Where is God when a priest masturbates a boy with one hand and then proceeds to conduct Sunday mass holding the communion elements in the other hand?
Where is God when a ring of predatory priests secretly trades pornographic photographs of their victims and then go about ministering to the people?
Where is God when a priest forces a child to perform oral sex and also orally raped the boy and then squirt holy water from a bottle into the victim's mouth "to purify him."
And where is God when a Cardinal sexually abused a 16-year-old boy 50 years ago and then spent the next 50 leading the church as if nothing had happened? (I try to provide my view on all these questions in the postscript 2* below).
Revelations that Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania had sexually abused about 1000 people over seven decades broke out last Thursday. Altogether, the jurors' report ran up to 884 pages where the full extent of the deviant sexual acts were finally made known to the world at large.
This is the second massive scandal to hit the global stage since Boston Globe newspaper reported similar widespread sexual depravity in 2002.
The despicable tale is repeated ad nauseam: It involves a priest, a bishop or a cardinal. It involves a child, an innocent boy brought up in the Catholic faith. And it involves the church covering all all up, sweeping under the rug, transferring the paedophile priest to places with even more defenceless boys to exploit, or sending the predatory priest for counselling, therapy and rehabilitation, and assuming he has repented, releasing the defiler into the open pen of unsuspecting and trusting young boys.
It reports that: "the grand jury on Tuesday released the findings of the largest investigation of sex abuse in the US Catholic Church, finding that 301 priest in the state had sexually abused minors over the past 70 years. It contained graphic examples of children being groomed and sexually abused by priest."
And, "similar reports have emerged in Europe, Australia and Chile, prompting lawsuits and investigations, sending dioceses into bankruptcy and undercutting the moral authority of the leadership of the Catholic Church which has some 1.2 billion members around the world."
This time, Pope Francis has his hands full, with the haunting cries of the victims and their family members demanding justice.
Personally, I felt that these words by the Church simply fell short of calming the public outrage:-
"Victims should know that the Pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority, and the Church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent. There are two words that can express the feelings faced with these horrible crimes: shame and sorrow."
Former priest-turned-psychiatrist Richard Sipe argues that "the prevalence of masturbation in seminaries, and the ready forgiveness in confession, "forms a cycle of guilt that binds clerics and confessors together wherein secret sexual transgressions become minimalized and trivialized - even sex with minors becomes just another sin to be forgiven.""
Alas, where is the large millstone to hang around offending priests' neck for the seven decades of ecclesiastical immunity and impunity they have enjoyed when they are supposed to be standing in the gap as their good shepherds?
Mind you, if you so desire to trace the root of this sin, the seven decades of sexual abuse in the Church is nothing compared to the first reported case of child abuse, which stretches as far back as 153 AD.
That case gave rise to the first law against abuse of boys by its clergy and it was only passed at the Council of Elvira in 306 AD.
Imagine that, the sin of the Holy Father have since been passing down from one generation to another until this day and age, and the papacy is undeniably the most enduring institution in the history of mankind.
No empire, rulership or kingdom have lasted this long (and continues to do so) since the time Jesus pronounced on Peter that upon this rock I shall build my church until the time the Pennsylvanian jury convicted 301 priests for a sin as old, stubborn and formidable as the history of the Church itself.
If the truth indeed sets believers free and Christ is their answer, one has to wonder what freedom has the Church been giving to her very own clergymen and what answer have they been offering to their vulnerable flock for the widespread abuses of such freedom?
And if the church stands as an institution to reform souls of all colours, cultures and creeds, it is indeed the greatest tragedy for her now to admit to the reality that after 2000 years of her humble origin, the most urgent call for reform is still within the ecclesiastical leadership itself.
Mark Twain once said: "The church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example."
Mark Twain once said: "The church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example."
Lesson? If there is one lesson here, it has to be this: -
"There is nothing more frightening, more damaging and more condemnable than a religious belief held together by a cloistered group of men who not only wield power but supposed legitimacy to do as they please in total disregard for the pain and sorrow their actions have caused to those they have sworn to teach, lead and protect."
Who can then forget the often-time-ignored warning of Lord Acton (in 1887) when he said these words which captured the essence of the tyranny of such pontifical leadership: -
"I cannot accept your cannon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely...There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it."
