THE “DYSFUNCTION, disconnection and elitism” which Enda Kenny said “dominates the culture of the Vatican to this day” did not start with the investigation into clerical sex abuse in the Cloyne diocese.
It has been the defining characteristic of the Catholic Church throughout history and abuses of an even greater scale than clerical child sex abuse have been a feature of that history throughout most of its existence.
The Catholic Church has been an advocate for slavery, for the subjugation of people in Africa, North and South America and Asia, for acts bordering on genocide and for the most appalling cruelties.
Its supreme achievement is that this record is almost obliterated from public memory and the organisation is regarded as the repository of truth and morality by hundreds of millions of its adherents.
Let me explain.
A papal bull, Dum Diversas, issued on June 18th, 1452, by Pope Nicholas V, declared: "We grant you (kings of Spain and Portugal) by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture and subjugate the Saracens [Muslims] and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, countries, principalities and other property . . . And to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery."
This was no aberration. Three years later the same pope issued another papal bull, Romanus Pontifex,confirming the conquest of lands and peoples by the king of Portugal and asserted the sole right of this King Alfonso to the territories captured by him. In doing so, the pope specifically invoked the claim that popes derive their authority from Jesus.
It said: “Since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso – to invade, search out, capture, vanquish and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to . . . convert [these properties] to himself and his successors [and these possessions] do of right belong and pertain to the said King Alfonso and his successors”.
These were followed by further papal bulls along similar lines by his successors.
Thereby popes gave divine sanction to the brutal colonisation of large tracts of the world, through murder, pillage and terror. Yes, the means of colonisation were not spelt out and specifically sanctioned, but wasn’t it obvious what the means would be? These very papal bulls were invoked by an authority of a different kind in a different era and with significant consequence.
That other authority was the supreme court of America in a 1823 case known as Johnson v McIntosh.
In that case, the court ruled that the lands “discovered” by Europeans were owned by the colonisers, not by Native Americans, and that the authority for that law with the Law of Nations, the basis for which were the papal bulls.
This remains the law of the United States. Native Americans have requested the Vatican in the last few years to reverse these papal bulls, to no effect.
There are numerous instances of special depravity in the history of this institution.
One of these was the slaughter of hundreds of Inca warriors under the guise of their failing to convert to Christianity on being challenged to do so by a priest wearing clerical garb, with which the Incas would hardly have been familiar. Others would have been the atrocities of the Inquisition, crusades instigated and sponsored by the church, specifically authorised by another papal bull, and massacred Muslims, in one instance hundreds of defenceless men, women and children in the mosque at Jerusalem.
Yes, there have been “acts of contrition” by the Vatican for some of these atrocities but these have been couched in the most tentative of terms and then the golden alibi: the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ and, being the impersonation of Jesus Christ, it is immune from institutional defect.
No acknowledgment that its foundation document, the Bible, is suffused by incitements to genocide, intolerance.
It has also been one of the primary cultural instruments of the subjugation of women. The very claim that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is ordained by the divine, in the person of Jesus, gives added venom to that injustice.
Catholicism is a fundamentalist religion, believing unswervingly in its own divine origin and, as a consequence, its essential holiness. Injustice, slavery and atrocity are viewed within “the bigger picture” and, as such, diminished in the shadow of it being the vehicle of humankind’s “salvation”.
What significance in that context has the wholesale clerical rape of thousands of children and the institutional cover-up of that wholesale rape, the massacre of a few thousand innocents, the enslavement of entire peoples?
And anyway look at the good the Catholic Church has done.
It will all be okay in the next world.