Predator Priests, A Growing Phenomenon?

Almost every day when I type ‘child abuse’ into the Google search engine, scores of stories crop up. However, it was only recently that a very familiar word started cropping up alongside ‘child abuse’. That word was ‘priest’.

Image Courtesy: theage.com.au

Image Courtesy: theage.com.au

According to an article by The Guardian, the clergy child abuse scandals in many countries have drained morale and finances from the church, driving numerous Catholics away, especially in western Europe. Some dioceses have had to close parishes and take other severe actions after paying out millions for counseling and other compensation to victims in cases settled in and out of court.

In Australia, the situation became unbearable with the suicide of 43-year-old, John Pirona last year, who was routinely sexually abused as a child by the notorious priest, John Denham. His tragic death, which was a result of severe psychological trauma after being abused for so long, was the catalyst for the Newcastle Herald’s Shine the Light campaign for a royal commission and prompted Julia Gillard’s sanctioning of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

While steps are being taking to make the accused and guilty pay for their actions, most of the abuses date back to the 1970s. So what has the Catholic Church been doing up until now, you may ask? The answer to that question is simple – covering up.

In fact, the Royal Commission in Australia found that the Pope’s representative in Australia knew of the serious accusations  against the notorious priest Denis McAlinden from at least 1995. This is just one example of how the entire religious institution would routinely turn a blind eye as a means of avoiding scandal. This is not to say that priests condoned such sexual abuse. Instead, an argument can be made that they were afraid of the negative repercussions if such news got out. After all, what would their congregation say when the news of ‘men of god’ abusing young children for the fun of it, got out?

According to a prolific article, Catholic Priests Unmasked: ‘God Doesn’t Like Boys Who Cry’, the behaviour of the church can be understood based on two principles.

Image Courtesy: Phillip Coorey, www.smh.com.au

Image Courtesy: Phillip Coorey, http://www.smh.com.au

The first is ‘scandalizing the faithful’. Traditionally, the hierarchy believed the greatest sin was shaking the faith of Catholic congregations. Protecting them meant concealing scandal. Adopting that as your moral standpoint means anything goes. You can cover up sexual misconduct from those you demand sexual morality from. You can conceal financial corruption from those who put their pounds in the collection plate. You can silence the abused and protect the abuser. Guilt about sacrificing individuals is soothed by protecting something bigger and more significant – the institution.

The second concept is “clericalism”, a word used to describe priests’ sense of entitlement, their demand for deference and their apparent conformity to rules and regulations in public, while privately behaving in a way that suggests the rules don’t apply to them personally. The Vatican is an independent state; the Holy See a sovereign entity recognized in international law and governed by the Pope. The Nunciature operates like government embassies in different countries worldwide. It is even governed by its own rules: Canon Law. All this contributes to the notion that the church can conduct its own affairs without interference or outside scrutiny. It demands a voice in society without being fully accountable to it.

However, the fact that the church can conduct its affairs as a sovereign state, does not give it the permission to conduct its affairs however it pleases. When Syria uses chemical weapons against its own people, the international community reacts in outrage. As such, sovereignty is not reason enough for the international community to turn a blind eye.

While the church is a religious institution, it is not exempt from the law and cover ups should not be tolerated. Speaking as a Catholic, the news of such abuse horrified me. I go to church every Sunday not out of obligation but belief in it’s teachings. The church has taught me to help others and to not be silent when gross atrocities are being carried out in front of your eyes. In my opinion, they should heed their own teaching.

What do you guys think? How can we ensure justice if the institution turns a blind eye?

We have a voice, lets use it.

Do note that every once in a while, I will explore issues outside the exclusive realm of sexual violence, that I feel deserve a great amount of attention. Do Check out “Hot Topics” for more prolific issues around the world.

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UN’s New Sexual Violence Declaration – A Step Forward? Maybe Not.

