“How do you say no to God?” – Spotlight, 2015.
When we think of sexual abuse, we think of black and white spaces, we think bad men, we think women, we think public and private spheres. When we think of sexual abuse, it is seldom that we think of the church, it is rare that we think of priests and it is beyond our wildest imagination to think of children. Mostly, the rare and rather horrific association has to stem from the fact that we find it hard or rather impure to associate something as holy as religion and God to something as horrific and heinous as sexual abuse.
It is, however a harsh realisation that something this atrocious is hidden under the garb of the good “intentioned” clergy of the Catholic church. In the past year, this issue gained a rather prominent spotlight due to the uncovering of the cases that had been hushed up in the Catholic churches of Pennsylvania. With the uncovering of over a thousand cases regarding child sexual abuse in August 2018, the case of Pennsylvania came under the direct purview of the Vatican state. This is however not the only case from 2018. Over this past year, there have been cases akin to this one from all over the globe. An archbishop in Australia was forced to resign after it was brought to light how he covered up a case of sexual abuse that had been carried out by another priest. Similarly, in Chile, 34 Roman Catholic priests were asked to resign after it was brought to public knowledge how they had a hand in covering up a sex scandal. While some would like to believe that the holy city of Vatican has been spared from these horrors, the reality, however, is far from this and was realised when a former Vatican diplomat was given a five-year sentence for child pornography offense.
The most spoken about and horrific case, however, that eventually led to the unraveling of all the others was the Boston Scandal at the centre of which was Cardinal Bernard Law. During the time of Pope John Paul II, this case got massive coverage and was eventually converted into the critically acclaimed movie, Spotlight. Winner of the awards such as BAFTA and Academy awards, this movie captured this heinous act in the most realistic way possible while also showcasing the story of the victims in an extremely sensitive and beautiful manner. There will be no summary of the movie, for I urge all of you to watch it and be awed by the brilliance of the director, Tom McCarthy as well as Oscar-winning actors such as Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams.
This movie pained the hearts of many, including mine for it showed the dark side of the Catholic churches, that is often hushed up for the fear of earning a bad name. It blew open a Pandora’s box of such cases. As the media dug deeper, they found out that not just children, but women had also been long-standing victims of sexual abuse. One such case that caused a widespread outrage was that of a pastor in Brazil. In the city of Sao Paulo, pastor Sobrino Valdeci Picanto was arrested “after convincing them that his reproductive organs contained “holy milk” which they need for holy healing.” and thus, forcing them to perform acts that are beyond unspeakable.
With cases like these, the media as well as the international community, placed increasing pressure on the Vatican state, which eventually leads them to take some steps to reform and curb the rate of these crimes. When elected in 2013, Pope Francis called for a “decisive action” to be taken and following this up in 2018, he wrote to all Roman Catholics calling for an end to cover-ups of sexual abuse cases and condemning the act of it. However, these actions are not enough and there is so much more that can be done.
The Vatican City, in its capacity, can wield its power and call for the end of these unspeakable crimes. By perhaps de-centralizing the power structure that the Catholic churches operate under, the followers of the same can be given more power and the authority to question and speak up against what is morally wrong and scarring. However, at the same time, incidents such as these lead to questions such as, “why did the clergy participate in the hushing up the cases when they preach God’s words?” or “why in the first place did the church allow pedophiles and sex offenders to continue to be a part of the clergy when the truth came out?”
It’s hard and beyond painful to think that the piousness that is associated with God and his messengers is tainted with the darkness that lurks in the mind of such men. Let’s on our part, erase this darkness by questioning the wrong that happens around us and for once, let faith win.