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Comment 22

Does the Catholic Church Need a New Inquisition? (A Satire)
March 19, 2010

Widening scandal shocks Germany

(Metro newspaper, March 4, 2010)


    It happened for years, again and again. The boys had to undress and Father Ludger Steuper sprayed them with cold water from the hose, front and back. The boys also had to lie down on Stueper’s couch where the Roman Catholic priest would take their temperatures—rectally for several minutes. Then there were the photos taken of the boys, forced to pose naked.

    A few of the at least 150 victims are now willing to speak out in an ever-widening scandal involving allegations of priests sexually abusing their pupils at several Catholic high schools across Germany.

    The scandal his spiralled since seven alumni of the prestigious Catholic Canisius Kolleg in Berlin first came forward with allegations of abuse in January, shocking the homeland of Pope Benedict XVI. While the focus of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church centred on the U.S. for several years, abuse scandals have in recent years erupted in other countries as well, including Canada, Ireland, the Philippines, Poland, Mexico, Italy and elsewhere.

    More than one month after the first victims came forward in Berlin, new revelations of child abuse by Catholic priests are surfacing on an almost daily basis. “This is just the tip of the iceberg," the Rev. Klaus Mertes, the director of Canisius Kolleg, said last month.

The scene takes place in the basement of a medieval cathedral somewhere in present-day Europe. Father Hilzinger and Brother Rupert are looking over the recent renovations and added accoutrements to a small stone-walled room. Its single, iron-lined door stands open. Burning candles set in shallow wall niches still bearing traces of centuries-old mold cast a shifting glow over the rough and pitted surfaces. The scarred flagstone floor rings dully under their footsteps.


Father Hilzinger: Ah, yes, the atmosphere of Holy Mother Church’s ancient powers to weed out heretics and opponents of God’s authority has been adequately recreated, wouldn’t you say, Brother Rupert?


Brother Rupert: (shivering despite the warm closeness of the room) Uh, yes, Father. It’s certainly not a cheery place.


Father Hilzinger: (pointing to an elaborate contraption to one side of the room, its rusty chains reflecting fleeting glints in the light of the candles) And look—a very persuasive device the Holy Office managed to salvage from the Dominican Priory of San Sebastian in Barcelona. Ah, the ghosts of God’s Hounds will be here watching over us in our new work for the good of the Church. Don’t you think so, Brother Rupert?


Brother Rupert: (shivering again as the ancient breath of inquisitional fervor rustles the hairs on the back of his neck, making the young man draw his cassock tighter about his narrow frame) Uh, yes, Father, I’m sure they will. Is that a genuine…rack? Is that for—for—


Father Hilzinger: Let us hope that God in His mercy will see fit that we do not have to use it.


Brother Rupert: (paling visibly in the dim, shifting light) Oh, I hope so too, Father Hilzinger.


Father Hilzinger: Don’t worry, my dear boy. You’ll soon toughen up. God’s work is sometimes unpleasant, but it has to be done. Are your notebooks and pens ready? I see the table has been readied for us. Shall we get started?


They take their places on chairs set behind wide wooden planks mounted on two sturdy end-pieces, the wood scrubbed and scraped of old ink and other stains more ominous. It crosses Brother Rupert’s mind that he would prefer not to identify them.


Father Hilzinger: (calling out beyond the open door) Bring in the first accused!


Another cassocked brother with a hooded look leads in a second figure, the latter’s eyes widening at the scene before him.


Father Hilzinger: Thank-you, Brother Alphonsus. Please stand by in case we need you. (Glancing down at his papers) Pastor Albert, is it? You need fear nothing here, provided you confess your sins before God and answer the accusations against you. It has been brought to our attention that you have acted improperly with some of your young male parishioners.


Pastor Albert: Oh, no, Father. There is no foundation to those accusations, I assure you. They are malicious lies, nothing else.


Father Hilzinger: Indeed? You have more than one accuser, Pastor Albert. In fact, there are several. Are they all lying?


Pastor Albert: They must be.


Father Hilzinger: Look around you. In the great tradition of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, we are authorized to use extraordinary measures to get you to tell us the truth. Brother Alphonsus is most adept at these various instruments. Will you continue to deny the accusations against you?


Pastor Albert: (trembling) How can you believe such things of a devoted man of God?


Father Hilzinger: For our predecessors, it was sufficient that an accusation had been made. And I must warn you that innocence could rarely be proved to the Inquisitors’ satisfaction. Perhaps we should let Brother Alphonsus help us get to the truth of the matter—


Pastor Albert: (falling to his knees) This is not my fault! Why did God afflict me with these perverse inclinations? Could he not cure these desires if He wished? He—


Father Hilzinger: Silence! You think to blame the Almighty? What of your own responsibility for dealing with such things? Why did you not report these so-called afflictions to your superiors? Do your vows mean nothing?


And so the interrogation continues. Eventually, without the necessity for Brother Alphonsus’ assistance, Pastor Albert gives a full confession. It also comes out that he had been engaging in the same activities at a previous parish, but had been shunted off by his local bishop to his present appointment. He is returned to his cell to be readied for penance and ultimate expulsion from the bosom of the Church.


Father Hilzinger: I trust you have recorded his confession in full, Brother Rupert.


Brother Rupert: Yes, Father. (looking somewhat timidly askance) Would you really have tried to extract it under torture? Should we be employing such methods in these modern times?