Image Courtesy: smh.com.au

Image Courtesy: smh.com.au

With the Syrian conflict raging, the world awaits the UN General Assembly Meeting in New York next week. What’s on their agenda? A new declaration to end sexual violence.

In a joint report, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague and Special Envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Angelina Jolie claim that a declaration of commitment to end sexual violence in conflict will be presented to the United Nations on September 24th.

Image Courtesy: news.uk.msn.com

Image Courtesy: news.uk.msn.com

According to the report, the Declaration will give every country in the world an opportunity to show where it stands on this issue. It’s main components include a pledge not to allow amnesties for sexual violence in peace agreements, so that the perpetrators of these crimes can be held accountable, a new International Protocol by the middle of 2014 to help ensure that evidence produced can stand up in court and more survivors can see justice, and to place the safety and dignity of victims at the heart of investigations into rape and other sexual crimes in conflict zones. Lastly, its signatories will promise to put protection from sexual violence at the forefront of all their conflict and humanitarian work, and to help strengthen the capacity of countries most at risk of this violence.

For the first time, the countries endorsing this declaration will agree that sexual violence is indeed a war crime and is also in complete violation of the Geneva Conventions and their first protocol, established in 1977 which relates to the protection of victims in international armed conflicts.

In fact, in June 2013, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, highlighted the importance of collective action against crimes of sexual violence.

“Preventing sexual violence in conflict is our joint responsibility.  It must be part of our work in many areas, from peacekeeping and political missions, to mediation, ceasefire agreements, security-sector reform, justice-sector reform and the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” he said.

“Those who hold power and influence have a special duty to step forward and be part of a global coalition of champions determined to break this evil,” he added.

Now let me pose a question, how many of you think this plan will actually be effective?

Firstly, the inclusion of a pledge to stop amnesties for sexual violence in peace agreements is almost laughable. A pledge by definition means, a solemn promise or undertaking. It is not a signed contract, it is basically a verbal commitment to something. How can victims of sexual violence place their faith in a mechanism that lacks any basic foundation? This declaration is basing its success on the good faith of the member states of the UN. What it fails to recognize, and naively at that, is that nation states act in terms of their own vital national interests. Good faith is rarely a consideration.

Secondly, the fact that this declaration like all UN-proposed declarations are non-binding, allows countries where rape is rampant to still escape prosecution. If they simply do not ratify the declaration, isn’t amnesty in some sense granted to them anyway? How can the UN esure enforcement? How can the UN ensure that countries comply with the proposed declaration? These are questions that need to be answered.

I do not discredit the nobility involved in putting forth such a declaration in the first place. However, states need to take responsibility first. States need to be made to comply with international law. Rules do not matter if states are always breaking them.

What do you guys think? Is this declaration a step forward? How can the UN ensure that states comply with this newly proposed declaration? What else needs to be done?

We have a voice, lets use it.

Update: 113 Countries Sign Pledge Against Sexual Violence

Ariel Castro’s Death: Good or Bad?

I was browsing through twitter and was stunned to see several posts on my news feed confirming the death of Ariel Castro. For those who do not know, he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment plus a 1000 years for holding captive three young women and raping them.

AP_ariel_castro_court_jef_130703_16x9_992Image Courtesy: abcnews.go.com

At first, I thought good riddance. A convicted rapist is off the streets, for good this time. Then I thought, I wonder how the victims feel. Their ordeal lasted 10 years and his only a couple of months. In fact, the statement that Michelle Knight, one of the women he captured made in court echoed this sentiment completely. It said:

You said, at least I didn’t kill you. For you took 11 years of my life away, and I have got it back. I spent 11 years in hell, and now your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all this that happened, but you will face hell for eternity.

The death penalty would be so much easier. You don’t deserve that. You deserve to spend life in prison.

It made me wonder, did he not just take the easy way out? How can these three innocent victims ever get the justice they deserve now?

What are your views? Was Ariel Castro’s death good or bad?