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Religion

Abuse victim: This pope was a 'total failure'

Among victims of clerical child abuse in Ireland, response to Pope Benedict XVI's resignation has been muted. John Kelly of SOCA (Survivors of Child Abuse) told DW why he thinks the pope didn't meet his obligations.

DW: What was your first reaction to the resignation?

John Kelly: Well, for myself and the majority of victims of clerical abuse, it was one of indifference. For the very simple reason that he won't be missed. There was great hope that this particular pope was going to do a lot, and to challenge things within the college of cardinals … to do something about child abuse. He did apologize and that is fantastic, but in the end it gave us false hope, and it was all rhetoric, because it was never followed up with anything of substance.

Why do you think he failed to do more?

Well, this Pope is an academic, and what he is very good at is protecting the institution of the church. But I believe that he is actually responsible for compounding this abuse by not tackling it more fully.

I wrote a number of letters to the pope, and in one, I said, "look, you have it in your power to do something, these victims haven't got justice with the state authorities, and you have it in your power, under Canon Law to do something. You can either disband or suspend their licence, there are loads of penalties available to you," but even then he didn't do that, which is very depressing, and leaves me with no hope for the future.

In the light of what you just said, do you feel that the pope's resignation, is almost a way for the Church to try and draw a line under those actions, and move on, in some way 'bury' those actions with him?

Well, you see the scandals have been so well-publicised, and in reality, I don't think he managed them correctly. Perhaps the other people in the conclave of cardinals, the more conservative ones, probably said it's probably time for him to go, because this has lingered on for 13 years, and they don't see any end in sight. They probably think, "well, he's tried his best"… and it's quite possible, one can only speculate of course, but it's quite possible, that he's been moved to one side.

Faceless bishops pray in a churchyard (Photo: Uwe Zucchi dpa/lhe (zu lhe-BLICKPUNKT vom 19.03.2012) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)

'The Catholic Church is a secret organisation, concerned only with power and control.'

He has appointed quite a few cardinals, in a relatively short time, so do you think that he has managed to guarantee that the next pope too will be another conservative thinker?

To be quite honest, I always got the feeling that this pope was an interim pope. They needed time, and what he has done is ensure that there is no dissention, that any successor will basically be in this pope's image, and he will carry out his policies and make sure that there will be no liberalisation in the Church whatsoever, but that can only go so far. For 13 years, they've tried their best to create a different image, to create the image that they have addressed the scandals etc, but we all know, the same people are in Ireland, and all around the world, are still in charge, there has been no change, and we know that.

We have seen what happened in the Arab spring, and perhaps the mood for revolution is getting nearer here too. Because people don't want to lose their religion, but neither do they want to put up with this dogma from the hierarchy.

For thousands of years, the church has been operating in a climate of secrecy and it's all about power and control. In Ireland here, they had control of the government, when they didn't agree with the government, they would go up in the pulpit here and say "don't vote for them." They would shame people into church, and they'd send out envelopes afterwards asking for money, and when people didn't have enough, they'd actually denounce them in the pulpit in front of everybody, now that was abuse of power and control.

What do you think people might do - what kinds of reactions have you been seeing in Ireland?

I speak to people, and I know what they are thinking, 80 percent of Ireland consider themselves Catholics, you ask them the same thing, have they got faith in the pontiff, or the Vatican, and they tell you quite rightly, "No, they don't. So I think people are very despondent , and they've settled into [the mentality of] "here we go again." There are thousands and thousands of priests who also want change, and they are on the front line. You know in Ireland, about 20 years ago, you'd get a couple of hundred going into the priesthood, last year it was just two, so the church is getting damaged, you've heard the expression "fiddling whilst Rome burns" well that's exactly what is happening now. But this mindset from the fourteenth century is just not sustainable for the future.

A handout photo released by the Vatican's press office showing Pope Benedict XVI (C) meeting Ireland's bishops at the Vatican on 16 February 2010.

Pope Benedict XVI receives Irish bishops at the Vatican in 2010

What do you think of the timing?

Well we have Easter, we have a lot of things coming up, I get the feeling that he might have been pushed aside, to get someone in there. I think they might be afraid of his frailty that he's not able to address those scandals any more. I believe they are looking for a younger person, a more agile person, someone with more lucidity in his brain, somebody to pursue the policies that they want, so it is probably an in house revolution. Whilst it would appear that he voluntarily retired, I think he has been gently nudged and pushed into this, it would be the only explanation, it hasn't happened for more than 500 years.

But in December 2012 for example, this pope launched the Vatican twitter feed, so don't you think that they were already trying to create a more revoultionary modern image for him?

My own opinion is that tweeting might be their undoing. You can only control people for so long, we've seen that in the Arab spring. The Church is a secret organisation, and it thrives on power and control, and if you look at the abuse that has happened in Ireland for so long, you know abuse of children or society, can only happen in an atmosphere of ignorance or poverty, so twitter could be their undoing, because they simply don't understand it. The Church used to be afraid of science, and twitter is part of science. I don't think most of the Cardinals want liberalisation in the world.

What would you like to see happen?

We all would like justice. We haven't got justice in this country. Despite a state government enquiry saying that tens of thousands of children were abused, not one of the perpetrators was sent to prison for what happened. Hope is all we have, without hope we have nothing, and I am just hoping, in some way, the successor, even if he is conservative, will see what is coming from the ground up, and there will be change.

How would you describe this papacy?

If I was asked to describe the pontiff in one word, I would use "failure." "Total failure." He was just someone to keep things in place. There was no reform, no change, no nothing. When you get someone like that, perhaps the best word is anonymous, because he didn't do the Church, or his people, any favors whatsoever. It's a good thing that he resigned, but we might have more dark days ahead with his successor. Having said that, I do honestly believe they will, in time, be washed and brushed aside, because I feel his successor will only be able to get away with it for so long. The tide must change, and the revolution will happen.

John Kelly is the founder and coordinator of SOCA (Survivors of Child Abuse) in Ireland. He was himself in a Catholic institution for many years, and accuses the Catholic church of abusing him, including flogging him naked with leather belts, standing on his fingers, and rape. Despite these experiences, he still describes himself as a Catholic.

DW.DE