Beyond Belief: The Catholic Church and the Child Abuse Scandal is the title of David Yallop’s 2010 book, which joins his other fine investigative works about the criminal dealings of the Catholic Church, namely In God’s Name, which was about the story behind the death of John Paul I, and The Power and the Glory detailing the financial corruption within the Vatican.David Yallop has also investigated very dangerous men like Saddam Hussein, Flight 103 bombers, the Colombian drug cartels, the Sicilian Mafia and the infamous criminal, Carlos the Jackal.
Dedicating the present book to the victims of clerical child abuse in the Catholic Church, past, present and future, David Yallop starts his preface with the words, “As of now, many people across the world would not allow an unaccompanied child to enter a Roman Catholic Church.” The author explains that these words appeared in his previous book The Power and the Glory at the end of the chapter titled “Beyond Belief”. The author’s observation was acknowledged by the Church itself after six years when the Catholic priests in Montreal were banned from being alone with children.
Is the Church being victimised? Why do famous writers like David Yallop go after the Catholic Church? Child abuse is a global phenomenon, meaning it is just another entry in the list of abuses and crimes that humans inflict on each other or have been committing since the beginning of time and the deed of creation. Then why not let the Catholics have their piece of human sin in the quiet? Why make an old and aging international organisation the butt of your ire? Catholic priests are also only humans like you and I, then why these strictures on their frailty that they share with all others? These are the standard retorts that arise when good-natured humans come across the censure of Catholic priests, particularly on the issue of child abuse.
Well, all apologies for the morally weak priests are acceptable, but I find David Yallop’s point very relevant. This is not just human frailty that is being investigated by Yallop. It is the inherently criminal nature of the Catholic Church that is in play here. The book implicates two Popes – John Paul II and Benedict VI – in concealing and thus aiding and abetting crime against children. These spiritual heads of more than a billion Christians went on as if they were totally unaware and innocent of the child abuse cases that were committed by Catholic priests all around the world. Furthermore, the series of crimes committed by the Catholic Church continues unabated even after 2010, when David Yallop published this book. There have been reports even in 2019 that point the finger at Pope Francis for not releasing the list of offenders that he has, and also for refusing to set up a special tribunal to try offenders in the U. S.
The well-researched book Beyond Belief traces the present-day child abuse in Christianity to the second century. The records left by Bishop Athenagoras in CE 177, the Council of Elvira in 305, the Council of Ancrya in 314, the Penitential of Bede of 8th century England, the Book of Gomorrah by Peter Damian around CE 1051, the Decree of Gratian in 1140, all highlight attempts at different times by a few individuals who tried either to put a stop to the sexual abuse of children by fellow priests or to bring it to the attention of their superiors in the hierarchy. However, there was neither a proper response nor any meaningful action on the part of the superiors. Yallop mentions a “secret system” functioning inside the Church that kept these crimes from becoming public or attract due punishment from the state.
The secret system
When Yallop painstakingly prises out evidence after concrete evidence of child abuse in the Catholic Church, the long thread of his book exposes a system of cover up that systematically and consistently not only allows but also encourages the criminals to continue with their sexual abuse of children. David Yallop had friends and confidantes inside the Church, even in the Vatican, who divulged to him many goings-on inside the church, who I believe were motivated by genuine concern for children and due to their own helplessness to do anything else.
Yallop writes, “The secret system that protects the clerical sex abuser was functioning effectively as far back at least as the early part of the seventeenth century when the founder of the Piarist Order, Father Joseph Calasanz, suppressed the sexual abuse of children by his priests from becoming public knowledge. One such paedophile, Father Stefano Cherubini, the member of a well-connected Vatican family, was so successful at covering up his crimes he even succeeded in becoming head of the Order …. As historian Karen Liebrich, in Fallen Order shows, the seventeenth-century secret system had a very modern ring, including ‘promotion for avoidance’ – elevate the abuser away from his victims.” (pp. 11-12)
How this secret system works would be a riddle to outsiders, but insiders who are not outright fools know how this works, or at least can guess how it would work. This reviewer grew up as a pious Catholic, who went to church every Sunday as a child, got educated in a residential Convent school, worked as an assistant to a religious news correspondent for RNS and NC, read Church history and from what Yallop reveals in Beyond Belief, knows precisely how this secret system works.
