The Roman Catholic Church is tainted; indeed its reputation has long been stained. Claims of the Vatican Church’s immorality have historically rested on its gross accumulation of wealth, its magnificent (some would say gaudy) ceremonies of worship and its political corruption.
There was a time, of course, when politics and church were not separated and Catholicism ruled all in Europe. The elite were either related to Popes, Archbishops and Cardinals or they paid great homage and tribute to them. In some cases, political and religious office were combined. Take Pope Alexander VI and his Borgia family in fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy. Alexander’s papacy was characterised by his diplomatic manoeuvring as he sought to accumulate wealth and power for his dubious (and extensive) family.
Alexander’s successors were equally guilty of nepotism and corruption and it was partly this continual synonymity between the Catholic Church and unholy misdeeds, both in Italy and the rest of Europe, that led to the Protestant Reformation and its deliberate attempt to return to an austere religious purity. Simultaneously, Catholic priests and proselytisers in the New World became infamous for their abuse of the native populations and their manipulation of status for political gains. By the onset of the Enlightenment, when the authority of religion itself was challenged, the Catholic Church was condemned by many as a murky and morally bankrupt institution.
The latest scandal to hit the Catholic Church is the apparently endemic sexual abuse perpetrated by priests on innocent children and other vulnerable worshippers. Just today, Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister of Australia, announced an inquiry into institutional responses to sexual abuse cases after it was revealed that the Catholic Church hid evidence of paedophillia amongst its priesthood. A considerable number of cases detailing this sort of institutional abuse in Ireland, Great Britain, the USA, Canada, Belgium and a host of other countries in the developed world have been publicised during the 20th and 21st centuries.
The question to ask is: why nothing before? Why has it taken so long for this most sinister and unholy abuse to be revealed to its full horrific extent? Part of the reason is that a secular society has only been a reality for several decades, and this in only a few Western countries. Church law, however blatantly disreputable, has traditionally been deemed too controversial to challenge, particularly amongst populations where religious practice is common. Perhaps this is why there have been fewer reported cases of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in countries such as Brazil and the Philippines where devotion to Christianity remains almost universal.
Another obvious, and more concerning reason, is the deliberate undermining of enquiries into abuse by the Catholic Church itself. Rather than seeing such scandals as a chance for reform, the Catholic hierarchy has for too long withheld evidence, protected guilty priests and preserved a doctrine of denial against sexual abuse within its ranks.
Until this is changed from the Pontiff downwards, then true believers will continue to be left vulnerable to the worst kind of abuse imaginable and a religion that preaches brotherhood and humanity will be revealed as a sham.