I can’t imagine I’m alone in wishing Hitch were still here to comment on Pope Benedict’s abdication – the video above certainly indicates he’d relish the time between the Pope’s resignation taking effect and the appearance of white smoke in Rome, when no one on earth could claim to be infallible. Though Hitch’s passing means we’ll miss his real-time observations, we still have his writings. Slate just republished this piece of his from 2010, in which he decried the Church’s handling of the child rape scandal – and found the Pope to be at the heart of the institution’s corruption:
Very much more serious is the role of Joseph Ratzinger, before the church decided to make him supreme leader, in obstructing justice on a global scale. After his promotion to cardinal, he was put in charge of the so-called “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” (formerly known as the Inquisition). In 2001, Pope John Paul II placed this department in charge of the investigation of child rape and torture by Catholic priests. In May of that year, Ratzinger issued a confidential letter to every bishop. In it, he reminded them of the extreme gravity of a certain crime. But that crime was the reporting of the rape and torture.
The accusations, intoned Ratzinger, were only treatable within the church’s own exclusive jurisdiction. Any sharing of the evidence with legal authorities or the press was utterly forbidden. Charges were to be investigated “in the most secretive way … restrained by a perpetual silence … and everyone … is to observe the strictest secret which is commonly regarded as a secret of the Holy Office … under the penalty of excommunication.” (My italics). Nobody has yet been excommunicated for the rape and torture of children, but exposing the offense could get you into serious trouble. And this is the church that warns us against moral relativism!
And here’s this, from another essay of Hitch’s from around the same time:
Almost every week, I go and debate with spokesmen of religious faith. Invariably and without exception, they inform me that without a belief in supernatural authority I would have no basis for my morality. Yet here is an ancient Christian church that deals in awful certainties when it comes to outright condemnation of sins like divorce, abortion, contraception, and homosexuality between consenting adults. For these offenses there is no forgiveness, and moral absolutism is invoked. Yet let the subject be the rape and torture of defenseless children, and at once every kind of wiggle room and excuse-making is invoked. What can one say of a church that finds so much latitude for a crime so ghastly that no morally normal person can even think of it without shuddering?
It’s interesting, too, that the same church did its best to hide the rape and torture from the secular authorities, even forcing child victims (as in the disgusting case of Cardinal Sean Brady, the spiritual chieftain of the Catholics of Ireland) to sign secrecy oaths that prevented them from testifying against their rapists and torturers. Why were they so afraid of secular justice? Did they think it would be less indifferent and pliable than private priestly investigations? In that case, what is left of the shabby half-baked argument that people can’t understand elementary morality without a divine warrant?
The case for bringing the head of the Catholic hierarchy within the orbit of law is easily enough made. All it involves is the ability to look at a naked emperor and ask the question “Why?” Mentally remove his papal vestments and imagine him in a suit, and Joseph Ratzinger becomes just a Bavarian bureaucrat who has failed in the only task he was ever set—that of damage control. The question started small. In 2002, I happened to be on Hardball With Chris Matthews, discussing what the then attorney general of Massachusetts, Thomas Reilly, had termed a massive cover-up by the church of crimes against children by more than a thousand priests.
I asked, why is the man who is prima facie responsible, Cardinal Bernard Law, not being questioned by the forces of law and order? Why is the church allowed to be judge in its own case and enabled in effect to run private courts where gross and evil offenders end up being “forgiven”? This point must have hung in the air a bit, and perhaps lodged in Cardinal Law’s own mind, because in December of that year he left Boston just hours before state troopers arrived with a subpoena seeking his grand-jury testimony. Where did he go? To Rome, where he later voted in the election of Pope Benedict XVI and now presides over the beautiful church of Santa Maria Maggiore, as well as several Vatican subcommittees.
In my submission, the current scandal passed the point of no return when the Vatican officially became a hideout for a man who was little better than a fugitive from justice. By sheltering such a salient offender at its very heart, the Vatican had invited the metastasis of the horror into its bosom and thence to its very head. It is obvious that Cardinal Law could not have made his escape or been given asylum without the approval of the then pontiff and of his most trusted deputy in the matter of child-rape damage control, then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Well, a legal case against him and his decades of abetting child rape is now a possibility. He is no longer a head of state.