For the benefit of the outsider, I shall attempt to explain in my own words the background against which the secret system flourishes. Imagine an organisation that has two types of members: first the guys who run the hierarchical organisation with the Pope at the apex and second the laity, the members who avail of the spiritual services offered by the first group in exchange of monetary and other benefits. The membership in this organisation that comes with the acceptance of a mandatory set of fundamental beliefs and unquestioned obedience also guarantee all members certain unverifiable privileges (such as redemption from your sins against fellowmen and a safe passage to the otherworld in afterlife). However, the day-to-day management of the organisation is conducted in secrecy by the first group of members, but all members are called upon to follow a medieval, exclusive Code of Law (Canon Law). They swear allegiance to this Code and are sworn to secrecy in all that transpires within the four walls of the institution. Anything giving a bad name to the Church is anathema that should be kept in confidence by all members, no matter how grave the offence committed by a member is, such as a bishop’s rape of a nun, which occasions such a bad name in the first place. The Church and its reputation come first and should be protected by all members at all cost even if the criminal escapes justice!
The highest form of justice and ethics for this group that extends down to the laity, but that constitutes one single, simple act that is the highest good in the Church is “obedience” to your superior in the Church hierarchy whoever it is. The idea of obedience here is eerily reminiscent of Sicilian gangsters and Mafia rules, but it is not only analogical, but actually exceeds it. To explain what is meant by “obedience” by the Catholics here, I shall quote Sister Lucy Kalapura who was recently dismissed from the Catholic Church in Kerala, India, for supporting a fellow nun who was allegedly raped by a bishop. Sr. Kalapura was dismissed from the Church for “disobedience” of her superiors and her appeal to the Vatican was turned down in October 2019. In a video interview she gave recently, she said that when she joined the Church she took an oath to “obey” all orders and the definition was explained to her beforehand by an example: if she was ordered to plant a tree upside down with the roots up, she was supposed to do it. Sr. Kalapura however has little regard for this example and also for those who adhere to such example and considers “obedience” as obedience to her conscience where she believes God resides, which, according to her, calls for doing justice to the plant.
Any atrocity against another human being or disobedience of the Ten Commandments is termed “sin”. And any “sin” can be redeemed by “confessing” it to the respective superior assigned to you. So, imagine you committed an atrocity, like sexually abusing your neighbour’s child. For some of you it will be really difficult to imagine that. But supposing you did it, you can approach your assigned superior (priest) and confess to him that you did it, and he will order you to do penance! Penance that is handed down to you at the confessional is the ultimate punishment for the Catholic, and this cleans away your sin and gives you a clean chit of innocence, as it were, entitling you to enter heaven if you were to die just after confession! Mentally, you are insulated from the secular state, because you have a covenant with the almighty, the Christian god, the personification of love, which cleanses all your sins, provided you are a member of the club! And you can bet your last shirt that the priest will not turn you over to the police, but hold the crime to the advantage of the Church till they lower you into the shallow grave in a box. Remember, the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was built by the sale of indulgences. An indulgence was a payment to the Catholic Church that purchased an exemption from punishment (penance) for some types of sins.
David Yallop tells us in this book that the penance for the most severe “sins” was excommunication (p. 8), which means they will send the accused out of the Church, which was indeed the rarest of cases, reserved in later years for the Communists, and the excommunication of paedophiles is still unknown. In Christendom such as medieval Europe, this meant the affected person was indeed shunned by the whole society. Fasting, renunciation of some necessities and luxuries, and so on were some of the penances that were handed out. For heretics and non-Catholics who refused to convert in the good old times of Christianity, inhuman torture and burning at the stake were common punishments!
In my personal experience as a Catholic child, having been initiated into the club as a child born into a family of members, I was never forced by my parents to go for confession and I rarely did, though I was shown the ropes of confessing very early. However, when I was 14, I had to join the Convent-run boarding school for one year and soon learnt that every Wednesday at a certain time of the late afternoon I had to go for a compulsory confession. A priest from the neighbouring college came to hear us, one by one. As I lined up, waiting for my turn, I was always preparing in my mind a list of sins that I committed the past week. Since I was an innocent good-natured kid, I believed what they said about Jesus loving the sinners, and I was too embarrassed to tell the priest that I have not sinned. So I confessed pure fiction. In the story I spun into the priest’s ear, I was all the time beating up a friend, making fun of the teachers, calling the girls bad names and finally made my confession of the true sin I was committing – my lies. The penance I received was mostly 10 Hail Marys or 5 Our Fathers and so on, which I had to kneel down in the church and utter before I could go out and join my non-Catholic mates. So, once you have confessed your sins and asked for remission, you are free like a wild bird to go out and commit your next sin or atrocity. Because, you have to have something for the next Wednesday!
