Violation/Betrayal

[I wanted to write about some very dark things, responding to recent stories in the press about rape and child abuse. Joe Paterno’s story provides context, but a dilemma. Piling on an 85 year old man is unseemly, so is glossing over the damage he did by allowing a coverup and abandoning the children he should have protected. Readers, I do not intend to excuse anything that was done at Penn State or in other institutions that value their reputation more than their integrity.]

Coach Joe Paterno has passed. This should have been a semi-private bereavement for sports lovers and the community of Penn State, but this revered elderly man was undone in his last days by unspoken pacts not honored and a foundation of lies that crumbled under his feet. He made headlines, not for praise but for notoriety.

Nothing makes sense out of context. In the context of the old school that formed him, Joe Paterno could have calculated the cost of taking his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, to the law, and found it better to write off the injured boys and their families as a loss. Too bad. He could not predict that the bill would come due with interest.

This awful case gives support to the convention of keeping sexual assault accusers anonymous– after Paterno stepped down violence broke out at Penn State

Penn State University has had a few destructive riots since the 1990s that have resulted in thousands of dollars in damage and several arrests.

But none has been as destructive or consequential as the one Nov. 9 following the firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno.

Thirty-eight people have been charged with participating in destructive behavior, and seven more arrests are pending, police said.

And later, the adults had their say…

BRADY: President Erickson referred questions about Paterno’s firing to the board of trustees, which issued a statement Thursday. It said trustees unanimously decided letting the coach go was in the best interest of the university.

That didn’t go over well at another meeting in the same hotel last night. Downstairs, a group of alumni who want to get rid of the entire board of trustees held a competing conversation. Former Penn State and pro football player Franco Harris responded to the board’s statement that it acted in the best interest of the university.

FRANCO HARRIS: They think that we are that dumb. That’s exactly what they said two months ago and they still want us to swallow that.

I heard that broadcast, the alumni sounded outraged that this mess was interfering with their football.

When the kids are trashing news vans and the adults are demanding a purge, you don’t want to be caught alone after dark…

Penn State says Mike McQueary, the graduate assistant who saw the alleged 2002 incident involving Sandusky and a young boy, will not be at Saturday’s football game because of “multiple threats.”

It’s fortunate that the young men who allege that Sandusky abused them haven’t had to face the mob.

Penn State suffered a violation, and the community may feel disgust and rage– either at the perpetrators or the victims for disturbing the peace. They feel hurt and aggrieved.

But for the victims and their families, there is uncountable loss. For them it is a grief like a bereavement. The children suffer a violation of their innocence, the parents will forever question why they so misplaced their trust. That poor and disadvantaged children are targeted for this kind of abuse just adds to the awfulness of the crime. And the rapist is a nice guy, who everyone likes, and no one would listen to a word against him. Imagine a child in the hell a perverse adult could create– with no way out and on one who can protect them.

If they choose to speak out in court, we will hear their side of the story. Perhaps then we will have to acknowledge how destructive this kind of crime is.

Three authors this month have published dispatches from the gates of hell.

Margaret Atwood’s short story, ‘Stone Mattress’ is described by the author as a crime story. A woman calculates whether she can get away with murder. Atwood’s fictional rapist, a rich boy who lured the woman years ago to what was supposed to be a prom date, but was a setup for a gang rape, is a character so vile that– Margaret, I would have kept him alive a bit longer. Perhaps long enough to see his ship disappearing over the horizon as he waves unseen on the shore while night falls and the wolves howl behind the next rise. Just a suggestion.

Dorri Olds, in the New York Times 1/15/12 has an essay, ‘Defriending My Rapist.’ This story is a horrific echo of Atwoods fiction, taking place maybe 20 years later, in the 70’s. In this memoir the same dynamic is in play. A thirteen year old girl, excited to be included with the cool kids, is lured into the woods and gang-raped. She has no more power to make sense of this crime or seek justice than Atwood’s fictional protagonist. Years later she gets a ‘friend’ invitation on Facebook. The rapist is just a regular guy. She sends an oblique message that she hasn’t forgotten what they did to her. Is there a person with a conscience to read it? What does that man think when he looks at his own children?

In the same issue of The Times,
Dr. H. Lee Kagan writes
about providing emergency care to a rape victim in Haiti. Dr. Kagan delegates the rape exam to a nurse who is competent but gives no word of comfort. The victim has no other choice than to go back to the camp where her attackers may find her. There is no evidence taken or hope of justice.

If you think that can’t happen here, think of Dorri Olds having to go back to school and face those boys. Look at the violence and outrage at Penn State and imagine why a ten year old boy would have no safe place to go. It does not excuse criminals to say they act within a culture that shelters and allows them to rationalize their crimes– rather it’s an indictment of the culture.

There are people who are psychopaths, who lack a conscience, who sit in solitude inventing new ways to damage the world. But they are not so common. More common are those who go along to get along. Those who who only take out their rage on someone who’s asking for it. Regular guys.

That’s the way grown men convince themselves not to call the cops when one of them is caught raping a boy. Without the groupthink, rapists and child abusers would have a harder time hiding in plain sight.

If Jerry Sandusky feels any remorse for sending Joe Paterno to his grave in scandal he should. If Joe Paterno felt remorse for not protecting those children, he is beyond suffering now and beyond justice. The young men will have to live with the memories of what was done to them. What could we do to protect other children from abuse?

