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Pope Torquemada

How does the new Pope connect to Catholic kids persecuting me as a child, especially during Halloween, obstructing justice and shaping US politics?

At age six, growing up in the Bronx, a gang of Irish Catholic kids jumped me and beat me.

As they punched, I asked why.

“You killed our Lord, kid,” said a freckled boy of about eight. “We’re getting even.”

My father bandaged my wounds and told me that the Cossacks in the Ukraine had done worse. “The Cossacks would ride into our village on horses and spear Jewish babies. It’s been that way for centuries. It won’t change,” he reassured me.

As a teenager, I learned the origins of anti-Semitism. “Jews are scapegoats,” my father said. “The poor suffer, but instead of blaming those who exploit them, the Church blames the Jews because they supposedly killed Jesus, that momser [Yiddish for bastard].”

On the celibacy of priests, my father asked rhetorically what those guys in robes do with boys at choir practice. “Check them for hemorrhoids and hernias? They shtup [poke] them and then tell the kids to beat up Jews.” As I grew older and actually made friends with some of my former persecutors, I learned that the local parish priest had indeed incited the boys to take on the “killers of Christ.” My father insisted that the “line” came from Rome, that priests did what the Pope told them to do.

I wonder if those kids who beat me up became priests, bishops and cardinals. They might have become close associates of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) at the time that the Vatican decided to distract attention from the Church’s decade-long sex abuse scandal.

As the world became aware of pedophilia in the priesthood, Ratzinger took command of the Vatican’s counter offensive, a course that interfered with justice for the victims of priests’ abuse and also with US politics. How to direct the public away from the fact that hundreds of priests have taken advantage of kids in their parishes? In the 2004 elections, the Church weighed in on the side of George W. Bush and other candidates who opposed abortion and gay marriage, issues most likely to divert attention away from the scandal.

On August 11, 2004, less than three months before the elections, Ratzinger sent a directive to US Bishops. “The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin” Citing previous Church doctrine, he warned Catholics. “In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law or vote for it.” Christians have a “grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. ,,,This cooperation can never be justified

“Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia,” Ratzinger continued. “For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion.There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

So, Ratzinger informed the Bishops, the Pope permitted disagreement on the Iraq War and death penalty, but “regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), priest should inform him “that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion.”

A Catholic voter “would be guilty of formal cooperation with evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stance on abortion or euthanasia.” (

Some liberal priests defused Ratzinger’s directive, but Bush won 6% more Catholic votes than in 2000, an edge that turned swing close states like Ohio, Iowa and New Mexico.

The Ratzinger letter also resounded in South Dakota’s Senate race where Democrat Tom Daschle lost re-election by less than 5,000 votes to John Thune. Sioux Falls Bishop Robert Carlson told Daschle to stop identifying publicly as a Catholic because, using Ratzinger guidelines, “Catholics would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present themselves for Holy Communion, if they were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stance on abortion or euthanasia.”

Beyond his plan to label pro-choice Democrats as God’s enemies, Ratzinger also elaborated a legal cover up. In May 2001, as ongoing revelations about kinky priests threatened to drown the Church’s reputation, the Cardinal sent a secret letter, (obtained by The Observer) to every Catholic bishop. In it, Ratzinger “asserted the church’s right to hold its inquiries behind closed doors and keep the evidence confidential for up to 10 years after the victims reached adulthood.” Jamie Doward, Observer, April 24, 2005)

Lawyers for abuse victims claimed that Ratzinger “obstructed justice” by ordering that “the church’s investigations into child sex abuse claims be carried out in secret.” If the totality of sex crime allegations became public or fell into the hands of the police, the Church’s reputation would suffer irreparable damage. So, Ratzinger’s letter says, in cases where abuse had been “perpetrated with a minor by a cleric,” the church should claim jurisdiction.

The German-born Cardinal wanted “preliminary investigations” into abuse claims to go to his office, not police or DAs. Then, he would refer those claims to private, Church-established courts in which the “functions of judge, promoter of justice, notary and legal representative can validly be performed for these cases only by priests” and would remain “subject to the pontifical secret.”

Ratzinger also threatened to excommunicate priests who revealed details of the ongoing cases. The lawyers used this letter in a suit filed on behalf of two alleged abuse victims in Texas and against Ratzinger, alleging that he conspired to obstruct justice. On April 8 2004 the lawyers called Father John Beal, a Catholic University professor, to state under oath that the Ratzinger letter stated that the church had jurisdiction and control over sexual assault crimes.

Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, who co-signed Ratzinger’s missile, had opined that he saw no reason that bishops should “contact the police in order to denounce a priest who has admitted the offense of pedophilia.” (The Observer, April 24, 2005)

An additional cover up charge appeared in the Independent. According to Peter Popham, “Pope Benedict XVI has been accused of ignoring for seven years charges facing Fr Marcial Maciel, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ [an ultra conservative organization founded in Mexico in 1941] because Fr Maciel was a close friend of Pope John Paul II.”

In 1997 Ratzinger led the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, set up by the Vatican to excommunicate sexually abusive priests. Popham reported that Bishop John R McCann of New York forwarded Ratzinger “detailed charges of sexual abuse made by Fr Juan Vaca, a priest in Bishop McCann’s diocese.”

In an open letter to Marcial, Vaca wrote that “Everything you did contradicts the beliefs of the Church and the order.” Vaca cited “innumerable times” that Marciel would “wake me in the middle of the night abusing my innocence. Nights of fear, so many nights of absolute fear: so many nights of lost sleepplaced my own psychological health in jeopardy.” (Independent, April 23, 2005)

Vaca and eight other former Legionaries of Christ accused Maciel of sexually abused them in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Cardinal Ratzinger took no action. He focused on the overriding issue of defeating the “dictatorship of relativism.” The Church, he insisted, must use political power and manipulation to have its absolute “truth and values” prevail. (Sam Smith Progressive Review April 24)

“We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism,” Ratzinger warned in his last homily as Cardinal, “which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.” (CBC April 18, 2005)

For 2000 plus years, the Catholic Church has appealed to hundreds of millions around love and forgiveness while it also practiced intolerance and bigotry. In the 1960s, Popes John XXIII and Paul VI helped make the Church into the servant of the poor. For millions of Catholics, Liberation Theology renewed the beauty and spirit of their Church.

But Paul II and now Benedict XVI have sought to remove that “Marxist-based theology” from the Church and return it to darker periods of its history.

SAUL LANDAU’s newest book is THE BUSINESS OF AMERICA: HOW CONSUMERS HAVE RELACED CITIZENS AND HOW WE CAN REVERSE THE TREND. He is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University.















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SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

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