In such an environment, every priest who sexually abused a child had regular remissions and this applies all the way up to the Pope. The first sex abuse case I came across as a child of 12 years was when a boy of my age I met at a Catholic 3-day retreat at St. Albert’s School, Cochin, told me he was touched inappropriately by a priest during the night. He also told me these things were common in such retreats. I was taken aback then and stopped going for these retreats without giving any reasons to my parents and from then onwards had to pay a monetary fine to my school headmistress for every missed retreat. This early warning stood me in good stead when another incident occurred sometime later.
On my mother’s orders, I was waiting in our parish church premises (St. Francis Assisi Cathedral, Cochin) for my younger brother to conclude his Catechism class required for admission into the Church as a full-fledged member by accepting what they call the Holy Communion, when a young priest accosted me and enquired what I was doing. I explained and then he hugged me and planted a kiss on my face, which promptly gave me a fright as well as revulsion. Then he asked me to accompany him to his room, which I refused. Fortunately at that time, a group of people exited from a nearby building, among them my brother, which gave me the occasion to make my escape. Since then I came across many instances of clerical sex abuse of third parties in and around Cochin City where we lived, and how some priests were beaten up by relatives of sex abuse victims and how these priests disappeared from their churches and new guys took over. However, I know of no cases that ever escaped the four walls of the church or institution.
David Yallop explains this process of concealment with concrete examples and how the priests holding high positions in the hierarchy behaved in specific instances in this book. In all cases it went on something like this: a child complains to her parents, or the parent or a counsellor finds out about the abuse somehow and they decide to approach the bishop or parish priest, depending on who was superior to the perpetrator. The bishop or senior priest would be patient and hear everything in sympathy, then ask the parents and the victim to pray intensely for the sinner, so that he turns to god! The guide would also warn the victim against temptations and to exercise restraint in such circumstances. Then the victims and their families will have to pray and continue to pray till kingdom come, if they don’t decide otherwise and call the police.
Yallop mentions a secret document that surfaced recently, but which originated in 1962, at the end of the so-called Second Reformation (Vatican II) of the Church. This paper, Instructions on the Manner of Proceeding in Cases of Solicitation, was published by the Prefect of the Holy Office, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, with the approval of the then Pope, John XXIII. It deals with the secret trial arrangements of any cleric charged with the offence of soliciting sexual favours from an individual whose confession he is hearing.
Yallop writes: “The document has recently been described by lawyers as ‘a blueprint for deception and concealment’ while apologists have argued that as the Sacrament of Penance is protected by a shroud of absolute secrecy, the procedures for dealing with this ‘ecclesiastical’ crime also invoke secrecy, putting the offender above the criminal law of the land. This was precisely the position that the Vatican has taken for many centuries on all acts of clerical paedophilia perpetrated in or out of the confessional box.” (pp. 12-13)
The floodgates open
The secret system took the first blow in 1984 when a lawyer filed the first ‘clergy malpractice’ lawsuit in Los Angeles, USA, on behalf of Rita Milla. Rita was abused as a teenager at the confessional by her confessor Father Santiago Tamayo, who told her that “God wants you to do all you can to keep his priests happy … it is your duty” (p. 14). When she was 18, Tamayo put pressure on her to make his fellow priests also happy and eventually persuaded her to make seven priests happy. One of them made her pregnant. Father Tamayo collected USD 450 from the fellow priests and sent her to the Philippines to have the child there with the promise that the Bishop Abaya in the Philippines would provide the financial assistance necessary for the upkeep and education of the baby. However the aid did not materialise and Rita approached Bishop Ward in her California diocese. He too refused help and Rita and her mother approached the court. The case was dismissed by the courts citing statutory time limitation.
About the case, Yallop writes: “When attorney Gloria Allred called a press conference in 1984 to draw attention to the case it transpired that all seven priests had vanished. Far from following the precise steps ordered by the Vatican in such cases, the Los Angeles archdiocese had ordered all of them to leave the country and to stay abroad until further notice …. Letters also confirmed that the archdiocese had regularly sent money not to Rita but to her abusers hiding in the Philippines.” (p. 15)
The people who were responsible for the cover up and for aiding the criminals, like Bishop Roger Mahoney and Cardinal Timothy Manning, went unpunished by the department for canonical discipline headed by Cardinal Ratzinger who later became Pope Benedict VI. The next to get prosecuted was Father Gilbert Gauthe of Vermilion, Louisiana, who had a proclivity for abusing altar boys and even photographing them in various sexual acts. He had molested more than 100 boys in four parishes he had served. Despite efforts to cover up by Archbishop Philip Hannan in Louisiana, the Church ended up paying USD 4.2 million as settlement money.
