At the height of his calling and power, Australian, George Cardinal Pell, was the treasurer of the Vatican. In that position, he was the third most ranked figure after the Pope, the leader of the 1.4 billion believers of the Roman Catholic Church. Put it this way, Pell was a heartbeat away from being Pope, himself.
Last week, he was way at the bottom of the rung of, even the most menial of the Catholic followers; in fact, Pell, 77, is heading for jail as he is facing a two-year prison sentence in his native Melbourne, charged and sentenced with sexually abusing minors, way back in the 1970s when he was a bishop.
Pell’s tribulation came at the time Pope Francis had convened a conference at the Vatican to address the problem of paedophilia, which the Church prelates have been globally and roundly been accused of perpetrating on their most innocent young followers.
He is not alone: an Indian nun (name not yet released) of the Missionaries of Jesus in Kerala State of southwestern India, accused her bishop, Franco Mulakkal, 54, of raping her over a period of two years between 2014 and 2016. In that time she became pregnant a number of times; and the bishop forced her to abort the pregnancies. He denied the charges – lies upon murder?!
These and other similar revelations have put the Church in a bind. The people who are supposed to be the “the shepherds of the sheep”, have turned to “feast” on the sheep in the most slanderous manner.
At the Vatican meet, some of the faithful joined in this condemnation. Invited Nigerian nun, Sister Veronica Openibo, of the Order of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus; among the other 190 church leaders, attending Pope Francis’ four-day conversation on preventing abuse against children, astutely shamed the church leadership as a whole for their silence on such crimes.
“I have heard many Africans and Asians say, ‘This is not our issue; it is the problem in Europe, the Americas, Canada and Australia’,” Openibo asserted. “However, I worked throughout Nigeria and heard countless stories of [sexual abuse]; that there are huge issues of poverty, illness, war and violence, in some countries in the Global South, does not mean that the area of sexual abuse should be downplayed or ignored.”
In the case of the rapes in Kerala, that is what the Church sought to do! Before her colleague nuns held a street protest last year against Mulakkal’s abuse, the unnamed nun had written to the Vatican four times, and the other nuns also wrote letters, asking for it to intervene, but to no avail.
Instead, the unnamed 44 year-old nun, reported the matter to the Indian Police; and Mulakkal was arrested. The Vatican also then reacted by temporarily suspending Mulakkal. Last week, Pope Francis, called the meeting to address the issue, most likely after the cacophony of the other global voices; and the open embarrassment to the Church. And that was what Sister Openibo succinctly brought to the attention of the world.
She was eminently backed by German, Reinhardt Cardinal Marx, who revealed to the summit that “church files about abusers had been destroyed, victims silenced; and church procedures ignored, canceled or overridden, in order to keep the scandals under wraps.”
Such behaviour is brought into sharp focus in the case of the Kerala nun. According to unofficial polls, the majority of the Christians believe that Bishop Mulakkal did not commit any crime; and instead they wanted the “offending” nun to have been arrested for “tarnishing the image and name of the Church”.
Admitted, we all sin but the Catholic Church leaders have taken vows to defend and uphold the faith; and not to traduce God’s spirituality in the most brazen manner that some of them have done. This touches on the issue of celibacy that the Church requires for its priests and nuns.
Apostle Paul, the most prolific contributor to the New Testament of the Bible, touches on this contradiction between unbridled service to God and reactions to human frailties. In the Book of 1 Corinthians 7: 32-34, he addresses the issue of whether a priest should be married or not. “An unmarried man is anxious about the things of Lord… whereas a married man is anxious about the things of the world; how he may please his wife, and he is divided.”
In fact the Church has been divided and has not resolved this issue over the centuries. Apostle Peter, who the Catholic Church regards as the first pope, was married. The reference to this is clear in the Book of Matthew 8:14, as he talks of Peter’s mother-in-law.
But what has now emerged is largely not the practice. And this has led to the countless “sexual aberrations”. No wonder the Pentecostals, Evangelicals and the “Savedees” are castigating the Roman Catholic Church believers for not being truly apostolic Christians!