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Raksha Shetty
Saturday , April 03, 2010 at 15 : 54

Persecution all over again


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The Catholic community around the world will celebrate Easter in a grand manner, but surely on every devotee's mind must be the ugly allegations being thrown in the face of the head of the church, the Pope. After a brief hiatus, child abuse has once again reared its ugly head on the Catholic church, this time with Pope Benedict XVI as the target. The Holy Father, though personally not accused of any wrongdoing, is being questioned if he had turned a blind eye to his brother's involvement in slapping German students when he was choir director at the Regensburg Diocese, in Bavaria, Germany, in the '60s.

The same diocese had also reported cases of sexual abuse in the late 50s, but those cases predated Georg Ratzinger's tenure as choir director. Ratzinger has said he didn't know of those cases, but German Catholic officials are probing if this was actually the case. Crucially, German officials are also questioning whether the Pope himself, as Archbishop of Munich later, ever had knowledge of these acts.

It's the closest the papacy has come to scandal, and the speed at which cardinals at the Vatican and Catholics around the world are getting increasingly vocal in their support of the Pope, only reveals that fear is shaking the foundations of the Church.

While expressing their support, priests are demonising (literally) the news media as their main target - the New York Times is the latest to come under attack. An Italian priest has seriously suggested the news media is in urgent need of exorcism, as it has been possessed by the devil. Says exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth from Rome, "There is no doubt about it. Because he is a marvelous Pope and worthy successor to John Paul II, it is clear that the devil wants to 'grab hold' of him.. the devil uses priests in order to cast blame upon the entire Church." (Catholic News Agency)

But blaming the media for exposing the rot within, is like a dancer blaming the stage for his rotten dancing. If anything, the church owes a debt to the media for blowing the lid off the scandal, first in 2002. The Boston Globe's carefully researched revelations exposed a oft-whispered secret, and forced the church to accept and repent, rather than hush up and pay off.

At other times, the attack has been termed as machinations by vested interest groups, bent on eroding the power of the Church. The Mumbai Archdiocese too echoes these views - sources there are convinced that the porn industry is behind these cases, as the church is the only vocal institution that gets in the way of their business. One priest I spoke to also blamed Jewish lawyer lobbies (especially powerful in New York) for instigating and publicising cases of molestation, many of which they say are false. It's due to vigorous theories like this one that a Vatican cardinal, trying to soothe the tensions between the two faiths, likened Catholicism's current crisis to Jewish suffering. Unfortunately, that statement too has faced outrage from Jews, who say the Church's sex abuse scandal cannot be likened to pogroms and inquisitions on Jews over the ages.

In India, the church has remained relatively untouched by scandals of this nature, but it has nevertheless stood up in support of this new attack on the Pope, saying the church's earlier stand against these acts, when it first came to light, was a revolution in itself. In Christianity, forgiveness is key, one priest in the Mumbai Archdiocese told me, and that was why, earlier, the priest in question used to be transferred to another location for rehabilitation, counseling, etc. Cardinal Ratzinger, before he became Pope, too had supported dealing with these cases internally, but as more and more errant priests were exposed, his stand became more harsh. Just a few weeks ago too, he recently lashed out at the 'filth' in the church, referring to these very priests. Said the Mumbai priest, "Now, the church has agreed to hand over the perpetrator to the police. Clearly, it feels these cases should be brought to the public. So even after these measures, why is the church still being targeted, so viciously?"

The sense of being victimised and persecuted, though, is justified. Who can doubt it, when US immigration now requires a written undertaking from any priest visiting that country, as to the purpose of his visit, and where he will visit. Indian priests visiting abroad have to routinely satisfy queries on their whereabouts before they are allowed to travel to the United States. They are advised against physically touching children - even a pat on the back is off limits. Shocking? But true.

It may be a case of kicking a man when he's down - in this case, a great institution that has withstood every kind of onslaught through the centuries. The brunt of the scandal is clearly affecting Catholics en masse - blameless priests and devotees are on the backfoot, inheritors of the flak coming out of the turmoil. But with the papacy itself fighting to keep itself beyond reproach, this may just be the beginning of a modern-day Inquisition.


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More about Raksha Shetty

Raksha Shetty has been a journalist for 8 years, and is now Principal Correspondent in the Mumbai bureau of CNN-IBN. She joined CNN-IBN at the channel's inception as Special Features Correspondent, and has covered major news stories and special reports out of Mumbai and Gujarat, focusing on politics, city, and civic issues. Recently, she has received awards and felicitations from local Mumbai organizations for her coverage of 26/11 terror attack. Prior to CNN-IBN, she has worked at Mumbai Mirror, Mid-Day, and CBS News (NY). She is a post-graduate student from the Emerson College, Boston, and has graduated from St. Xavier's College, Mumbai - though she still calls it Bombay, the city where she was born and raised. She is passionate about literature, especially if it’s Russian. She lives in Mumbai with her family.
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