[Translated from Dutch by Google Translate]
Throughout its existence, the Catholic Church has been involved in countless issues that (certainly in the eyes of the present-day spectators) may not (or should not) be tolerated by people with conscience and compassion. Examples of this are abundant and cover a broad spectrum: persecutions of pagans, the Inquisition, anti-Semitism, the relationship with Nazi Germany, her views on women's rights, homosexuality, contraception and sexuality in general, the 'tolerance' of abuse of minors by her priests, etc. The central question that can be asked is whether the structure of the Catholic Church played a decisive role in this. The answer can hardly be anything but 'yes', but that does not mean that it is a legal fact.
The Catholic Church is a strong hierarchical organization with a leader who is infallible according to their own Catholic codex. A major problem with infallibility of the highest boss is that it does not invite counterarguments and potentially foists subordinates with an opposing perspective, with a pressing and frustrating loyalty problem that can stand in the way of them properly doing their jobs. Another risk is that the infallibility of the leader is abducted by those lower in the authority chain. If the boss is right and his direct subordinates ‘translate’ his wishes or their interpretation thereof to the layer below (and further on, etc.), who am I as a mere subservient to question those wishes or that interpretation? Wouldn’t one run a huge risk that the ‘intermediaries of the faith’, in some odd psychological attribution, are denying their own responsibility for the consequences of their own interpretations? Another complicating factor is that this is not about clearly defined instructions and ideas, but rather abstract issues as salvation, morality, good (heaven) and bad (hell and damnation). Issues so susceptible to multiple interpretations, that it may potentially facilitate brutal and eloquent clergymen in exercising excessive power over those who are in a dependence position vis-à-vis them (subordinates, altar boys, believers, unmarried pregnant girls, etc.). This opens the door to abuse. The countless victims of physical abuse and mental manipulation by Catholic dignitaries for many centuries (millennia?) are a sad demonstration of where this has led.
Infallibility as a concept is an outdated concept in the 21st century, but it is precisely this concept that the whole Catholic Church is built on and where the church organization so intensely depends on. It is the reason that every change in the Catholic principles of faith takes so much time and energy. Redefining or taking leave from this concept and allowing doubt to creep within the walls of the Catholic Church and in the minds of its believers, especially in those areas where liberal values re less commonplace (this is the case in approx. 65% of the 1, 3 billion Catholic population worldwide), is potentially "life-threatening" for the authority of the Catholic Church. Any major change requires a lot of courage and vision and depends on political cloud amongst many opposing factions within the church.
Undeniably, the Catholic Church does a lot of good work and offers many people support and comfort. However, within the context of consistent abuse that isirrelevant. The positive does not brush away the negative. The basic assumptions and the structure of the church make it vulnerable to those abuses. The last and perhaps most convincing and best documented example to illustrate this point, is the abuse by priests in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. A recently released public version of a report of the Grand Jury of the state of Pennsylvania documents more than 1000 cases of sexual abuse of children by more than 300 priests from 6 dioceses since 1940. It is a very extensive report covering 884 pages and a further 447 pages of attachments. It describes in detail how the relevant abuses by the priests concerned came to light and spells out in great detail how the Catholic Church reacted. Including the release of this latest report three studies (2005, 2011 and 2016- 2018) were undertaken. It took thirteen years to uncover the facts. The most shocking of all is that not only before but also during these thirteen years the priests were well protected by their supervisors from the scrutiny of the authorities and the general public in general. In addition, the respective dioceses have obstructed the systematic examination, and with full knowledge of the abuses have failed to act proactively and provide support to victims. For the benefit of the Grand Jury the FBI has construed a pattern distilled from the 1000 cases that they deem characteristic for the institutional approach the Catholic Church took in dealing with those cases. In the words of the FBI it factually boils down to a script to consistently and systematically hide the truth:
The problem is that the findings in the state of Pennsylvania are not isolated. This is not an opinion, but, given the many examples, a fact (see also the page on Wikipedia where well-known cases of sexual abuse by clergymen within the Catholic Church in 29 countries spread over five continents are described). The players change, but the institutional reaction is always the same: hide, deny and oppose.
Sexual abuse of children is not reserved for clergymen from the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, it is a much broader social problem with a scope that far exceeds the capacity of comprehension.A Dutch study from 2011 (based on self-reporting among nearly 10 million (!) Participants worldwide) suggests that 12.7% to 18% of girls and 7.6% of boys worldwide were victims of sexual abuse. A survey paid by the American Catholic Church would show that sexual abuse by priests is probably below, but certainly not above, the average of the general population. Even if this is true, it does not, however, advocate the Catholic Church free of the way in which it deals and has dealt with this problem. This is why the expressions of regret and shame by the Vatican and others, long after these acts have been committed and knowingly covered, are so hollow. The church failed to take strong and adequate measures to support victims and to punish perpetrators and those who had been instrumental in criminal offenses, long after it became clear that this is a widespread and deep-rooted problem.
All this brings me to the question of whether the Catholic Church can be charged in criminal terms with the systematic, active and thus culpable participation in keeping criminal activities of clergy out of the spotlight. For this I apply a thought experiment. For this experiment to work, a number of assumptions are necessary:
- The aforementioned report from the Grand Jury in Pennsylvania will act as the base scenario. The facts described therein are deemed to have been proven.
