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Vatican’s endemic tryst with sexual abuse: is silencing survivors way out of shame, crime?

By Jay Ihsan 

Time and again shocking revelations about sexual abuse by members of Catholic religious congregations and diocesan priests have made news, forcing the question whether such endemic perversion constitute crimes against humanity?
How is it that a credo so blasé about an unchristian existence falls short of living up to expectations that “all things are possible with God”?
Or perhaps “all things are possible with God” is the root of all problem, going by how church, clergy and missionaries abuse the trust “god” has bestowed in them.
In July 2022, Pope Francis, spiritual leader of Catholics worldwide, found himself apologising for the “disastrous error” and “evil” of Canada’s church-run residential schools that went on to abuse tens of thousands of children.
Francis begged for forgiveness. Is it not a case of too late too little for the Pope? Or was Francis busy cherry picking cases to ‘rejuvenate” the Vatican’s image and reputation?
Diocesan officials and academics well informed about the Roman Catholic Church have reportedly said that sexual abuse by clergy is generally not discussed, and thus is difficult to measure.
If that is the case, why then between 2001 and 2010 did the Vatican decide to investigate sex abuse cases involving 3,000 priests, some of which went back 50 years? What really compelled this move?
In a 2001 apology, John Paul II called sexual abuse within the Church "a profound contradiction of the teaching and witness of Jesus Christ."
While Benedict XVI apologised, met with survivors and spoke of his "shame" at the evil of abuse, calling for perpetrators to be brought to justice and denouncing mishandling by church authorities.
Ironically, in 2018, Pope Francis accused survivors of fabricating allegations about a particular case in Chile which implicated his involvement.
It however was not long before Francis painfully swallowed the humble pie and apologised for his tragic “error” and expressing “shame and sorrow” for the scandal.
The “remorse” led to Francis making sweeping changes that presumably allowed for greater transparency post a four-day summit meeting in Vatican City in 2019 to prevent sexual abuse by Catholic church clergy.

Vatican’s refusal to help

Francis’ shenanigans fell flat when in June 2021, a team of United Nations special rapporteurs for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) condemned the Vatican over never ending allegations that the Catholic Church had hindered and failed to cooperate with domestic judicial proceedings to escape accountability for abusers and compensation for victims.
The criticism from OHCHR did little to stop a Catholic priest Stephen Joseph Rosetti from claiming that the frequency of paedophilia amongst the Catholic clergy is no higher than among general population - thus a Catholic priest is no more likely to be a pedophile than an average male.
On 13 May 2017, Pope Francis acknowledged that the Vatican had a 2,000 case backlog of sex abuse cases.
The Boston Globe in 2002 reported, "clearly the issue has been most prominent in the United States."
The US is the country with the highest number of reported Catholic sex abuse cases followed by Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and countries in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Academic Mathew N. Schmalz cites India as an example: "you would have gossip and rumors, but it never reaches the level of formal charges or controversies.”
When “missionary” paedophile Richard Huckle shocked the world with his heinous crimes against babies and children, Francis in theory approved papal decree to remove bishops who failed to deal with sexual abuse.
Survivors of sex abuse demanded that bishops be held accountable for failure to protect their parishioners from paedophiles.
Although the church's canon law includes provision to remove a bishop for negligence, Francis however voiced desire to be more precise in determining the "grave reasons" that could result in bishops being removed from office.
Clergy in positions of high authority in the Catholic church have been accused by survivors of moving alleged rapists to other parishes and of covering up sexual abuse of minors instead of handing them into the police.
So why was the Pope reluctant in getting rid of clergy paedophiles, rapists and molesters? Did the Vatican’s ambiguous stance embolden the likes of Richard Huckle, a “devout Christian” who abused scores of children in Malaysia and Cambodia by posing as a freelance photographer, English teacher and Western philanthropist over a span of 10 years.
Huckle succeeded in gaining access to Malaysia’s impoverished communities in Kuala Lumpur where for nearly two years he roamed the streets of with a camera, participating in the neighbourhood Hindu temple’s religious festivals and sports events, according to residents.
It is bewildering that it was not the Malaysian police but the British police and NGOs which alarmed the community to Huckle’s crimes.
For reasons best known to them, the communities which Huckle visited refused help and counselling for their children.
Huckle was arrested in London in 2014 after an Australian detective unit discovered his activities in an encrypted room on the “dark web”, where members exchanged child sex abuse images and tips
He was given 22 life sentences in a London court in June after admitting to 71 charges of sex abuse against children in Malaysia and Cambodia from the ages of six months to 12.
A Protestant Kuala Lumpur church had then said Huckle, the man dubbed in the United Kingdom media as Britain’s “worst paedophile”, did visit it a few times but denied any child sexual abuse in its congregation or the surrounding community.
Pastor Paul Packianathan, senior pastor of the Community of Praise ― which has churches in Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur and in Taman Medan, Petaling Jaya ― also said Huckle never taught English tuition in the Community of Praise Taman Wahyu located in the capital.
“There was no abuse in our church,” Paul told Malay Mail Online in 2016.
“Those children supposedly affected by him are not from our church, or from the community where our church is,” he said. “He just came as a parishioner on and off”.]