Father Hilzinger: The infallible rights of the Church are eternal, my son. And men like Pastor Albert have taken a vow of obedience to it. Far better they submit to examination here than under the glare of the public courts. Regrettably, we can no longer turn them over to the secular arm for proper punishment. (Calling out) Brother Alphonsus, bring in the next one!...The Holy Office, Brother Rupert, has decided to see if we can nip this sort of thing in the bud. We are going to screen some of the new recruits who have entered their first year of seminary, whose profiles might indicate certain undesirable predilections, shall we say…


Brother Alphonsus returns presently with a young man who is clearly struggling to suppress his apprehensions. When his eye falls on the sinister contents of the dim and dank chamber, he starts to shake.


Father Hilzinger: It says here, Samuel, that you are doing well in your studies for Holy Orders. Are you fully committed to God and the Church and the vows they require?


Samuel: (wringing his hands) Yes, I am, Father. There can surely be no question about it.


Father Hilzinger: Yet I wonder, Samuel, if you might not possess certain inclinations which would run counter to those vows and bring the Church into disrepute. We wouldn’t want that, would we?


Samuel: (nervously) No, Father, of course not. But what are these things you are referring to? I can assure you I possess nothing that would do such a thing—and certainly would never act upon it if I did.


Father Hilzinger: (narrowing his eyes and looking toward Brother Alphonsus, who moves quietly toward certain instruments hanging upon the wall) Oh? Are you suggesting there might be some reason to cause the Church concern?


Samuel: (starting at the clink of metal in Brother Alphonsus’ hands) I—I hardly think so—I mean, I pray to God every day—


Father Hilzinger: Indeed? And what do you pray to him for? Please have a seat there, Samuel. Brother Alphonsus will assist you.


Samuel: (looking as though Brother Alphonsus is the last person he wants to assist him) What is this all about, Father? What does the Church require of me? My devotion to her is unquestioned.


Father Hilzinger: I am sure it is. We merely want to ascertain if you have certain other devotions as well. Just let Brother Alphonsus attach his little device to your hand.


Samuel: (bewildered) Is this some kind of lie detector?


Father Hilzinger: You might say so. Now, Samuel, what is it you pray to God for? Perhaps like the blessed Saint Paul, it is to lift some affliction of the mind, perhaps of the body’s inclinations? Do you entertain certain fantasies in unhealthy directions, something that would damage the image of Mother Church if they were acted upon? Something that would bring God Himself into disrepute?


Samuel: (sweating in the glow of the flickering candlelight) Oh, surely not, Father. I—I have never felt such inclinations.


Father Hilzinger: Are you sure? (He nods at Brother Alphonsus.)


Samuel: (grimacing) Oh! No, never…At least—


Father Hilzinger: (nodding again) For the sake of the Church, my boy, confess yourself to God, even if it is only a case of temptation. God sees all.


Samuel: (groaning) Yes, yes, I know. I have prayed to Him, Father. If He could deliver Paul, He can deliver me from my temptations. I trust in Him.


Father Hilzinger: (leaning forward eagerly) So you in fact have these unholy urges, then? Is this why you are joining the priesthood? To find an outlet for them?


Samuel: No, no, Father. With my priestly vows and God’s help, which He will surely give, I am joining to escape them. To overcome them.


Father Hilzinger: (wryly) Hmmm. I am not sure that such has proven to be a workable solution. And not all are so motivated. Of course, your faith is commendable. (He waves away Brother Alphonsus.) My report to your superiors will determine whether you will be allowed to continue your studies.


Samuel is dismissed, nursing his hand, in the company of Brother Alphonsus.


Brother Rupert: (his own paleness showing) I hope he was not damaged. Must we employ such methods? Surely his faith in God is well-placed. Why would God not answer his prayers to cure him of those aberrations? Does God not wish to preserve the Church from scandal, not to mention his young ones from harm?


Father Hilzinger: The ways of God are often inscrutable, my son.


Brother Rupert: (somewhat ironically) Perhaps we should ask Him. If the Church is infallible, perhaps it should summon God to a hearing before us, to explain Himself.


Father Hilzinger: (ironically in turn) Since God is not corporeal, our devices are not likely to prove persuasive. You’re being naïve, boy, and even slightly irreverent. But it’s an appealing thought, is it not? So much needs answering. The Holy Father is the Vicar of Christ on earth, and he is much perturbed by the scandals that have been racking the Church. (chuckling) He might even want the job of questioning the Big Guy himself. Heh, heh, I wonder if Brother Alphonsus would be up to the task?


Brother Rupert: Dear me, Father. Who’s being irreverent now?




Well, a bit over the top, perhaps, and decidedly irreverent. But to satirize the Church’s woeful fallibility in the widespread depravity of so many of its ministers is not to make light of the despoiling of young lives, or the blatant hypocrisy of religion and the insidious power over us and our children which we have long been foolish enough to grant it. So much press and commentary has been given to this callous and criminal behavior by men of the cloth, so much disillusionment expressed, so much wringing of hands by those who have traditionally turned a blind eye on the epidemic of betrayal besetting the faithful for so many years (if not centuries: we cannot be naïve enough to think this is merely a recent development), that I felt the need this time round to adopt a different approach. Satire has its own way of getting a point across.


But if these ongoing revelations of deep sickness in the Christian Churchs ranks do not also have the effect of exposing organized religion for the bankrupt farce that it is, leading to its eventual abandonment or its transformation into something quite different, we will truly deserve everything inflicted upon us.


Earl Doherty