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Excessive reactions on rape and child abuse?

Father Ciro Benedettini, the Vatican press office vice director (and remember anything coming from that office is carefully vetted beforehand) issued a press statement recently about the friction between Ireland and the Vatican over the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests for decades.

His written press statement concluded with these words:  “…some degree of surprise and disappointment at certain excessive reactions.”

This has caused a firestorm on top of what was, already, a serious break between the Irish government and the corporate entity simply known in Eire as “The Church.”

A series of revelations of rape and beatings by members of religious orders and the priesthood in the past have shattered the dominant role of the Catholic Church in Ireland.

To be fair, Father Ciro Benedettini was explaining why the Vatican had recalled their ambassador, called the nuncio, and explained that the recall “should be interpreted as an expression of the desire of the Holy See for serious and effective collaboration with the [Irish] government.”

The word in the Irish press is that if he had not been recalled, the Irish prime minister would have asked him to pack his bags.

The Vatican also said, “Apostolic Nuncio Giuseppe Leanza has been recalled for consultations” after the publication of the Irish judicial report into the repetitive priestly abuses.

That judicial report had uncovered papers, letters to and from the Vatican over the years, which show the Vatican sought to downplay such reports of abuse. In one instance, a letter sought to relabel an Irish law defining the 100 percent need to report every case of such crimes of violence, with the Vatican instructing the bishops in Ireland to consider such laws as “study guidelines.” That has poured more fuel on the fire.

So, Irish Prime Minister Kenny made a speech condemning the Holy See in which he forcefully explained that the “rape and torture of children were downplayed or managed, to uphold instead the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and reputation.”

The Vatican has now, a little late, denied that the letter was an invitation to disregard Irish laws.

But Kenny was not done yet. In language never before used by an Irish leader, an outraged Kenny told the parliament that the church’s inability to deal with the cases showed a culture of “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and narcissism” at the Vatican and then he hammered the Catholic Church’s behavior as “absolutely disgraceful.”

And then we come to the British justice minister (the equivalent of our attorney general), Ken Clark, who was asked about rape sentences and replied that there were different types of rape and that one needed to distinguish between “date rape and serious rapes.”

The interviewer tried to save him from such a gaff by saying “But surely, rape is rape.”

But Clark was not through distancing himself from reason when he replied, “No, it’s not. If an 18-year-old has sex with a 15-year-old and she’s perfectly willing, that is rape. Because she is underage, she can’t consent.… What you and I are talking about is … a man forcibly having sex with a woman and she doesn’t want to — a serious crime.”

Leaving aside such a law enforcement officer’s naiveté of limiting rape to a man raping a woman (and not a man on a man, a woman on a man or a woman on a woman — all of which happen all too frequently), the problem with Ken Clarke’s statement is that such a discussion of the degree of violence of rape should be left to the courts to decide at the time of trial.

Additionally, any attempt to distance the word “rape” from violence by portraying rape as possibly consensual opens a Pandora’s box of evils to be used against the poor people who face such abuse. Ken Clarke and British Prime Minister Cameron, in response to the media and public outcry over Clarke’s statements, have labeled the adverse public reaction as “hysterical and misunderstood.”

In many ways, the Vatican’s response to the sexual abuse for decades in Ireland and Ken Clarke’s attempt at dividing rape into non-consensual and consensual acts are similar. Both parties are abusing the privilege of their office, they have lost track of reality and, unfortunately, it is the laymen and laywomen who will carry the burden.

Peter Riva, formerly of Amenia Union, lives in New Mexico.


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