Pope Francis today challenged priests who were child abusers to turn themselves over to the police. Commenting on the church’s record of concealing paedophiles, he said, “It is undeniable that some in the past, out of irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience, or spiritual and human short-sightedness, treated many cases without the seriousness and promptness that was due. That must never happen again. This is the choice and the decision of the whole Church.”
The Pope offers, “Irresponsibility, disbelief, lack of training, inexperience and short-sightedness” as reasons for the cover up of appalling crimes. He still does not admit that there was a systemic conspiracy to conceal abusers and to protect the name of the supposedly infallible church.
Pope Francis’ contention that the church lacked understanding of abuse or that there was myopia is simply untrue. Of course the church knew, even teenage schoolboys in rural England knew.
There was a boy at our school on Dartmoor called Kevin. Kevin was born in 1961, or, maybe, 1962. A year junior to our class, he left school in 1978 and was killed in a motorcycle accident in the spring of the following year. While most of us listened to the BBC Top 30, watched Top of the Pops, and bought 7 inch vinyl singles, Kevin was one of a small group who preferred listening to albums. Either Kevin, or one of those with whom he listened to records, had The Who’s 1969 album, ‘Tommy’. ‘Tommy’ was a rock opera, its songs are part of a narrative. On the first track of side three, ‘Do You Think It’s Alright?’, Tommy’s parents wonder if it is safe to leave him in the care of his uncle. The lyrics of ‘Fiddle about’, the track that followed the parents’ question, were lines that Kevin would sing with a sneer and an air of viciousness.
I’m your wicked Uncle Ernie
I’m glad you won’t see or hear me
As I fiddle about
Your mother left me here to mind you
Now I’m doing what I want to
Down with the bedclothes
Up with your nightshirt!
In 1969, child abuse was a subject sufficiently well known for a leading rock band to feature it on an album that went on to sell twenty million copies around the world. In the mid-1970s, paedophiles were recognized by our group of teenage, English working class boys as devious and manipulative opportunists who caused permanent emotional scars to their victims.
Pope Francis’ statement is a lie. The church did not fail to act because of the reasons he suggests, it failed to act because it knew how evil the abusers were and it wanted to hide their crimes. Perhaps someone should send him a copy of “Tommy” to remind him how much we all understood.