Today "a leading Vatican cardinal has called for "housecleaning" as paedophile priest scandals from Italy to Ireland pile pressure on Pope Benedict," BBC News reports. Walter Kasper, head of the ecumenical council, has called for a "culture of alertness and bravery" and said that victims should come first. That he is the first leader to make such a pronouncement exposes the moral bankruptcy of the Catholic hierarchy.
After Joseph Ratzinger, now operating under the title of Pope Benedict XVI, issued an apology for a sex abuse scandal within the Church in Ireland, it emerged that he had failed to act on abuse reports in the 1990s. But this is only the tip of the iceberg in a global child sex abuse scandal which implicates not only those who carried out the acts, but a battery of prominent figures in Catholicism who either failed to act or actively protected the guilty.
Before we go any further, there is a need for rationality and perspective on this issue. Whilst the crimes themselves are utterly grotesque, in themselves they are an indictment only of the individuals who committed them. I am not for an instant suggesting that all Catholics, or even all Catholic priests, indulge in this behaviour. There is absolutely no need to resort to any kind of anti-Catholic hysteria, not least because the victims and their families are, themselves, Catholic.
Likewise, I am not calling for those who perpetrated the acts to receive any kind of barbarous retribution. I have previously been very outspoken against the mob hysteria that crimes against children can (quite understandably) evoke, and I stick by that. Whether these men are guilty, and what their punishment should be, should be decided in a fair trial by an impartial jury.
No, my point here is about the willingness of the Catholic hierarchy - right up to Ratzinger - to turn a blind eye to and cover up these crimes. Whatever their motives, this is nothing less than complicity, and those involved should face trial as accesories as surely as those who committed the original abuse should be tried. That they will not, due to the "respect" they command as religious leaders, is an indictment of our attitude towards organised religion in the West. It also puts the (remote) possiblity that Ratzinger could resign over the affair into perspective as a pale insult.
A further question that needs to be raised in this affair is the link between the suppression of sexuality in religious institutions and attrocious crimes. Such abuse is nowhere near as widespread in other Christian denominations as it is within the Catholic Church. The link has to be made between this fact and the vow of celibacy that ordained Catholic priests make. Especially given the strong possiblity of a link between sexual repression and rape.
Meanwhile, Joseph Ratzinger is due to visit Britain in September. The visit will be funded to the tune of £20 million by British taxpayers, and a movement has already arisen in opposition to this. But more needs to be done. The issue isn't that Ratzinger's visit is taxpayer-funded, but that it is happening at all. We should be making him accountable for his crimes, not rolling out the red carpet.
We, non-Catholic and Catholic alike, must demand to know why this man is being revered as an honoured guest whilst complicit in a massive cover-up of child abuse. If we get no answer, then the ony option left is to take to the streets in protest against him and the corrupt hierarchy he sits atop.