Is there any doubt that power, religion and sex combined would invariably bring out the worst in those who wield and abuse them and those who assist in the perpetuation of the office of those who wield and abuse them?
Wouldn't such sexual depravity be duly arrested and punished if not for the hundreds of priestly overseers who strode to protect, hide and transfer the offending priest away from the public eye because they chose to protect the delusional image of the infallible papacy rather than the innocent victims?
I guess the words of English Historian AJP Taylor would be most fitting here: "All change in history, all advance, comes from the non-conformists. If there had been no troublemakers, no dissenters, we should still be living in caves."
What therefore failed the Church in this fallen priest saga is not the lack of church moralists supremely equipped in knowing right from wrong, but the want of courage to act on that knowledge at the cost of their coveted position and priestly title.
Let me end with an irony.
In December 1979, then Bishop Ratzinger, who had been accused of knowing about the sexual scandals in the early days and did nothing to bring the guilty priest to account, defended the decision to expel Professor Hans Kung as an official theologian of the Roman Catholic Church on the ground that "his writing cast doubt on several of the most basic doctrines of his church".
Professor Kung was known then as the modern day Luther, who had been faithfully knocking on the Wittenberg's door to provoke a second Reformation in the Catholic Church.
Be that as it may, this is what Bishop Ratzinger said to justify the expulsion of Professor Kung: -
"The Christian believer is a simple person: bishops should protect the faith of their little people against the power of the intellectuals."
Mm...somehow I can't get the words "simple person" and "little people" out of my mind.
I guess that is how the Church sees her millions of members worldwide. It is this superior position that views her members in diminutive scale that grants the Church such blatant and wide berth to do as they please, which included protecting the abusers and silencing their victims in order to uphold her burnished image at all costs.
Alas, when Jesus called to Peter with this commission that "upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," the church had however for the longest time rested her foundation on another rock as this latest scandal has unravelled.
It is a rock that had blindingly elevated the priesthood to dizzying heights of usurpative power with the goal of preserving only the form of that call and not its substance; in other words, to wantonly reap the profit that the call brings and avoid the sacrifice, the cost, and the Cross to bear altogether.
Is it then finally time to return to the Rock of Ages, the timeless Rock that is based on the foundation of Calvary, the crucification of self, and the legacy of the risen Christ after more than 2000 years of struggling with this unwieldy sexual beast buried deep in the catacombs of the Catholic faith and practice?
Well, only time will tell. But I may just be too naive to think that this time the Church have learned her lesson for good. Cheerz.
Just read the extract below...(points 5 to 6 left me speechless. I imagine Jesus would have stormed the Vatican City and overturned their tables and chairs for turning the House of His Royal Priesthood into a priestly den of conniving pedophiles).
"Here is how the grand jury, in caustic terms, described the Catholic Church’s methods for covering up abuse and protecting priests:
First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say “rape”; say “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues.”
Second, don’t conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.
Third, for an appearance of integrity, send priests for “evaluation” at church-run psychiatric treatment centers. Allow these experts to “diagnose” whether the priest was a pedophile, based largely on the priest’s “self-reports,” and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child.
Fourth, when a priest does have to be removed, don’t say why. Tell his parishioners that he is on “sick leave,” or suffering from “nervous exhaustion.” Or say nothing at all.
Fifth, even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults.
Sixth, if a predator’s conduct becomes known to the community, don’t remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new location where no one will know he is a child abuser.
Finally and above all, don’t tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don’t treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, “in house.”"
The words of Geoffrey Robertson QC who wrote the book "The Case of the Pope" that called for the prosecution of the previous Pope cannot be more apt and timely here: -
"The priesthood offers incomparable opportunity and spiritual power for paedophiles, and some have deviously infiltrated it, but most offenders appear to be psycho-sexually immature, often in denial about their condition and hoping that the rigours of the priesthood will protect them from themselves. Instead, they find a brotherhood, a sodality that closes ranks to protect them not from themselves but from the consequences of their actions, because the overriding philosophy of their superiors has been to avoid scandal to the church."
Postscript 2* (forewarning: long, at times, aimless screed)
Where is God? Where is God when a 7-seven-old girl is recuperating in the hospital from a tonsil operation and a priest who was on a visit, flushed with lust, locked the door behind him and proceeded to rape her in that state?
