On Bad Priests

Here’s a book review of a book that looks pretty interesting: Fallen Order by Karen Liebreich.

Pope John Paul II has kept noticeably quiet on the subject of Catholic priests who sexually abuse children. But in 2002, after high-profile cases in Europe and the United States, he was moved to acknowledge the problem – briefly.

Paragraph 38 of his annual Holy Thursday letter alluded to priests who succumb to “the most grievous forms of the mysterium iniquitatis [mystery of evil] at work in the world”. Such behaviour puts other priests in a bad light, said the Pope, without mentioning what it does to the victims.

Fallen Order focuses on sexual abuse within a religious order in 17th-century Italy, and the attempts to cover it up. The book invites us to draw comparisons across the centuries, and it is infuriating to see how little the rhetoric of the Catholic Church has changed in these matters. Its aim can still seem to be to make abuse less terrible by couching it in euphemisms, especially Latin ones, then attributing it to outside forces, rather than to the criminal behaviour of a responsible adult.

Seems like the sexual aspect of the order’s evil misdeeds was only one dimension of their problems, but while the book may be sensationalizing things to focus on it, it is timely that we can compare the Church’s attitude to this sort of thing over the centuries. It’s frustratingly similar now to what it was like back then.

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