The ever-growing scandal about child abuse in the Catholic Church is gaining momentum. In addition to the United States, which made the headlines again this month about a cover-up at a school for the deaf (fair warning: this will make you want to stab a bitch), Ireland and Germany are struggling with emerging scandals of their own as are other European countries.
So far, the Church’s response has been something less than perfect. The Pope, whom most people are now blaming for much of the cover-up that took place during his time as Cardinal Ratzinger, expressed deep sympathy. It didn’t go over very well.
Andrew Sullivan, gay and Catholic, is especially not having it, following the story with the same zeal he has devoted to topics such as the Health Care Reform and Iran. In one of his many posts, he wrote:
So you objectify sex; and masturbate. You cannot have sexual or even emotional contact with a teenage girl, because it is simply impossible, and you certainly cannot have sex with another teenage boy […] so you have sex with images in your own head. Your sex life becomes completely solitary. It can be empowered by pornography or simply teenage imagination […] Many of these tormented men have arrested sexual and emotional development. They have never had a sexual or intimate relationship with any other human being. Sex for them is an abstraction, a sin, not an interaction with an equal. And their sexuality has been frozen at the first real moment of internal terror: their early teens.
Sullivan is writing about young Western gay men who enter the Catholic priesthood. But doesn’t it sound terribly familiar to conservatively brought up Indian ears?* Heterosexual, non-Catholic, male and female ears.
So how long, I thought, before this story finds resonance in India?
Like many a middle class and upper Indian, I have legions of family members who attended convent school, from my parents and their siblings to my brother and my cousins. Most of my friends have attended a Church-run institution at some point in their lives. It’s an inevitable part of the Indian cultural landscape. I’m one of the few who didn’t and I made up for it by attending a Catholic college.
The worst thing that ever happened to me was that the Vice Principal kicked us off the snacks area because we were too loud. (He came between me and my raspberry icelolly!) The worst thing that happened to my brother (and my cousins) was extreme corporal punishment. He got the shit beaten out of him for years on end, which is probably where he developed his advanced death stare with which he frightens people these days. Boarding school gives you skills. And pretty scary memories.
If it got worse than that for anybody, nobody’s talking. Yet. In a recent edit, the Indian Express raises a flag:
Simon Palathingal, a Catholic priest of the Salesian order, was convicted in 2004 of sexually abusing a boy by a Wisconsin court. The abuse happened in the early 1990s. The same man was vice-principal of a prominent Chennai school in the late Seventies and Eighties. Given its record it is possible that the church knew of his leanings and did nothing.
If paedophile priests got away with their crimes in countries with robust legal systems, think how much easier it would be in India, with its endemic corruption.
Here’s what I was thinking as I read that: God forbid. If the Church thinks it has a problem on its hands in the West with their “robust legal systems”, then it really doesn’t want to get caught up in a similar mess in India with “its endemic corruption” because India has a fatal tendency to set fire first and ask questions later. Just ask Graham Staines‘ widow.
Right wing Hindu organizations have long been targeting the Church about conversion (here’s a flashback from the innocent 90s). You can only imagine what they’d do with pedophilia thrown into the mix. It’s kindling just waiting for a stray spark to come its way.
Religion and sex are an irresistible combination for smut as more than one religion has found to its cost. And with Indian cable news being its current excitable self… If the Church really wants to protect itself, it needs to take responsibility and ownership before other people start casting its role for them. I hope I’m wrong but it is seriously not going to be pretty if this scandal hits India.
Especially for its real victims – the children who will end up becoming tabloid fodder and political pawns in a matter of seconds.
*I really need to do a post on the Indian female equivalent.