- Assessment takes place according to Dutch law. I have brought together the full texts of the articles (in Dutch) that are relevant for this purpose.
- In order to prevent discussions about prescription limits, the facts are supposed to play in the here and now.
The first question is whether a legal entity can commit criminal offenses. After all, it is difficult to imagine that a legal entity (the church qualifies as such on the basis of Article 2, Book 2 of the Civil Code) can go to jail. Criminal law resolves this by making those who within the relevant legal entity have de facto management and providing instructions for the prohibited conduct punishable (Article 51 of the Penal Code) and if the punishment consists of fines (only) the legal entity can be held liable. If it should be established that persons within the Catholic Church have given instructions and/or provided actual guidance to prohibited behavior on behalf of the church, the Catholic Church could be regarded as a criminal organization and the people accountable help punishable. For this, three things have to be proved coherently.
i. Sexual assault and rape minor children (abuse)
The report documents a large number of abuse cases. These are all covered by the scope of articles 244, 245 (rape) or 247 (sexual assault) of the Penal Code, insofar as children under the age of sixteen are concerned (the majority of the abuse cases identified). This abuse is a crime.
ii Help to perpetrators
Article 189 of the Penal Code briefly and well to the fact holds that an act intended to protect perpetrators of crimes against investigation and/or prosecution is regarded as a crime. The same applies to the deliberate withholding and/or destruction of evidence related to the crime or the obstruction of the investigation into the crime. The Grand Jury Report describes in great detail how representatives of the Church have done everything to keep the crimes committed by their priests outside the radar of justice. In a considerable number of cases, it is clear that in individual situations there has been a coordinated action by the church (because within the church itself it can be traced sufficiently clearly from the available archives). Even where this is less clear, the FBI (see above) on the basis of the 1000 cases of abuse, has established a clear pattern within which the reaction of the church usually fits seamlessly. This pattern is so consistent and systematic that it is hard to imagine that a guiding hand was absent. On this basis, the conclusion cannot be anything but that help has been provided by the Catholic Church to perpetrators within the church with the aim of keeping them out of the reach of judicial authorities and to impede their investigation and prosecution and even make it impossible. It helps that this has now been fully acknowledged by the Pope. This action therefore falls well within the scope of Article 189 of the Penal Code and is a crime.
iii Participation in a criminal organization
Article 140 of the Penal Code makes it punishable to participate in an organization that has the intent to commit crimes. Organization in this context means a cooperation between two or more persons aimed at committing criminal offenses. In my view, this could also be the case if the Catholic Church in pursuing its own primary objective(s), engages in activities that serve the primary purpose but can be regarded as criminal offenses. This could be the case if criminal offenses are committed consistently and systematically with funding and manpower of the Catholic Church as described above under (ii).
Clearly this is the elephant in the room. Not so much because of the content of the possible crime itself, but because of the implications of such a ruling for the Catholic Church as a whole. The Catholic Church does not aim to commit child abuse. The relevant sources are not entirely clear what the church’s exact purpose is, but let us assume that the promotion of the salvation of as many people as possible under the flag of Catholic doctrine is close enough to its core. It is not my intention to attack this objective or to put it in a bad light. Facts have to be mentioned, however, especially because the abuse is widespread, institutionally tolerated and kept out of the sight of investigative authorities. As a result, recidivism has been possible, and even more children have been exposed to the actions of amoral clerics.
The Grand Jury Report shows that many of the complaints about abuse came directly to the diocese (often addressed to the bishop himself) of which the complainant concerned was a member. It is striking that the report contains 197 of the total of 1356 pages with the word 'complaint' and none with the word 'confession' (in the sense of confession). From this I conclude that not the confession, but mainly complaints from victims or their representatives, have signaled the abuse. The confessional secrecy therefore is not at stake here. In none of the 1000 cases of abuse is, as far as I have seen or understood, the church acted independently towards judicial authorities. Instead actions have always taken place according to the pattern established by the FBI. This shows an institutional approach to the complaints regarding abuse. Those who were in charge of the 'treatment' of the complaints within the church had no self-interest to deal with this in the manner described above. They only served the interest of the church. The report also makes it crystal clear that the church has made financial resources and manpower available for this. The sole purpose of the actions taken was to keep the cases of abuse by priests out of the sight of the press and the reach of judicial authorities. It exclusively served to protect the reputation and authority of the Catholic Church.
As far as I am concerned, this means that the Catholic Church and its representatives acted as an organization and committed the crimes mentioned above under (ii). According to the letter of the law, this action falls under the scope of article 140 of the Penal Code: The Catholic Church has played a leading role in the consistent and systematic concealment and displacement of perpetrators, the withholding of evidence and the frustration of investigating criminal offenses committed by priests of the Catholic Church. By repeatedly using financial resources and manpower for this purpose, it is beyond doubt that the Catholic Church as an organization has explicitly committed itself to the aforementioned aim and the result to be achieved. Under the assumptions and starting points of my thought experiment, the Catholic Church can thus be regarded as a criminal organization.
The Catholic Church as an institute apparently believes that it can stand above the law in the fulfillment of its religious mission and has played a facilitating and radical role in enabling and leaving serious crimes unpunished. The crimes are now statute-barred, many perpetrators are now deceased, but the blemish will always rest on the Catholic Church