Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone is the Vatican’s top diplomat. Which is scary, because what he said in Chile this week defies all norms of diplomatic behaviour.
As I said on Channel 4 News last night, the Vatican does not seem to have heard of the cardinal rule: “when you are in a hole, stop digging”; and specifically Cardinal Bertone, the Pope’s right hand man and secretary of state, who for the sake of the church’s good name should surely have his spade confiscated forthwith.
Bertone’s remarks have been translated with slight variations, but this is a decent transcript:
“Many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown that there is no link between celibacy and paedophilia, but many others have shown, and I’ve been told recently, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia. That is the truth. I read it in a document written by psychologists, so that is the problem.”
“Keep in mind the most important thing is that this pathological illness is a pathological illness that can affect all types of people, with a smaller percentage amongst priests. However, the behaviour of these priests in this respect is very negative behaviour, very serious and shocking.”
I tried ringing the Vatican press office for a comment on the central claim here: that homosexuality and paedophilia are linked, after gay rights groups from London to Santiago to Rome were outraged by the Cardinal’s remarks.
I was told they were in a meeting. In the last few weeks it has sometimes felt as if the Vatican press office has been in a meeting for the past 2,000 years.
The Vatican’s own newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, excluded any mention of Bertone’s remarks about homosexuality. It covered the rest of his speech in Chile though, and Vatican insiders tell me there was acute embarrassment at their boss’s gaffe, which is not the official church position. To some it sounded like rather a desperate attempt to de-couple any suggestion that child abuse is linked to priestly celibacy – and blame homosexuality instead.
During Pope Benedict’s flight to the US in 2008, the Holy Father said: “I do not want to talk about homosexuality but paedophilia, which is another thing.” Then this afternoon, a comment by Father Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, clearly distancing himself from the Cardinal: “Church authorities do not consider it their responsibility to make statements on psychological or medical grounds, there are the studies of specialists and ongoing research on the subject.”
So just what is this psychological research the Cardinal and the Vatican are talking about?
I refer you to Professor Tonino Cantelmi, head of the Italian Association of Catholic Psychologists and Psychiatrists, who has been quoted by the Italian press today as saying he cannot see a link between homosexuality and paedophilia, and that any theory along these lines lacks scientific basis.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has conducted a study of child abuse, and according to a Q&A session on the preliminary findings, it does not support the link either.
But a 2006 study of abuse involving American Catholic priests from 1950 to 2002 found 96 US paedophile priests abusing children younger than 10, and 474 “ephebophiles” – priests abusing male victims over the age of 13.
So what Cardinal Bertone may have done is conflate the abuse of young children with the abuse of adolescent teenagers to reach the conclusion of a homosexual link.
Monsignor Charles Scicluna, one of the most senior figures in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with allegations of abuse by clergy, spoke recently of around 3,000 cases of abuse reported to Rome since 2001, saying that in 60 per cent of cases were acts of adolescent ‘ephebophilia’, 30 per cent heterosexual intercourse and 10 per cent of “true” paedophilia.
The Monsignor is Maltese, and will no doubt be at the Pope’s right hand during his trip to the island this weekend.
A group of Maltese men have asked to meet the Pope, claiming they were abused as children by priests. The Vatican has frequently indicated that the Pope wants to meet more victims – though not in the glare of the media spotlight. But Malta, the Pontiff’s first foreign trip since this crisis broke, is another opportunity to make amends.
The Vatican’s desire to respond in its own time, regardless of pressure from the media, victims and protestors, is clearly not working.
If the church were a corporation, it would have called in crisis management specialists by now, the Pope would be answering questions on his plane from the select group of journalists allowed to travel with him on Saturday afternoon; he would be meeting more victims of abuse; and Cardinal Bertone would have been told to keep quiet.