Exactly Like a Holocaust

So let’s recap a bit. Thousands of children in the United States and Europe have been molested by their pastors, who, when their crimes were found out, were shuffled from parish to parish by their bishops who hoped the whole problem would somehow magically disappear without anyone noticing. But not all the bishops — some of them (Archbishop Weakland in Milwaukee, and now we learn also about the late Bishop Moreno in Tucson) begged the Vatican office headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (today’s Pope Benedict XVI) to have those monster priests defrocked, except now we discover that Ratzinger either dragged his feet or refused outright to allow the canonical trials against the priests to proceed. And those revelations come on the heals of other credible allegations of Ratzinger having covered up similarly abominations when he was bishop of Munich.

So let’s take a moment and just try to imagine the spiritual carnage wrecked for thousands — maybe millions? — of young boys throughout the world. Imagine the devastating effect that massive abuse had on the psychological, spiritual, moral, and even physical foundations of these young boys just as they were preparing to mature into young adulthood. Imagine the general fucked-upness they must have felt as they tried to make sense of themselves (Am I to blame? Am I really that screwed up? Why me?) as their self-worth, their sense of right and wrong, their personhood, their humanity, their dignity, even their sexuality — the most private of spheres in human relations — all of this and more had been stolen from them by their spiritual “father.”

It’s a lot like a holocaust of sorts, isn’t it?  Maybe? Sure, not a genocidal Holocaust, not a wipe-a-people-off-the-face-of-the-earth Holocaust that we write with a capital “H.” I’m speaking of a spiritual and moral holocaust, using a word that we derive from the Greek ὁλόκαυστον (holókauston), which means wholly burnt. Does that not describe the interior devastation that so many of these victims experience? We talk about having been burned by a bad experience, but rape and sexual molestation doesn’t leave one just burned. It leaves them wholly burnt. It leaves them “holocausted,” to coin an adjective.

While I think that the generic word holocaust is a good one to use here, I’m firmly against making direct comparisons to the capital “H” Holocaust. (Update: Anytime we’re not talking about a network of rail lines and concentration camps and a policy calling for the literal incineration of more than ten million people who were deemed to be subhuman, comparisons to that big “H” Holocaust simply don’t apply.) But a Vatican priest delivering a homily before Pope Benedict XVI at a Good Friday service today, reflecting on the unspeakable horrors of the unfolding worldwide scandal, was moved to draw comparisons between today’s unfolding horror and anti-Semitic persecutions of the past century:

Speaking in St. Peter’s Basilica, the priest, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, took note that Easter and Passover fell during the same week this year, and said he was led to think of the Jews.

“They know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence, and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms,” said Father Cantalamessa, who serves under the title of preacher of the papal household. Then he quoted from what he said was a letter from a Jewish friend he did not identify.

“I am following the violent and concentric attacks against the church, the pope and all the faithful by the whole world,” he said the friend wrote. “The use of stereotypes, the passing from personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt, remind me of the more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.”

That’s right. Seeking to hold powerful religious leaders accountable for the rape of untold multitudes of children entrusted to their spiritual and moral care is exactly like the “more shameful aspects of anti-Semitism.” How could I have missed that?


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