sandbox?

  • Ed Power
    February 23, 2013 - 21:39

    Surely to God (pun intended), Mr. Burke, you are not citing Rush Limbaugh, the pill-addled serial buffoon and conspiracy theorist, as a relevant source of information? Seriously? Rush Limbaugh? Are we next to be treated to the "wisdom" of Glenn Beck and the revisionist fantasies of the factually challenged Christian faux-historian David Barton as well? Please, by all means, contact me when you can find someone who has even a tentative grasp on reality. Rush Limbaugh....next you will be quoting Fox News.

  • Colin Burke
    February 23, 2013 - 12:07

    Mr. Power, since you keep bringing up sexual abuse of children by the (Catholic) clergy, may I ask what you think of the following remarks by Amercian talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. He told his audience January 7 that there "is a movement on to normalize pedophilia, and I guarantee you your reaction to that is probably much the same as when you first heard about gay marriage. You thought it would never happen....Don't pooh-pooh it. There's a movement to normalize pedophilia. The people behind it are serious, and you know the left as well as I do." In fact, I myself heard of that movement some time before the clergy sex scandal came to light -- if you've never heard of NAMBLA, you might Google it -- and so took a lot of wind out of that movement's sails. Anyway, if you and I are both alive when "society" reaches a "final" decison on that question, it will be interesting to see which of us most agrees with the Pope of that day about that particular matter, and which has been persuaded by "public opinion" and the science of psychology. I read in the old reactionary Wanderer that an article in the British newspaper The Guardian has remarked that "there is a growing conviction, notably in Canada, that pedophilia should probably be classified as a distinct sexual orientation, like heterosexuality or homosexuality." I wish you luck in remaining a dedicated "progressive," Mr. Power. "A man married to his age will soon be widowed."

  • Ed Power
    February 22, 2013 - 19:03

    I would like to point our, dear Admin, that my reply of last night to Mr. Burke doesn't appear in this thread. The 'Columns' page indicates (15) responses, but the actual column response thread indicates (14). It did appear in the "Recent Comments" block on the Editorial/Columns page this AM, but not on the thread itself. If it wasn't deemed too outrageous, I would like to see it appear, so that Mr. Burke and I can continue our months-long debate. Thanks.

  • Ed Power
    February 21, 2013 - 19:49

    Epicurus, was an important figure in the early development of science and the scientific method. He insisted that nothing should be believed except that which was tested through direct observation and logical deduction. In his paradox, which I cited earlier, Epicurus was simply pointing out the fact that "Gods" - since they didn't actually do anything - were unworthy of adoration. He did believe in "the gods", he just didn't think that they concerned themselves with the affairs of men. In this, he was only partially correct. I would suggest that one can hardly expect anything tangible from creatures of myth. I would further suggest that "us Catholics in Newfoundland" would be far more effective in a battle against malevolence by raiding the offices of the Bishops and Priests at the Bascillica - and in Rome - and turning over to police any documents pertaining to the sexual and physical abuse of children by Catholic clergy, and the decades (I think centuries) long systemic coverup of these crimes by clergy up to and including our dear departed Hitlerjugend Pope. Picketers and protestors at the upcoming conclave in Rome would also be appreciated, seeing that many of the Cardinals who will be picking our next Pope were/are complicit in the coverup of the abuse.

  • Colin Burke
    February 21, 2013 - 09:57

    A malevolent person is one who does evil, not one who merely allows it. Or you may be entirely right, Mr. Power: Maybe all us Catholics in Newfoundland who leave unraided the abortion clinic in St. John's are indeed malevolent. Or was Epicurus more concerned with misfortune than with moral evil and only blaming God more because it was possible for Epicurus to be unlucky than because it was possible for Epicurus to do wrong by his own volition?

  • Ed Power
    February 20, 2013 - 17:16

    "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able, and willing? Thence whence commeth evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God". - Epicurus (341 - 270 BCE)

  • Colin Burke
    February 20, 2013 - 08:18

    Mr. Power, the point you make is quite valid, so far as it goes. My own point is that men's dragging their religion down into their own evil does not mean that their religion is what pushes them down into it. That men tend to defile even what they deem most sacred does not mean that nothing sacred can exist; all it necessarily means is that if the sacred does exist, it has a lot more patience with mankind than you have with the fact that men tend persistently to believe there is something sacred.

