By Juan Jose Tamayo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Ominous silences and merciless condemnation. That has been the attitude of the Vatican and much of the Catholic hierarchy over the past 70 years. Ominous silences with respect to massacres and crimes against humanity and those responsible for them. Merciless sentences against theologians, priests, bishops, philosophers, writers -- Christian or otherwise -- for exercising free speech and daring to dissent, all convictions against all legal reasoning, which states that "thinking is not a crime". Ominous silence about bloodythirsty people, totalitarian ideologies and military dictatorships with blood on their hands. Merciless condemnation of men and women of clean hands, unimpeachable honesty, exemplary lives.
The most serious of these silences was, without doubt, that of Pius XII in face of the six million Jews, gypsies, disabled, homosexuals, transsexuals, gassed and taken to the cremation pyres of Nazi concentration camps. Earlier, as Secretary of the Vatican State, he signed the Imperial Concordat with Nazi Germany under Hitler's government on behalf of Pius XI. His complicity with Nazism began there. One of the earliest intellectuals to denounce such a big and ominous silence was the German playwright Hochhuth in his play The Deputy, which premiered in 1963.
In 1953, Pius XII signed a Concordat with Franco, legitimizing the dictatorship, while remaining silent about the repression under Franco after the civil war that cost tens of thousands of deaths.
A year later he did the same with the dictator Rafael Trujillo, president of the Dominican Republic, without condemning his abuses of power and state crimes.
In the 1940s, Cardinal Emmanuel Celestin Suhard, Archbishop of Paris, authorized some priests and religious to work in the factories. The Dominican Jacques Loew did so as a longshoreman at the port of Marseilles. Monsignor Alfred Ancel, auxiliary bishop of Lyon, was a worker priest for five years. The experience was immortalized in Gilbert Cesbron's novel Les Saints vont en enfer ("Saints go to Hell"). But it was soon frustrated. The worker priests were accused of being communists and subversives, when what they did was to witness to the Gospel among the working class that was skeptical and alienated from the Church, sharing their lives and their hardships, identifying with their struggles, earning their bread by the sweat of their brow. Instead of turning a blind eye to the allegations, Pius XII took them to be true and asked the priests to leave factory work and reintegrate into pastoral work in parishes and the religious to rejoin their communities, while ordering the French bishops to send the worker priests into the monasteries to be "re-educated."
Another long, ominous and complicit silence has been kept in the face of the sexual abuse by priests, religious and bishops with children, adolescents and young people over more than half a century in parishes, novitiates, seminaries, training houses, rectories and family houses in many countries, abusing the authority of the office and parents' confidence in them.
The allegations against the founder of the Legion of Christ, the Mexican Marcial Maciel, reached the Vatican. But they were not taken into account nor were they filed. Which gave Maciel carte blanche to continue committing sexual crimes against vulnerable and defenseless people, abusing his power and influence as a founder and the support of the popes and bishops.
Merciless condemnation is what fell like a stone against the Nouvelle Theologie in Pope Pius XII's encyclical Humani generis (1950), followed by sanctions against the theologians most representative of this trend: Henry de Lubac, Karl Rahner, Yves M. Congar, Dominique Chenu ... The crime? Doing theology in dialogue with modernity, seeking unity of the churches through ecumenism, finally burying the religious wars. The sanctions? Censorship of theological publications, exile (Congar, then a cardinal, suffered three exiles), prohibition against writing and preaching, removal from faculty positions, placement of some of their works on the Index of Forbidden Books and their removal from seminary and theological school libraries, expulsion from religious orders, and, sometimes, imprisonment.
A few months before John XXIII inaugurated the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, who served as Grand Inquisitor at the head of the Congregation for the Holy Office, addressed the letter Crimen sollicitudinis to bishops worldwide, in which he instructed on measures to be taken in certain cases of sexual abuse by clergy: it required that cases of solicitation during confession be treated "in the most discrete way" and imposed "the obligation of perpetual silence." Moreover, all persons involved in such cases (including victims) were threatened with the penalty of excommunication for failure to observe secrecy. The silence was maintained during the pontificates of John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II and Benedict XVI until a few months ago.
With the Second Vatican Council, it seemed as if the sanctions would be contained and the veil of silence on the crimes against humanity would be lifted. But that was not to be. To mark the publication of Paul VI's encyclical Humanae vitae (1968), which condemned the use of contraceptive methods, there were new trials, censorship, bans and condemnations against theologians who disagreed. Two characteristic examples: Edward Schillebeeckx and Bernhard Häring, Vatican II advisors and the inspiration behind some of its renewing texts, were subjected to harsh judgements by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
As the conditions of the ecclesiastical trials hardened in the hands of the Inquisition (acceptance of anonymous complaints, helplessness of the prisoner before the ecclesiastical courts, the same people who instructed the process were those who judged and condemned, inability to appeal ...), the same Vatican organ imposed silence on sex abuse crimes, protected the guilty, acquitted them without any intent to reform and, moreover, gave them a new place of ministry, sometimes without even warning neighboring bishops and priests of the real reasons for the transfer.
In the letter De delictis gravioribus, 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger ratified the silence imposed by Cardinal Ottaviani 40 years earlier. Meanwhile, in numerous documents he condemned homosexuality, considering merely homosexual inclination to be "objectively disordered" and homosexual relationships "morally unacceptable", and demanding the expulsion of homosexual candidates to the priesthood from seminaries. A few days ago, the German theologian David Berger was expelled from the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome for publicizing his homosexuality. While he kept it secret, there were no problems. The Vatican's cynicism knows no bounds!
Recently, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has made some changes to the 2001 document that, under the guise of toughening the penalties, makes things worse by rating the holy ordination of women, apostasy, heresy and schism as grave and punishable crimes on the same level as pedophilia.
For the Vatican, says feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, "trying to ordain a woman is worse than the sexual abuse of a child. The sexual abuse of a child by a priest is a deplorable moral lapse of a weak individual ... The attempt to ordain a woman is a sexual offense, a contradiction to the nature of Holy Orders, a sacrilege, a scandal." Another merciless condemnation against women, the silenced majority in the Catholic Church. How much longer?
Juan José Tamayo is director of the Faculty of Theology and Science of Religion at the Carlos III University in Madrid and author of Teología de la liberación en el nuevo escenario político y religioso ("Liberation Theology in the new political and religious scene" -- Tirant Lo Blanc, Valencia).