Church needs to own up for misdeeds

Paul said Huckle, who lived permanently in Malaysia from 2011 until December 2014 when he was arrested at Gatwick Airport in the United Kingdom, used to stay in the affluent suburbs of Taman Tun Dr Ismail.
The church pastor said he had told Huckle off a few times, after which the young man would be “missing for a long time”, but declined to elaborate on the incidents.
“Some of his characteristics I didn't like,” said Paul, adding that he could not remember the years when Huckle visited the church.
According to Paul, Huckle had socialised with church members and acted “like any normal human being”.
“I guess you'll only see the [true] colours as you go along,” said Paul. “He used to take photographs and all that. That's it”.
That children and babies had been sexually abused and yet Pastor Paul had the temerity not to come clean on why he admonished Huckle on several occasions? What was the pastor so desperately trying to conceal?
Clearly, Pastor Paul was expecting the “devil” in Huckle to be visible at all times given the former’s “like any normal human being” remark.
Is sexual abuse a notion alien to churches in Malaysia given the ignorance Pastor Paul stumbled to feign?
When a pastor sexually abused teenagers at Malacca’s Portuguese Settlement a few years ago, the community acted in the most despicable of manner – by covering up the cases to save their own shame and skin.
Going by Pastor Paul’s indifference to the crimes committed by Huckle, it is apparent that the church (denominations in spite) lacks all virtues espoused by the Bible – love, compassion, courage and conviction in saving children from such perpetrators.
Until such time that Pastor Paul and the churches in Malaysia grow a backbone, children will continue to suffer in silence at the hands of church clergy who unabashedly abuse their power and threaten survivors to keep quiet about the crime.
Reuters in 2016 reported that Malaysian authorities faced increasing pressure to explain how they handled the case of the convicted Huckle after British officials made it clear they told their counterparts in Kuala Lumpur about his suspected behaviour more than 18 months ago.
Huckle, 30, was detained when he arrived at London's Gatwick airport from Malaysia in December 2014 and was charged with sexually abusing dozens of children for at least nine years, mostly in Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital. He was sentenced to life in prison.
The Malaysian police quickly resorted to damage control mode claiming they were only told about Huckle by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) in April 2016.
Sharmila Sekaran, chairperson of welfare group Voice of the Children (VoC) was then quoted as saying if the Malaysian authorities had been informed in 2014 and there had been no response then they had delayed providing help and counseling to the abused children.

Police and church answerable to Huckle’s survivors

The failure to detect Huckle’s behavior over nine years decries both the church and police’s miserable determination to wash their hands off this abominable crime.
“The fact is that from 2006 to 2014 he was here abusing our children. Why did we not know? Why did we not pick him up? We need to do some serious, honest soul-searching,” Sharmila had lamented.
“This was systematic rampant abuse in our own backyard - how could it have gone undetected until someone else informed us?”
Asked why the authorities may not have responded after first being informed, she said: “Why they didn't do anything - I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t know what they could do.”
NCA deputy director Andrew Brennan meanwhile shared with reporters after Huckle’s sentencing that they had informed the Malaysian authorities of Huckle’s case in November 2014 and shared “all the information and all of the intelligence” that they had on Huckle at that time.
“Let me assure you we have met Malaysian authorities on a number of occasions throughout autumn of 2014.
“When it became clear they (Malaysia) didn’t have sufficient evidence to arrest him, we made the decision that we would arrest him in December 2014,” Brennan had said.
The British High Commission in a statement told Reuters that it had been engaged with the Malaysians since 2014.
“Where British nationals commit such offences, anywhere in the world, we will work to bring offenders to justice and ensure victims get the right protection and treatment,” a spokesperson for the British High Commission had said.
“International cooperation is critical for that. Our engagement with the Malaysian authorities on the Richard Huckle case, since 2014, reflects that.”
Meanwhile, Ong Chin Lan, a senior officer in the police’s Sexual, Women and Child Investigation Division in a kneejerk reaction told Malaysia’s national news agency Bernama that the NCA did not provide any information on Huckle’s case because he had been on trial.
Huckle, who awarded himself points for his crimes, had bragged on the dark web that those from poor communities made easier victims than well-to-do westerners. He filmed and photographed the rape and abuse of children and shared it online with paedophiles worldwide.
Huckle’s own end was unimaginably excruciating - he was raped, beaten, stabbed and strangled to death on October 13, 2019 by a fellow inmate at a high security prison in the United Kingdom.
As for both the Vatican and church in Malaysia, cloaking under a thick hide and refuting responsibility in the Huckle and other sexual abuse incidents is evident of their apathetic interest in repenting for the misdeeds and lackadaisical behaviour in giving a so-called missionary like Huckle access to babies and children.

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