Though Pope John Paul II explained that sexual abuse was a case peculiar to the USA initially, hundreds of cases soon surfaced in Ireland, Canada, Australia and countries in Europe including the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Austria and Germany. That cases were not reported in other places need not be taken as the Catholic priests elsewhere were saints, but we should surmise that the secret system continued and continues to prevail in these places.
Yallop tells us in the first page of the preface written in August 2010 that “the financial cost to the United States Church alone since the conspiracy began to unravel in 1983 is USD 6 billion, and rising. The cost in Ireland is in excess of USD 2 billion. It will cost the rest of the world at least another USD 2 billion”. The author indicates that a substantial part of this money went to lawyers as well. Actually, the exact amount spent by the Church for quelling sex abuse cases since it all began is unknown. Many of the cases were scuttled by believers in high positions of the justice system in these countries. In one specific instance District Attorney Harry Connick Senior of New Orleans suppressed files indicting a criminal priest for two years but when he was finally caught in the act, he confessed in a TV interview that he had not filed charges against the criminal priest because he did not want “to embarrass Holy Mother the Church” (p. 34).
Yallop writes, “Despite orchestrated cover-ups by the Catholic Church, the deliberate suppression by elements of the media who were vulnerable to pressure from the Church hierarchy, devout District Attorneys, judges and police officers seeking to protect ‘the good name of the Church’, the truth was getting out and not only in North America. The abuse was not confined to one continent. To even confront a fragment of the evidence that I have acquired over the past five years is to journey to the heart of darkness.” (pp. 34-35)
Other than individual priests, Yallop names whole congregations that have been perpetrating sexual abuse of children in several countries, as if the abuse were part of the essential disciplines they adhered to. The Christian Brothers Congregation (founded in 1802) is one such (p. 31). The Legionaries of Christ (founded in 1941) is another and stands out for its evil nature right from its inception. The serious crimes against children came out only when these victims were old, so the crimes went on for a pretty long time.
The Legionaries of Christ was founded by Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, who became its first superior general. He was a favourite of Pope John Paul II for what I believe his evangelisation skills displayed in Mexico and other parts of Latin America. His mission statement was “to extend the Kingdom of Christ in society … Our fundamental mission is to bring all people to know love and share Christ with others, with Apostolates and institutions in the fields of education, service to the poor and evangelization.” (p. 133)
Maciel was also a serial abuser of children who were recruited by him for founding the order. He went on committing these crimes for three decades, from the 1940s into the 60s (p. 71). Nine of the victims came out against him in 1989, and a tenth victim came out against him and sent a complaint to Vatican in 1995. The tenth victim was already on his death bed but was prompted to take this action because he came across a statement by the Pope John Paul II describing the villain as “an efficacious guide to youth” (p. 75). The other victims brought a case against Maciel under canon laws and did not seek compensation or even apologies but only sought accountability by the Church for Maciel’s sexual misconduct, but the Vatican halted the investigation in 2001 without “giving reasons or details” (p. 75).
A darling of the Vatican for his services to the Church, Maciel was aided and abetted by the hierarchy right up to the top. Ratzinger, who was in charge of bringing these culprits to book during 1982 and 2006, not only refused to take action against Maciel but instead ordered all investigations to stop “to spare the Holy Father any embarrassment” (p. 133). Yallop tells us in no uncertain terms that Pope John Paull II also knew about the accusations against Maciel, had willingly ignored sworn affidavits against him, and had protected active paedophiles including Cardinal Groer and Maciel for many years (p. 133). With help from Vatican, Maciel died an old man, but the scandals increased, since new skeletons tumbled down from the closet. Yallop writes, “…. apart from persistent and continuous abuse of young boys entrusted to his care, had also indulged in sexual affairs with women. A daughter, now a thirty-year-old woman, emerged from her comfortable middle-class life in Madrid where she owned a number of residential properties, courtesy of her father, who had supplied the funds” (p. 134). At the time of the founder’s death, the order had assets worth USD 25 billion and its annual budget was USD 65 million.
