For the first time in history, the Pope may be going to court. Pope Benedict XVI has been named as a defendant in a lawsuit leveled against the Catholic Church by, you guessed it, yet another victim of sexual abuse by a priest.
Terry Kohut, now 60, was one of the more than 200 boys molested at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisconsin between 1950-1974. For 24 years, Father Lawrence C. Murphy, an “equal opportunity” child molester, used sign language to communicate with his rape victims, some of whom are as young as ten years old.
To their credit, dozens of students reported Murphy’s egregious offences to the police, other priests and parents. Yet, nothing was done. Finally, in 1996, decades after Murphy had left the school, an Archbishop of Wisconsin brought Murphy’s offences to the attention of the Vatican in three urgent letters.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which is responsible for dealing with charges of abuse was, at the time, led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He has, since 2005, gone by the title of Pope Benedict XVI.
Back when he was just Ratzinger (no association with the guy that played “Cliff” on Cheers), Benedict chose to sit on the archbishop’s letters and took no action against Murphy. The Church has its own internal tribunal to deal with such allegations as well as the potential defrocking of priests. This tribunal is secretive and woefully inefficient compared to other state-run courts. For some reason, the Church prefers it, presumably because it keeps pedophile priests out of the headlines.
Apparently, Murphy had also written to Ratzinger. In his letter, Murphy, pleaded with Ratzinger to avoid prosecution, stating: “I am seventy-two years of age, Your Eminence, and am in poor health. I have repented of any of my past transgressions.” Ratzinger in turn held off investigations and avoided the whole defrocking process and Murphy subsequently died in 1998. He was given the funeral of a priest in good standing with the Church and his god.
Kohut now holds the current pontiff responsible for allowing an alleged pedophile to avoid deserved prosecution. That’s why the name “Pope Benedict XVI” appears next to the title “defendant” on his lawsuit. Yet this isn’t the first time Benedict/Ratzinger has turned a deaf ear to pedophile priests.
In the early 1980s, Priest Peter Hullerman from the Essen diocese in Germany was reported to have repeatedly abused an eleven year-old boy. The Church apparently put Hullerman through “therapy” to psychoanalyze the predator out of him. At the time, Ratzinger was the Archbishop of Munich. After Hullerman’s “therapy”, Ratzinger simply transferred the priest to another diocese.
This priest continued playing “what’s under my robe” with altar boys until he was ultimately convicted of child molestation, by an actual state court, in 1986 and sent to prison.
The current lawsuit against the Pontiff comes in the wake of accusations of child molestation by priests throughout Europe. There are more than 300 allegations of abuse out of Germany alone and hundreds more out of the feverishly Catholic nation of Ireland.
Pope Benedict has now gone into public relations overdrive, appearing in London on September 18th 2010 to apologize to five victims of sexual assault by English priests. His teary apology meant little to protesters that came equipped with alliterative signs like “the pope protects pedophile priests” and, my personal favourite, “cool hat; bad ideas.”
The question now is “will there be a second reformation for the Vatican?” The pope may have been named as a defendant but progress is slow within the Catholic Church. After all, it was only in 1992 that the Vatican apologized to Galileo and admitted the Earth does, in fact, revolve around the sun.
The Church’s existence made a lot more sense in the dark ages and is clearly divorced from the realities of 2010. Just last year, the pope flew to Cameroon and denounced the use of condoms. That’s a bold claim to make in a continent ravaged by AIDS, especially considering that within 15 years, one-sixth of the world’s Catholics (230 million people) will be African. This number is particularly frightening because it means that there will be more “new” Catholics who will listen to this dangerous nonsense compared to the more “lapsed” Catholics found here in Canada.
As much as I’d like to, I’m not holding up hope to see the pope sporting an orange jumpsuit with a harmonica in the pocket anytime soon. The most realistic is to hope for the pontiff to be subpoenaed to testify. He’ll likely find a legal loophole to wiggle out of, probably because he’s a de facto “head of state” and, ergo, immune to most prosecutions.
Still, the very idea of a process server (think Seth Rogan’s character in Pineapple Express) handing the Pope a subpoena saying, “You’ve been served,” is a novel one. Indeed, according to Catholic Church doctrine, the pope can tell no lie when he sits on the “Throne of Infallibility”.
Maybe the idea of god’s earthly liaison being subpoenaed will make Catholics and people of other religions question the hierarchy of their faith. Perhaps some of the faithful will begin to view the Pope as just another man. After all, it is much easier to hold a man accountable for his actions than an infallible demigod. And make no mistake, when children are being sexually abused, somebody needs to be held accountable.