On February 21st to 24th, Pope Francis will be holding a summit at the Vatican on pedophilia among priests. It’s about time since allegations first became public in the 1980s. Because the Nazi pope who proceeded him was so compromised on this issue, Pope Francis was likely elected to deal with the public relations problem since he is a master of the grandstanding gesture. He announced a “zero tolerance” policy toward rape of children but in fact nothing has changed within the church except that now dioceses publish lists of accused priests. Meanwhile allegations of widespread sexual criminality are exploding in every country. There are two excellent documentary series on Netflix that deal with this issue. One is titled “The Keepers” about the 1969 murder of Cathy Cesnik, a Catholic nun in the Baltimore archdiocese. She was a beloved teacher in a Catholic school where a local priest was molesting young girls in unimaginable ways. Two of her students set out to investigate the unsolved cold case crime. What they unearthed is a landmine exposing the brutal lengths the hierarchy goes to protect priest rapists, the passivity of the laity in not demanding the Vatican deal with these crimes, & the indifference or collusion of civil authorities with the Church hierarchy in covering up the crimes.
The second documentary series is titled “Examination of Conscience,” about pederasty within the Spanish Catholic Church. This series really gets to the heart of the Vatican’s strategy in dealing with this worldwide crisis within the Church. “The Keepers” dealt with this but more tangentially by showing how the archdiocese lobbied vigorously against extending the statutes of limitation for prosecuting priests even though it takes most child victims over 20 years to process what happened to them & then begin to heal–if they ever do. Many suffer addiction, other self-destructive behaviors, suicide, & are never able to process it. “Examination of Conscience” goes straight to the Vatican with its accusations & with substantial documentation of their allegations.
The most important thing revealed is the way the Church hierarchy uses theology & guilt-baiting to turn priest rapists into the victims. First they start with talking about sin rather than crime & about forgiveness rather than prosecutorial justice. They coax & manipulate accusers into keeping all allegations secret & confessional, they offer hush money & if those tactics don’t work they resort to intimidation, litigation, & denouncing the victims as gold-diggers going after “deep pockets” solely for financial gain.
The Spanish documentary explores the social shunning faced by the accusers. The laity in the dioceses, often even family members, will often side with the accused priests, going so far as to protest for them against the accusers & again civil authorities are reluctant to take on the Church. That’s one thing that makes these two documentaries so remarkable. They show the strength of character & determination of victims in standing up to all this despite the threats & social isolation that they know will result. What’s remarkable is that child sexual assault victims already operate from a place of deep isolation since they were made to feel, during the perpetration of the crimes against them, that they provoked the assaults.
“Examination of Conscience” is particularly important for investigating if there have been improvements under Pope Francis’ “zero tolerance” policy. They offer damning evidence that nothing has changed except the public image of how the Church is dealing with the rape of children. We can hope against hope that the summit later this month will finally establish a process of turning over these priests to civil authorities & ceasing to lobby against rape victim rights. But that is highly unlikely without much greater protest from the laity within the Church & much greater prosecutorial aggression by civil authorities. Clearly the Vatican, as the largest employer of child rapists in the world, cannot be trusted to police the criminals it harbors.
This is the trailer for “Examination of Conscience”: https://www.netflix.com/title/80991879?