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Vatican Comedy

Op-Ed by Steve Pona, SNAP Local Director, St. Louis, MO

November 1, 2002

This charade of Vatican political pomp and arrogance of the last decade, and most specifically, this year, would be comical if the issue weren't so damned serious.

How can we sit here and allow Vatican officials to play corporate politics to complicate what should be a very simple solution to heinous crimes? How does a problem like sexual abuse of minors and pedophilia mandate a “discussion,” a review committee, a charter formally declaring the “American” position on these crimes, a few flights to Rome for the “Vatican” position or even a re-definition of what qualifies as sexual abuse? Any abuse of a child is wrong, especially sexual abuse. It is wrong according to moral code. It is wrong according to God. And in the United States, sexual abuse of anyone is a crime.

The laws of due process in our country are very specific. If the crime of sexual abuse (even by a priest or nun) occurs in the United States, it will be investigated by criminal and civil authorities - not bishops. If the allegations of abuse are substantiated by a police investigation - not bishops, a public criminal trial - not a secret Vatican tribunal - will be scheduled for the priest to defend himself. During that trial, the victim will be present and not represented by a Vatican proxy. If the priest or nun is found guilty by a trial jury - his peers by definition of our Constitution mean other citizens, not Bishops - he goes to jail not another parish. He’ll stay in jail for the duration of his sentence. After he leaves jail, he will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. As a sex offender, he will no longer work with children. Period.

See? It’s really very simple. It’s the very law that every other person in this country lives by. While the job of representing God, as a priest IS special, the man is not. Enron’s corporate bylaws had no relevance in their respective criminal or SEC proceedings. Enron’s Board and executives could not receive special consideration from the courts even though they may have created bylaws that allowed them to commit crimes and hide them from the public. White-collar corporate crimes (no pun intended) and the administrative conspiracy to cover those crimes are not tolerated in our society. Similarly, cannon law has no bearing on and should not interfere with criminal and civil due process when a crime has been reported. Cannon law only applies to the corporate administration of the church. Additionally, logic says that canonical law should work with the criminal and civil due process of each jurisdiction, not against it. Why is this so hard?

Furthermore, if bishops and priests do not agree to abide by the criminal and civil laws of the United States, perhaps the US Attorney General should review the matter. Maybe it’s time to review the special tax benefits and other financial opportunities a church has in this country versus the many restrictions wrought on other corporations.

Here’s a wacky idea, if the priests and bishops don’t want to cooperate with our criminal and civil laws, they should renounce their US citizenship and social security numbers for Vatican citizenship. Maybe the civil liberties they enjoy with US citizenship should be revoked if they want to freely break the law and hide from prosecution.

Priests and bishops are only men with titles in a corporation that sells faith. No different than a vice president of marketing in a corporation that sells soap. One product cleanses your soul. The other product cleans your body. The soap salesman probably buys the product he’s selling. With the Catholic Bishops, they seem to tell parishioners to do as they say, not as they do.

Last week's decision by U.S. Bishops and Vatican officials to eliminate the "zero-tolerance" policy they authored in Dallas proves bishops cannot police their own parishes. Nor should they be expected to. The job of saving the souls of parishioners is big enough. They should probably concentrate on that as their specific calling from God. Had they also been called to be policemen, lawyers, judges and juries, God would have been more specific. As outrageous as it sounds, guilty priests ousted this year for molesting children can start moving back into parish rectories across the United States. Of course, those who were only subjected to “internal” investigations never left.

While the simplicity of the solutions to sexual abuse of minors and pedophilia is not laughable, the circus-like actions of the Catholic Bishops are. It’s time for our lawmakers, police and parishioners to stand with victims on the side of morality and justice and stop taking insults from bishops who proclaim they are above our laws. It’s time for parishioners to live your faith and tell corrupt bishops to step down. It’s time for the good priests and nuns to stand up for the integrity of their vows to God and not tolerate the few bad apples that are spoiling the barrel. The Catholic Church is about the community of its people and our relationship with God. A few men cannot bring it down….but they are trying.



Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests