By Jackie Morfesis
Pope Francis has recently apologized to the Indigenous peoples of Canada regarding the horrific abuse, both physical and sexual, committed against tribal children in residential Catholic schools. The children were forced to attend the schools, taken from their families and torture was committed including starvation. In and of itself, this is horrible enough, but this is only one apology in a long line of apologies.
I happened to be visiting Rome, Italy during the summer of 2000, the year of the Jubilee celebration during the reign of Pope John Paul II. This was the year of the great Mea Culpa. In addition to all the festivities there were apologies. Apology upon apology. Apologies for past abuse and current abuse. Apology for the ongoing efforts of conversion upon Orthodox Christians in traditionally Orthodox countries to become Byzantine and Eastern Rite Catholics. Let us look deeper into this meaning. It means that they are given some of the familiarity of the Orthodox faith, enough to persuade them to conversion. We only need to meditate on this for one moment to reveal the subversiveness and manipulation of such conversion. Why must anyone convert an Orthodox Christian to Catholicism? Certainly, financial gain is a motive. They will be one more dues-paying Catholic. Given that the Catholic Church is one of the richest institutions in the world, this only adds insult to injury.
There were also apologies for crimes and atrocities committed in history. The Crusades and the Inquisition where millions, some estimates go as high as fifty million were killed by the Catholic Church over a period of centuries. There were apologies for many of the concerns and criticisms that Martin Luther nailed to the door of the Catholic Church which firestarted the Protestant Reformation. Jesus said: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Accepting Christ is an act of free will. It is not coercion. Nor torture. Nor forced. Nor is it accomplished nor honored by burning someone at the stake and before they are burned to death giving them the opportunity to accept Christ. Unlike the words of William Buckley, noted Catholic conservate, who said in an interview which I saw many years ago that as long as someone accepted Christ even given the Church’s history, then a good was done. No, good is not done by forcing someone with torture and death to accept Jesus. We serve a God of mercy and love, seeds that need to be planted in the hearts of faithful, not fear and terror.
In 2018, one thousand children were found to be abused by the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania by clergy. The Boston, Massachusetts clergy sex abuse scandal which broke in the news in 2002, was so widespread and horrific that seasoned and hardened prosecutors and attorneys said they were physically sick by the extent and depth of the cruelty committed against children and its coverup.
It would be exhaustive to list every infraction, every crime, and every horror committed by the Catholic Church in the false name of God, by its workers through history both in the United States and overseas most notably in Ireland, Spain, and Italy. It is estimated that three hundred and thirty-three thousand children were abused in France alone by three thousand priests and church workers. It would take not only hundreds but thousands of pages to adequately document the history of abuse. But what is truly horrible is that we believe that apology covers our sins to sin again. No, we do not sin and apologize and sin again. We do not apologize for converting Orthodox Christians to Catholicism while we keep proselytizing to traditional Orthodox countries. We do not apologize for the horrors committed against children and then allow it to happen again and move guilty clergy from parish to parish and teachers from schools to schools to abuse again. We do not aid and abet the guilty. We are not coconspirators in sin.
There are two things that need mentioning. One – that the evil, yes, evil committed by the Catholic Church against God’s most innocent, is none other than demonic. Only the demonic would sexually abuse children. Only the demonic would abuse a child in God’s house and many times at God’s altar. This is the height of satanic evil. Also, by those we trust. Those who are called to serve, guide, minister, love, and protect God’s children. Only the demonic would aid and cover-up the abuse of children. “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:2). We know very well – that the forces of darkness attack God’s house, God’s workers in the field, and those who represent our faith.
This is not an excuse but a stark reality. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). We also know the evil is a prowling lion waiting for someone to attack. We also know that we open the portal in our lives to allow evil to enter. We are willing accomplices with evil working in our lives. There is a difference between being under attack from the adverse powers because we serve God and are therefore a target and welcoming and celebrating the darkness by attacking others and living lives of lies and deceit.
We also know that as in the Greek expression – “the fish stinks from the head.” this is a bold statement, but it must be said. The culture of abuse went all the way to the Vatican steps. Not only the steps of the Vatican but inside its doors. Bishops, Cardinals, and highly ranked Roman Catholic officials were complicit in abuse, found guilty of abuse, and also in the cover-up of not only decades but centuries of abuse.
