When considered in conjunction with the evidence of Vatican condoning of such cover-ups even in papal statements on the issue from John XXIII to Benedict XVI (pre-papacy for him), one must ask finally, what does this tell us about the Roman Catholic Church?
The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland connived with the authorities in a cover-up spanning decades to shield paedophile priests from prosecution, an official report concluded yesterday. Hundreds of crimes against children were not reported as the four archbishops of the Archdiocese of Dublin remained wedded to the “maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church and the preservation of its assets”.
Instead, the church hierarchy shuffled the sex offenders from parish to parish, allowing them to continue to prey on victims. In some cases paedophile priests were even promoted. The 750-page report by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse on the Dublin archdiocese — the second significant inquiry this year to expose appalling levels of sexual abuse of minors in Ireland under the aegis of the Roman Catholic Church — said that it had uncovered a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy throughout the period that it investigated between 1975 and 2004.
It said that the State had helped to create the culture of cover-up and that senior police officers regarded priests as “outside their remit”.
“The State authorities facilitated that cover-up by not fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure that the law was applied equally to all and allowing the Church institutions to be beyond the reach of the normal law enforcement processes,” it concluded.
This, I think: That its ecclesiology is fundamentally flawed in it's agoraphobically top-down model, one which prizes the interests of the institution so highly, and which cannot ever admit error or failure--individuals fail the Church, the Church itself cannot err. By identifying itself completely with the Body of Christ, the Church heavily disincentivizes itself from acknowledging systemic problems--the "rogue priest" model is the only one that the Church can bear to recognize, because to do otherwise sets up a cognitive dissonance between its theological claims and its behavior. That gap, perceived outside the Church as the rankest hypocrisy, is in fact denial of the most psychologically necessary kind. To believe it, one must shift the topic from the cover up to the offense itself, perpetrated by a number of priests not much greater than that percentage of abusers in society at large, a defense the Church has made at the highest levels. But it is, of course, the concerted cover up over decades by men widely deemed holy and even heroic within Christendom--John XXIII, a hero to liberal Catholics, and John Paul II, a hero to conservatives, to name but two. Or, one can, as did British MP Ann Widdicombe in the Intelligence Squared Debate I linked previously, de-emphasize the cover up, and the sex abuse, and spin it as overly authoritarian discipline typical of the time, and even (as did Widdicombe) accuse Church critics of a double standard, by unfairly demanding that the RCC know better than the times. (This of course set her up for the deadly riposte of Stephen Fry: if the Church cannot be expected to better than secular institutions, he asked, his voice rising for the first time in the debate, then "What are you for?").
The fact is, having one man, and a small circle of princes, responsible for the preservation of a 2,000 year institution which it believes to be the true incarnation if Christ's Body on Earth is to put an insupportable burden on that man and that circle of men. It cannot be maintained, because it attributes perfection to the necessarily imperfect. And that leads to covering up the gap between the Heavenly Image and the Earthly Reality.