Last night I was reading the April 2 Bookreporter.com Newsletter, one of my favorite sources for discovering new releases.
Their reviews included the usual assortment of mysteries and suspense novels for my “Must Read” list, but this one stopped me cold:
THE GUILT PROJECT: Rape, Morality, and Law by Vanessa Place (Criminal Law)
Assuming a society can and must be judged by the way it treats its most despicable members, THE GUILT PROJECT looks at the way the American legal system defines, prosecutes and punishes sex offenders, how it has transformed our conception of who is guilty and how they ought to be treated, and how this has come to undo our deeper humanity. Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman.
By coincidence, my television, sound muted, was showing footage of a Good Friday procession of Cardinals and the Pope in their white lace vestments and fancy shoes and headgear in the Vatican City.
The irony really hit me. We have released sex offenders and predators in Florida living under bridges because a state statute prohibits them from being within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, etc., not to mention the city and county ordinances which add even more bite. Slow-witted, horny doofuses, who thought that a 14-year-old flattered by the attention of a ‘man’ was fair game, now live in rodent-like conditions with depraved and demented deviants and perverts. No matter how sickening and disgusting the lot, this is no solution.
When I was a child, I took piano lessons at the small Catholic school where the nuns lived upstairs. When whacking my knuckles with a hickory stick didn’t stop the wrong notes, Sister Carol would take me to the foot of the stairs and call out, “Sister!” and another nun would eventually appear from behind the curtain at the stair landing.
Sister Carol would tell her, “Set another place for dinner. Mary Alese will be staying over this evening to practice her lesson until she plays her lesson satisfactorily.”
Of course the threat was never carried out, but I still remember my anxiety from simply seeing that mysterious curtain, of imagining my walk home in the dark… if they allowed me to leave. I was six years old.
It is with this limited perspective that I think about the children in real peril, who learned in the most horrifying way possible what can wait behind curtains and in dark corners, children who experienced trauma, pain, and terror in what they believed were holy places. The very thought gives the Matthew 19:14 admonition of Jesus to Let the children come to me a creepy overtone.
The response of the Vatican to the growing list of abuses has been not just underwhelming, but sometimes downright disgusting… like the Good Friday service where a senior Vatican priest, in the presence of the Pope, compared the outrage of the world about the scandals to the persecution of the Jews. Later, of course, another official made a statement to distance the Vatican from the remark, even as Vatican lawyers worked on their legal defense to prevent the Pope from having to testify in an Arizona abuse case where one of the pieces of evidence is a 2001 instructional letter from the Pope (still a Cardinal at his writing of the letter) to report all abuse cases to him and keep them secret. There is more to read about Arizona abuse cases here, this one concerning a priest so swarmy even his bishop thought him “satanic.”
I know that no legitimate church, Catholic or Protestant, condones such, but it happened… is still happening somewhere. There must be millions of beleaguered Catholics who are heartbroken over these incidents, but so far, the financial costs and the reputation of the Church seem to be first and foremost in the reactions of the hierarchy. Some have condemned the press. The children, by comparison, seem to be collateral damage.
Protestant Churches have similar issues. Many of the justifications and obfuscations done in the name of “Christianity” turn my stomach. But the Catholic Church stands alone in its influence on the world. Decisions which affect the poorest church member in a third world village are made by men in a magnificent city, walled away from the realities of everyday life. Made by men. Only men. Decisions they expect to be accepted without question even if they appear, to some members, in conflict with Catholic doctrine.
I could not help but superimpose the two images that have been smoldering in my brain.
Bring the Vatican assemblage over, white lace frocks, leather loafers and all, to spend time in the cesspool beneath those Florida bridges, with the deafening roar of traffic overhead, the malodorous fumes and the filth and insects all around them, so they can view of a world beyond their own marbled palaces, a world inhabited by men who have committed the same crimes that they conspired to keep hidden.
And those homeless sex predators and offenders living under those bridges? A civilized society cannot treat even the most despicable human beings (and some of them are exactly that) in such a manner. They must be housed, but it is understandable that everyday citizens would like to have them walled away from children and the day-to-day lives of regular families.
Send them to live at the Vatican.