Where is he then when a defenceless child of God is being abused for years without end in sight by a "man of God"? Why does David still pants after God when men around him say to him all day long: "Where is your God?"
Well, it is easy to find God when all things are going well. But where is he went everything around you begins to fall apart, one by one, your business/career, your finances, your health and your loved ones? We readily embrace the Prosperity Gospel of the modern age without thinking because that is the God that comes closest to resemble the deity we worship or want to worship.
For that reason and nothing else, our default position is to give our finances to appease him. We give because such a God promises to prosper us in return, grant us long life, make a way without the loss and pain, and lead us into the path of romantic happiness, always. It actually reminds me of the vending machines in Singapore (recently declared illegal) that promise their patrons a lucky lottery strike at some time of the day.
There is thus nothing that should impede us or stand in the way of believing in such a God. He is just undoubtedly un-doubtable. It is therefore in our nature to run into such a church when such a promise is offered at the pulpit from an all-dolled-up preacher whose mouth can say nothing else but wealth, health and longevity. The honey pot of faith just keeps overflowing, the working bees cannot help but gatecrash.
Alas, maybe I am deluded. Maybe the many Saints of God are deluded. Maybe Saint John of the Cross was deluded. Maybe Saint Therese of Lisieux was deluded too. Maybe even Mother Teresa was deluded when she cried out - "So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them...because of the blasphemy...If there be God...please forgive me...When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven there is such a convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. I am told God loves me...and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul." But, in her delusion, in her immeasurable pain, she still held on to Jesus' coattails even unto death. How's that for being deluded?
I then join them in this conspiracy of delusion because I too have so many unanswered questions, I too raised my thoughts to Heaven only to find a convicting emptiness and like sharp knives they return to hurt my soul, especially with what is happening in the Catholic Church. And I can't imagine how the victims and their parents are feeling right now.
I therefore join this rare group of Catholic Saints in their delusion to still believe in a God even when the apparent fact is such that there is nothing but every reason to leave this delusion for a saner reality.
But then, I wonder, what is true delusion? What keeps men running around in this world with no end in sight piling up one earthly treasure after another? What keeps them so busy in their restless climb up the summit of power, wealth and fame only to find that meaning is neither found there too?
Alas, we find a God that resembles so much like what we have been thinking about him all day and all night long that he is no longer a God that is independent apart from us, or exist outside of our imagination. For this reason and this reason alone, we cannot think of a God that can rise above our wish-list conception of him.
Our faith falls short because our imagination fails us - even without us knowing it. We are kept cosy in the bubble of our own delusion. We are unable, or worse, dare not think beyond the proximate prosperity that is promised by men who themselves are happily prospering from the failure of our collective imagination. They think they have found the key to faith by promising everything good without the bad because the bad is an immediate turn off and the good turns on many things, especially the assured attendances of thousands every good Sabbath.
As such, I always believe the first step to believing in tough times is to leave a frail imagination behind; to leave the delusion that keeps us tethered to the glittering mirage on the ground and never look up to the endless expanse above us. C.S. Lewis once said: "I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity."
Truly, I don't know why or where is God when those unspeakable things happen to such lovely, endearing and treasured children of God. I have no answers in a way that can satisfy the mind of one who is earnestly seeking for an answer or two. Personally, some of the darkness of the soul that we are traversing through can be ruthlessly painful and piercing like sharp knives returning to tear us apart.
But I'd like to think that wherever God is, he has never left. I may never know why he did not intervene, what was he even thinking (right?), but I know why he did not leave. They may have nailed him and tortured him, but he chose to never leave. He never left because I truly believe he knew something that we never knew (or often overlook or fail to imagine) in a trial, no matter how unjust the situation may be. He never left because he saw something in a trial that is even more redeeming than when times are good, or when everything is going your way. He saw redemption that is beyond what this world can entice or offer. He saw enduring transformation when a soul is taken from a place where there is only pain, sorrow and suffering. That is why he never left for he had already said that in this world, you will have trouble, yet take heart, I have overcome it. He saw value beyond the value of this world.
This may not be the answer many are looking for, but I have never intended it to be an answer because each trial we face is unique to us. We will just have to seek our own answer or answers that come closest to giving us a sense of closure over time.
Alas, I may not have found mine, at least not fully or completely, but I know deeply that it is never my heart desire (now or ever) to live out my faith and hope for a lack or failure of imagination.