Maciel is the typical example of a vile criminal who did a good job for the Catholic Church in extending its financial and spiritual empire and for which he was adequately remunerated and awarded and whose service made at least two Popes forgive and forget his crimes. For these Popes and the Church as an institution, the vast number of child victims and their ruined lives has absolutely no value.
State of the crime
Almost 10 years have passed since David Yallop published this book, but the number of sexual abuse cases continues to surface almost every day in different parts of the world. This tells us that the Church has done nothing to stop the crime or to convince its people that this is just an aberration like everywhere else, but not a general rule for its priests. The peculiarities of the situation – the crime against children who are first of all conditioned to feel guilty for all transgressions against themselves, the confessional box, the carefully constructed delicacy around the Church to prevent disrepute for the institution in society and so on – prevent the crimes from coming out, or if they come out at all, they come very late in the lives of the criminals and their victims to ask for any justice. Only a small fraction of the actual crimes come out even today and from all the crimes that make it to court, only a miniscule of the criminals are duly punished.
The clergy who are responsible for the crimes as well as those inside the Church who are supposed to discipline them or punish them all assume an air of solemn piety and are trained adequately to ward off all accusations in myriad ways. As we have seen, the moral culpability of the Church as a whole, despite the great acting skills of the Popes and Cardinals in condemning sexual abuse of children in the Church, is real and true and not just unsubstantiated allegations. Furthermore, Yallop mentions members of the police force and the judiciary colluding in various countries to let off these culprits.
Despite big announcement against clerical sexual abuse in 2014, Pope Francis proves himself to be following in the footsteps of his predecessors and covers up the crimes of his priests and bishops. All that seem to matter, or rather have a higher priority than child abuse is evangelization and making money for the Church at the expense of crimes against kids and women who are at their mercy. The Church’s incessant preoccupation with material gains is also encouraging moral turpitude among its rank and file and there is no mechanism that we can see, other than breast-beating among sensitive, useless believers, to turn the tide even in the ‘developed’ world, like the USA, UK, Germany, and so on. This moral turpitude is more visible and rampant where the Church has proportionately more influence in society and politics, though we cannot say under any circumstances that these are non-existent in any one place. People seldom realise that the Catholic Church stands for its own existence and selfish gains at the expense of the whole of humanity.
The reverence with which the Catholic religion is considered by world bodies is discerned in the acceptance of Vatican in the United Nations as a permanent observer state since April 6, 1964. It was the fascist Prime Minister of Italy, Benito Mussolini, who bestowed Vatican the “state” status under the Lateran Treaty in 1929. Once they got this status they started influencing the League of Nations through l’Union Catholique d’Etudes Internationales, a lobby group whose members mainly comprised Catholic activists employed as League officials. Then after the Second World War, the United Nations admitted the Vatican as a ‘permanent observer’, the reason for inclusion I believe being the enthusiasm and wish of the overwhelming number of Christian believers in the club. Is this honour given to the Vatican justified?
In a deposition by Bishop Raymond Goedert of Chicago to settle six sex abuse cases in July 2009, he writes about his motivation to abet crimes: “I knew that the civil law considered sexual abuse a crime but Church law required me to treat such matters confidentially. I simply would not talk about the cases to anyone except those who had a right to know within the Diocese.” Yallop comments on the same page: “The Church believed, and in many quarters continues to believe, that it functions on a higher plane than man-made laws, although of course Church law is also man-made.” (p. 175)
This basic attitude of those inside the Church and even outside, of being “on a higher plane than man-made laws” explains why legal proceedings against bishops and priests tend to drag on and on and all the criminals escape their due punishment. The case involving Bishop Goedert, like numerous others, revealed to the open world how rotten this Church is and how it protects and helps the criminal priests. Yallop tells us through the words of Marc Pearlman, one of the attorneys who represented the victims: “What emerges here is that the interests of the institution come first then the man, the perpetrator of the crime. And somewhere in the distance are the victims of the crime.”
Here is an institution steeped in crime, taking the law of every land in its own hands and abetting crime and moral turpitude. Many high profile crimes including murder and rape have been reported in the Indian Catholic Church, but the prosecution lacks teeth and there is no commitment from law enforcement authorities to bring the culprits to book. Most governments look upon them as if they possess something more than ordinary human beings. Why is this criminal institution given such a high position among nation states? Why are they given diplomatic immunity in the various nations of the world? The Catholic Church should be stripped of all privileges given by its UN status and the culprits brought to book for all the crimes committed against humanity.
Featured Image: Church and State