Spotlight: Michael Rezendes in conversation with Mukund Padmanabhan

By Jules Marie, Official ZEE JLF@Boulder Blogger

There was a man who stood outside a vice-president’s house with a sign saying “I’ve been raped by a priest” and yet he was ignored. – Michael Rezendes

Michael Rezendes—a Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporter on the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team—uncovered the clergy sex scandal within the Boston Archdiocese. What began as a story focusing on Roman Catholic Priest John Geoghan became a bombshell when it was revealed that over a 30-year career in six parishes, Geoghan was accused of sexual abuse involving more than 130 boys. Investigative journalists would ultimately prove that more than 250 Catholic priests in the Boston Archdiocese were involved in pedophilia. Rezendes won the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting which morphed into an Oscar-winning film titled Spotlight.

A revealing interview at the Jaipur Literature Festival held in Boulder, Colorado between Rezendes and Mukund Padmanabha—editor of The Hindu, one of India’s oldest and most respected newspapers—revealed the compassion Rezendes felt when he realized the depth of the pattern to both the abuse and the cover-up he discovered as Catholic bishops continually protected their own and moved abusive priests from one parish to another.

“I think child sexual abuse is a problem in many sectors of our societies. It’s a problem in families, in schools, in the Boy Scouts. Every time you have an imbalance of power and you have defenseless children, and you have an institution that isn’t accountable to the public, it’s a prescription for disaster. I do believe the problem is acute within the Catholic Church and it was so assiduously covered up by top officials, by cardinals, by the Vatican itself. It’s also endemic because of the celibacy requirement for Catholic priests. They’re required to live their lives without sex at any time and it does tend to attract men who have sexual problems. Pedophiles are quite smart and shrewd and they can recognize an environment in which they’re likely to flourish in secret,” emphasized Rezendes.

Catholics espouse celibacy because they believe Jesus didn’t have sex so they abstain to emulate him. – Michael Rezendes

Spotlight on Celibacy

The celibacy problem creates a protection racket. Here’s what I mean. You have priests who are human beings and we do know that human beings have sex. The reality is that despite this requirement many are having sex with women and men and the smallest cohort is having sex with children. This is illegal in the church. All of these people having sex want to keep it quiet and they aren’t going to shine the light of accusation on a man for having sex with a child if he himself is having sex with a woman or a man. Church leaders and bishops are responsible for protecting the church from scandal. They take that seriously. You have high ranking officials who end up caring more about the institution than about the people the institution is supposed to serve. The abuse of children is terrible throughout society but it’s especially acute in the church. When you add the point that the church presents itself as a paradigm of morality then you see the problem.

Mukund Padmanabhan questioned Rezendes understanding of Cardinal Bernard Law, who had extensive knowledge of sexual abuse committed by dozens of priests within his archdiocese. Law, though a man of great faith, swept all charges under the carpet to protect the church. The prevailing culture at the time was that the church wasn’t bothered by this phenomenon at all.

“I’m astounded and mystified. Cardinal Law knew everything. I saw his calendar. I knew he met with these priests who were serial abusers. He knew everything. He knew what the specific priests had done. Yet, he orchestrated the cover-up, shoveling them from parish to parish and putting more and more children in harm’s way. He seemed to be completely unaware of the consequences of sexually abusing children. He’s one of the church leaders who were more concerned with protecting the intuition and the priests. Cardinal Law was the chief protector of his priests even if they were serial pedophiles. This is a man who thought he’d be the first American pope. I do find it hard to believe he sleeps at night,” confides Rezendes.

Cardinal Law was the chief protector of his priests even if they were serial pedophiles. – Michael Rezendes

Spotlight on Clergy Sex Abuse

Padmanabhan asked Rezendes why it took so long for Spotlight to investigate clergy sexual abuse who replied, “In decades past, there was a profound belief that priests could do no wrong, that this is a moral institution, how could this be true? They would say this is one bad apple in a barrel of very fine priests, but we discovered—thanks to obtaining church documents—that more than 250 priests in the Boston Archdiocese were involved in clergy sex abuse and this scandal was a cover-up at the highest level of the church,” emphasizes Rezendes.

The clergy abuse story is unfolding all over the world as children begin to learn that their biological father is actually a Catholic priest which can be incredibly unstabilizing for a child. The abuse will happen over and over again until as Rezendez believes, the Vatican creates a set of protocols to avoid sexual abuse. The Vatican, and Pope Francis, appointed a commission to study the issue several years ago though no results have been shared. There’s no mention of what a bishop should do when one of his priests has fathered a child, thereby violating church law.

There have been countless scandals where Catholic priests have had to resign when it’s discovered that they’ve fathered children. It’s as if the children of priests don’t exist. – Michael Rezendes

Photo Credit – Abhijit Sur

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