We have not even discussed the abuse that happened against nuns, who by the way, were also found guilty in the abuse of children in Catholic schools. Catholic schools were infamous for corporal punishment and terrorizing their students. However, in Catholic convents, nuns were also abused by priests, including rape and infanticide. Babies have been found buried beneath the floors of Catholic convents. These stories sound phantasmal and fictional as if something in a horror movie. As if they could not have really happened. But that is exactly how the shroud and veil of darkness operates. We do not want to believe the truth because the truth is too disturbing and too unbelievable. Evil functions many times in plain sight enabled by those who turn a blind eye. Criminals, rapists, and abusers benefit from this culture of disbelief. They benefit from the culture of victim shaming as well.
Another way to silence victims and advocates is to claim that anyone who criticizes the Catholic Church is “anti-Catholic.” Anti-Catholicism is the rallying call whenever an inconvenient and uncomfortable truth is spoken. This could not be further from the truth. Neither I nor anyone else who stands for the rights of victims is anti-anything but abuse, both personal and institutional. This is just one more layer of coercion and manipulation upon the already suffering.
I personally know two men who were sexually and emotionally abused by Catholic priests. One man was a brilliant scholar and even though he was a professor at an esteemed university he was emotionally unable to have a close personal relationship due to trust issues resulting from years of trauma. Another man, a dear friend of mine suffered lifelong physical and emotional effects from the memory of abuse and has since passed away, memory eternal.
Rape like murder is a word that should never ever be misappropriated or misused. Never. It dishonors the one who was truly sexually assaulted. It diminishes the validity of their experience. Rape is a physical, emotional, and spiritual attack. It is nothing less than soul attack.
With God’s grace – deliverance is possible. Healing is possible. Though forgiveness is certainly a release and door towards healing – we must never pressure nor shame anyone to forgive. We can “choose” to forgive. For those who have been assaulted, having the choice to forgive is an act of personal empowerment. A choice and decision that belongs to them and no one else.
As far as apology, apology is worthless if we keep sinning. If we keep committing the atrocities or aid and abet the atrocities. Or if we deny and minimize the facts and the truth. Or if we continually shame and punish victims for coming forward and speaking their truth and telling their stories. Or if we forget the next day that the apology occurred.
The movement to reconcile and reunite the Orthodox and Catholic Church by Patriarch Bartholomew and His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros on the surface may seem a step towards Church wholeness. However, given the long and tortured history of the Catholic Church dating back centuries to the present day, it is not only a step but a freefall into an abyss and if I may be so dramatic, into the pit of hell for those whose relationship to the Catholic Church is one of being abused and tortured and for those who stand with those victimized. May everyone who was victimized by the Catholic Church be healed and delivered from every memory in Jesus’ name. May everyone who was abused have their day in court if they so choose and be given not only financial but emotional support to heal. To this day, the Catholic Church has paid over three billion dollars in settling cases against them in the United States alone.
The spiritual infallibility of the Pope is also one more layer of control that cannot be questioned. One more layer of power uncontested. One more reason why the Orthodox and Catholic Church should not reunite. Had the papacy been spiritually infallible in ecclesiastical matters they would have also had spiritual discernment and would have guided their flock and protected God’s children from institutional abuse. Every single Pope would have stopped the abuse and called for full transparency and accountability without exception. They would have reported the abuse and called for a full investigation not an internal coverup.
To be clear, this is not a criticism on the good and faithful Catholics which includes parishioners, clergy, nuns, monks, teachers, administrators, and all missionary and outreach workers. We know very well that the Catholic Church needs to be commended for their charitable work in the United States and globally. They are to be commended for their mercy in action, best exemplified by St. Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. She was also questioned and not supported during times in her life of service by the Catholic Church. This is a specific criticism on institutional abuse and those who committed and perpetuated the abuse and crimes.
I will always remember the words spoken at an event I attended for healing in response to a mass shooting at a church. Forgiveness was on the table. There were family members and community members who chose to forgive. This was a choice and yes, righteous. However, it was made very clear that though we may choose to forgive that does not mean we must have communion nor relationship with the abuser, the rapist, nor the murderer, nor anyone who aided and abetted the abuse, crime, nor pain and suffering. In fact, scripture tells us to walk away from evil, not move towards evil. “Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not walk in the way of evil. Avoid it, do not go on it; turn away from and pass on” (Proverbs 4:14). Scripture also does not support the abuse, continued abuse, or harm of God’s children. We are all God’s children.
In lieu of these facts and realities, it will be a dark and solemn day if and when the day comes that the Eastern Orthodox Church officially joins the Roman Catholic Church. Let us not misconstrue “one holy catholic and apostolic Church” in our creed for a call to reconciliation when Catholic here means universal, not the Roman Catholic Church. Though we are brothers and sisters in Christ, as we should always be with our Christian brethren, being members and dues paying members of church whose history is one long line of sin upon sin and apology upon apology is something very different indeed.