Alexander Soldatov begins the topic in front of Novaya Gazeta with a New Testament quote from ap. Peter at the beginning of church history: “For it is time that judgment should begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). This time has come for the Catholic Church of France, which has decided to reveal to the public the shocking truth about itself. The Conference of Catholic Bishops of France set up an independent commission three years ago, chaired by former Vice President of the Council of State Jean-Marc Sove. The church even provided the commission with three million euros for the investigation.
In fact, the trial was started by Pope Francis, who removed the seal of secrecy from the files of pedophile clerics. This vulture was erected by his predecessor Benedict XVI in 2011 in an attempt to save the church’s reputation. It is believed that his abdication two years later was, among other things, a consequence of the avalanche of these cases, in which both bishops and cardinals were already involved.
Representatives of the French Association of Victims of Sexual Violence were invited to present the report of the Independent Commission. The commission itself consists of twenty-two people: lawyers, doctors, scholars, historians, sociologists and theologians. Their mandate is linked to the handling of documents, including partially secret ones, for the period from 1950 to 2020. The Commission was able to identify the names of more than three thousand clergy and monks who have sexually abused more than 216,000 people in those seventy years. people, about 80 percent of whom are boys between the ages of ten and thirteen. “This is terrible for French society, for the Catholic Church,” said the chairman of the Association of Victims of Sexual Violence.
What is even more terrible for her is that until the pontificate of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church either showed indifference to the fate of the victims or tried to “cover up” the traces and the pedophiles by moving them from one parish to another. According to the Catholics, the report’s authors, “The Catholic Church is the social environment with the highest prevalence of sexual violence after family and friends.”
According to the official statistics of the association, a total of about five and a half million French people in the country today have been victims of sexual violence, and the crimes are mostly committed in families or in close family circles. About one hundred and forty thousand minors have been sexually abused in schools, without taking into account boarding schools.
A peculiarity of the cases in the Catholic Church is that the perpetrators use their authority to force the victims to “obedience” or to uncritically evaluate the actions of people dressed in “special grace”.
The French Catholic Church, which commissioned the report, has not yet responded specifically. The President of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, Eric de Moulin-Beaufort, acknowledged that the results of the study were “appalling” and called for a balance to be struck between “truth and compassion”. The Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church, like secular law, uses the category of “limitation period”, so most of the perpetrators included in the report, if alive, will not be held liable. The rest are likely to be dealt with by the police, as France is a secular state and does not require the church’s consent to prosecute. In 2019, for example, the court sentenced the acting Archbishop of Lyon, Philip Barbaren, for hiding crimes of pedophile priests in his diocese…
The Catholic Church has proven to be a world leader in pedophile scandals. Are there any special preconditions for this in the very specifics of Catholic spirituality? Alexei Osipov, a popular conservative Orthodox professor at the Moscow Theological Academy, is inclined to answer this question in the affirmative. He sees all the problems of Western Christianity in the “deep damage” to the very foundations of the spiritual life that stems from Catholic “jurisprudence.” By “legalism” the professor understands such a relationship with God that is reminiscent of a market mechanism: every sin, as well as every virtue, has its price, so every sin can be “redeemed” (you just have to know how and with what), and for every virtue you will receive a reward. Describing this example with the lives of Catholic saints, Osipov called it “games with God.”
Of course, Catholics themselves, and most secular theologians, will not agree with this caricatured interpretation of Catholic spirituality, which supposedly entitles the believer to commit every sin if its “price” is known. However, the proverbial Latin casuistry, enshrined in the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church, until recently contained opportunities for evasion for pedophiles. In the 1917 edition, this code did not consider pedophilia separately from adultery, and if it was tried by pedophile clerics, it was of a different composition – for example, “adultery during confession.” According to the code, all such cases are classified. According to the old version of the code, if bishops disclose the crimes of clergy in their diocese, it will bring the bishop to justice, not the priests. The clergyman was also acquitted if he proved during the trial that at the time of the fall he was in a state that prevented him from “fully aware of his actions.”
In 1983, Pope John Paul II amended the code, moving these cases from the diocese to the Holy See itself. The limitation period has been extended to five years. However, the code requires mandatory participation in the trial of victims, and this is not always realistic. Since 2001, these cases have been dealt with by the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, which significantly limits the ability of bishops to cover up the sins of their clergy.
And the fact that the problem is not reduced to any special “Catholic spirituality” is evidenced by the scale that this problem has acquired in the ROC, on the territory of Russia, which zealously preserves its “traditional values”. It is said that even specialists in this type of case have appeared in the investigative committees. One of the latest is the case of hieromonk Kliment (Korablyov), chairman of parishes of the ROC in the Orenburg region, convicted in September. He was found guilty of three articles of the Criminal Code related to minors under the age of fourteen. The hieromonk received thirteen years in prison under a strict regime of punishment. His more famous neighbor of the Orenburg metropolitanate, prot. Nikolai Stremsky has been in pre-trial detention for two years now. Church media once promoted his image as the founder of a charity and a loving father of dozens of adopted children, and the monastery was visited personally by Putin. Eleven children have now been injured in his actions, according to the investigation. Five hundred million rubles have been seized in the archpriest’s accounts. Among the last ROC clerics convicted of pedophilia are a candle. Andrei Strebkov from the Holy Trinity Church in Zainsk, thirteen years old strict regime, hieromonk Andrei (Tkachenko), director of the Orthodox high school in Yakutsk, seventeen years old strict regime, prot. Sergiy Smolyakov, clergyman of the Saransk diocese, for torturing children and sexual violence, still under investigation, candle. Gleb Grozovsky, clergyman of the Gatchina diocese, sentenced to fourteen years of strict regime. Mysteriously, two clerics convicted of pedophilia died shortly after their conviction – a candle. Andrei Kiselyov and the priest. Nikon (Kharkov).
It is unlikely that the preconditions for such crimes in the Orthodox environment differ too much from the Catholic one. Pedophilia often grows as a “compensatory” deviation in people deprived of family and children. In Russian conditions, this often affects people with a homosexual orientation, for whom such deprivation becomes an insoluble social problem. To this can be added the closed environment of the “male order”, which is formed in the ecclesiastical institutions – in the seminaries, monasteries, diocesan administrations, hierarchical residences hidden from external view. To this can be added the “pastoral burnout” – the fatigue and frustration of the ministry of the generation of clergy who entered the Church in the 1990s and the end of the “fashion for the church”, which was replaced by anti-clerical sentiments. For some people, all these traumas and intractable contradictions are transformed into deviant behavior, which should not be justified, but for which sometimes not only the criminal is responsible.
The story of the Catholic Church’s attempts to systematically address its “major challenge of the 21st century” is reminiscent of the benefits of an open society that has prompted the church into such investigations. In Russian conditions, such systematic work is not yet possible. The problem, despite its scale, is solved in two simple ways: repression by the authorities and silence by the ROC.