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Michael Abrahams: Fyah pon Rome: The Vatican just doesn't get it

Published:Monday | May 5, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Michael Abrahams, Online Columnist

One of the best-known Bible verses is Luke 18:16: "But Jesus called unto him, and said, 'Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God'."

But, for some reason, the Vatican, the 'head office' of the largest and most powerful Christian denomination, appears to have seriously misinterpreted that verse.

Child sex abuse scandals far too frequently rear their ugly heads in the Catholic Church. These incidents are by no means confined to that organisation, as child molesters can be found in probably all professions and vocations, but the hierarchy of this church has a nasty habit of protecting perpetrators and enablers, placing the interests of the church above those of the victims and their families.

Before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger played a role in systematically covering up child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests. In 2001, while at the Vatican, he issued an edict to Catholic bishops all over the world recommending that rather than reporting sexual abuse to legal authorities, victims, perpetrators and witnesses be encouraged not to talk about the alleged incidents, with victims also being threatened with excommunication if they dared repeat the allegations.

In California, Cardinal Roger Mahony was stripped of diocesan duties over the handling of priest sex abuse cases after it was discovered that he sent priests accused of abuse out of California to shield them from law-enforcement scrutiny in the 1980s, effectively interfering with police investigations. However, despite protests, he was invited by the Vatican to the conclave in 2013 where Pope Francis was selected.

Now, Pope John Paul II has just been made a saint, which I find to be extremely disturbing. This is a man who gave sanctuary to Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in 2002 as archbishop of Boston in the biggest child sex abuse scandal in the United States, and possibly the world. In 2001, Law admitted to receiving a letter in 1984 outlining allegations of child molestation involving Father John Geoghan but did nothing.

As a matter of fact, he moved priests such as Geoghan, Paul Shanley and others from parish to parish despite repeated allegations of abuse, sending them on virtual child molestation and raping tours. Geoghan alone allegedly abused more than 130 children.

Later it was discovered that Father Shanley advocated the North American Man-Boy Love Association (I'm not making this up).

Law's resignation as archbishop of Boston was rejected in April 2002 by Pope John Paul II. However, in a letter signed by 58 priests, he was asked to resign his post as archbishop on December 9, 2002, and he subsequently did.

The pope's response to Cardinal Law's facilitation and enabling of the abuse of innocent children was not defrocking or censure, but rather to set him up in a spacious apartment and make him Archpriest of the Patriarchal (now Papal) Liberian Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. Law eventually became one of the nine prelates presiding over funeral masses for Pope John Paul II in 2005.

As if all this were not sordid enough, Pope John Paul II also turned a blind eye to the dastardly activities of the notorious Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, a child molester, womaniser, embezzler, plagiarist and drug addict, who even abused his own children. A detailed letter was sent to the Vatican in 1998 by eight of his accusers, but no punitive measures were taken.

Even when the story was picked up by the Mexican press, the Vatican refused to act, with the Pope choosing instead to put forward the beatification of Maciel's mother and uncle.

Even more shocking is the fact that Pope John Paul II's canonisation was the quickest in history. Pope Benedict XVI actually waived the five-year waiting period after his death so that his sainthood could be fast-tracked. The canonisation is a slap in the face to victims of child abuse in Boston under Cardinal Law's watch, and those preyed on by Maciel, effectively rubbing salt in their wounds.

The abuse of children leaves excruciatingly painful scars that may never heal. A study in 2009 showed that persons with a history of childhood abuse may carry chemical changes in their DNA that would affect their response to stress, predisposing them to depression and suicide. The Vatican needs to wake up.

Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician,  comedian and poet. Email feedback to and, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.