  • Ed Power
    February 18, 2013 - 20:00

    I would never suggest, Mr. Burke, that "mankind would never been inclined to rape and totrure had it not first invented religion".History has proven otherwise. I am merely stating that when one has the "Divine" authority of a deity to exert your moral and religious superiority upon other groups deemed by your god to be heathens, infidels, apostates, heretics, subhumans or guilty of some other divinely decreed "sin", it is far easier for the thin veneer of humanity to peel away. When one has divine sanction to rape, torture and murder, one is free to tackle the task at hand religiously. (Pun intended.) As one Frankish account of the fall of Jerusalem to the Christian Crusaders (1099) recorded, " Some Saracens, Arabs and Ethiopians took refuge in the tower of David, others fled to the temple of the Lord and of Solomon. A great fight took place in the court and porch of the temples, where they were unable to flee from our gladiators. Many fled to the roof of the temple and were shot with arrows so that they fell to the ground dead. In this temple almost ten thousand were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet coloured to the ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared". Perhaps the words of Papal Legate and Inquisitor Abbot Arnaud Amalric - leader of the Crusader army that massacred the Cathar "heretics" at Bezier (1209) - say it best, "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominos sui sont eius - Kill them all for the Lord knoweth them that are His". Afterwards, in his letter to Pope Innocent III(oh, the irony), he wrote "Our men spared no one, irrespective of rank, sex or age, and put to the sword 20,000 people. After this great slaughter the whole city was despoilt and burnt". Thanks be to gods.....

  • Colin Burke
    February 18, 2013 - 09:53

    Mr. Power, I do hope you aren't suggesting that mankind would never have been inclined to rape and torture had it not first invented religion. I suggest it's far more likely that men "got religion" to try to be forgiven for having raped and tortured and that even religion could not quite eliminate the inclination to rape and torture. I suggest further that if a man has no sympathy whatever for any form of religion, it is either because he has never done anything of which he ought to repent or because he refuses to repent of what he ought to. I don't need to ask -- if that suggestion is true -- to which of these groups you belong, for it's none of my business, but perhaps you might benefit from asking that of yourself.

  • Ed Power
    February 17, 2013 - 06:28

    "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it", as William Pitt the Elder said in 1770, and no group has demonstrated this so aptly, and over so long a time, as the leaders - popes, priests, clerics, imams, mullahs, shaman, etc. - and followers of the various religious cults and gods invented by men over the millennia.. "Suffer the little chidren to come unto me..." was not 'Divine' direction to rape and torture, although the Christian church has been quite proficient at both. In fact, all three Abrahamic sects have raped, tortured and killed countless people over the ages, frequently with the blessing of their leaders. It's not a sin if the victims are sinners, apostates, blasphemers, pagans, heathens, infidels,.......

  • david
    February 15, 2013 - 16:02

    The Catholic church is not a public service. It is a private club, operated for the benefit and at the discretion of its members. Non-Catholics have the right to precisely this much explanation of any of the internal policies of this club: SQUADOOSH. Get over it.

  • Herb Morrison
    February 15, 2013 - 15:35

    You are welcome Mr. Burke.

  • Doug Smith
    February 15, 2013 - 15:04

    Very good column Mr. Jones, however, I would have appreciated it if you had explained why Pope John Paul 2 and Pope Benedict were not sent to jail. That would have been the most fitting place for them to end their days. It would have allowed them plenty of time to repent, to think about their failures as leaders to act in the protection of children and what positive actions the church could take to help ameliorate the devastating impact of evil upon innocent children. Doug Smith, GFW

  • Colin Burke
    February 15, 2013 - 14:29

    The Catholic papacy is primarily a teaching authority and claims to teach truth far more than it claims to be a model of good behaviour. Has a pope ever claimed to teach infallibly that child abuse is actually OK, as I recall a prominent secular association, known by the acronym NAMBLA, seemed to claim, provided the abuse was consensual, which now is scorned as morally impossible when clergy suggest some of their abuse was in fact consensual? Some people want fashions in morality to change with their own whims, which is why they want popes to abandon the truth that does not change. By the way, my thanks to Mr. Morrison for his fairmindedness.

  • Herb Morrison
    February 15, 2013 - 12:04

    Call this my pre-emptive strike directed in the direction of those bloggers who might choose to engage in a little fingerpointing. Keep in mind that the Roman Catholic Church is not the only Christian tradition in which abuses have occirred. The United Church of Canada took years before it was willing to publically acknowlege abuses inflicted on First Nations children, who were seized from their parents, on authority of the Federal Government, and imprisoned in Residential Schools run by the United Church and its predecessor the Methodist Church. It was not until former First Nations Cheif Philip Fontaine acknowleged that he had been the victim of abuse at a Residential School, that any move was made by the United Church to either acknowlege the fact that the abuses took place, or make amends for the aforementioned abuses. The fact that no United Church Clergy were ever implicated in the ensuing investigation, does not change the fact that abuses, now well-documented, did indeed happen. So lets keep the proverbial judgemental fingerpointing to a minium shall we.

  • grant
    February 15, 2013 - 11:18

    Remember folks it all started when the first scroungel met the first fool.

  • Ken O'Brien
    February 15, 2013 - 09:11

    In other professions like law enforcement or teaching, a person convicted of sexual abuse against children would be dismissed from service. Not in the Roman Catholic priesthood. They have protected their own.

    • Mr.D
      February 15, 2013 - 16:47

      The largest "Cult" in the world!!