Day One RI has programs for all ages to teach children and young people how to recognize and respond to the pressures and social conditions that lead to abuse.

If you google ‘men against rape’ a page of sites come up. Men Can Stop Rape has good teaching materials and ideas for what young men can do to recognize and stop violence.

The abuse at Penn State is not an isolated act of criminal genius. It’s a sad story too often told when an organization is more invested in its image than in serving the children and youth they claim to exist for. It’s the kind of abuse that can happen when some people are deemed to be a little less important, expendable, not to be believed.

This truth-telling is very painful. It damages our sense of safety. It’s ugly.
But worse is to require victims to suffer in silence so that the rest of us can keep our illusions. In this imperfect world, the best we can do is to try to let children know that they are no less valuable than anyone else, and that if they are wronged they will be believed. And to value justice more than complacency, because we all might need a defender some day.

Pope Benedict Hears it in German

What was it like to hear the truth in his own native language?

Pope Benedict XVI met victims of sexual abuse by clergy on the second day of his visit to his German homeland, an encounter that left him “deeply shaken”, Vatican officials said.

During a 30-minute meeting with abuse victims in Erfurt, the pope said he was “moved and deeply shaken by the sufferings of the victims,” the Vatican said. Church officials described the meeting as “very, very emotional”.

“The Holy Father expressed his deep compassion and regret over all that was done to them and their families,” said a Vatican statement.

Nothing will change except in places where ordinary Catholics take charge and bring the institution into line with secular laws that protect children and parents. That is happening all over the world as the Church trails behind and tries to put the issue to rest.

I wrote some speculative fiction about what might happen if the Pope confronted his own seduction by a vicious regime and the abusive frenzy of the adults and authorities around him. A fourteen-year-old boy in Nazi Germany didn’t have choices, but the Nazis depended on the complicity of German Catholics and Protestants in the murder of their Jewish neighbors. If, in his advanced years, Joseph Ratzinger could speak honestly of this history, he might give real moral leadership to the world.

Kmareka occasionally reports the news before it happens, so we post this book review from next year…

New York Times Book Review, June 24, 2012
My Life in Hitler Youth by Pope Benedict XVI
Translated from the German by Sophia Magdalena Scholl and Hans Scholl
With commentary by Steve Biko, Rabbi Hillel, Badshah Khan, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and the Ven. Mahaghosananda
Forward by Archbishop Oscar Romero

While confessional literature has won an enduring readership, it is unusual to find a religious or political leader who is willing to attempt it. Most are less given to autobiography than to self-promotion.

It is all the more surprising that Pope Benedict XVI, whose tenure had been characterized by autocracy, even, some would say, arrogance; has humbly and honestly laid bare his experience as a teenage German boy caught up in the Nazi war machine.

In today’s world child soldiers are cannon fodder in countless civil conflicts. Teenagers are recruited to sign ten, or even twenty-year contracts with the privatized militias favored by the developed nations. The desperately poor allow their children to be implanted with RFID chips and fed psychotropic drugs to increase their value on the mercenary market.

Pope Benedict’s book stands as a powerful challenge to our 21st century way of war.

The catalyst for this amazing book was a 2010 meeting in Rome with survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
“I prayed with them, I assured them that never again would such violation of innocence be tolerated. Committees would be formed, the guilty would be routed out. I thought I was doing all that I could, but there was no mistaking the disappointment in their eyes. They wanted to hear something more from me.”

From that day, Benedict began to suffer from insomnia. He was tormented by nightmares in which he was visited by the ghosts of his Jewish playmates who disappeared in the Nazi violence. A letter from ‘Konrad’, a boyhood friend and fellow Hitler Youth, triggered a spiritual crisis. Benedict flew to Germany, secretly and under high security, to hear his friend’s confession and to give last rites.

“Konrad needed to unburden his soul to someone who knew what we did, and what was done to us. Our souls were violated, we were seduced by hate. Only to each other could we admit that we sometimes enjoyed the seduction. We were robbed of our innocence, and the loss did not diminish with time. It was not for me, his fellow sinner and fellow victim, to grant absolution. We prayed together for God’s forgiving grace. We wept together. Then we forgave those who had done this to us. They themselves were seduced.”

The Pope returned to Rome with a new resolve to address the needs of the world’s children. His Encyclical, ‘The Sin of Obedience’, shocked many in the Catholic hierarchy, but did much to mend relations with parishes torn by the sexual abuse scandals. His eloquent stand against war, previously muted by his close relationships with the world’s aggressors, was broadcast worldwide. Benedict’s frank conversations with Rabbi Hillel concerning the abuses that occur when religion becomes handmaiden to politics led to a change in direction that some call ‘radical’. His account of that conversation is not only a heartfelt apology for the failure of the Catholic Church to effectively oppose the Nazis, but an admission that political expediency corrupted the Church’s response to the atrocious acts of that regime.

“Christians had forgotten that the greatest Rabbi, Our Lord and Savior, spoke truth to power, even at the cost of his life. Being truly Man, as well as truly God, he suffered as we all do.”

The Pope’s incognito visit to Brazil, where he met some of the poorest of his flock in the favelas (slums), celebrating Mass in a tin shanty, washing the feet of meninos da rua (street children) will go down in history as an act of saintliness.

Since then, the Pope has led his flock in a direction that is changing the global Church. The Pope’s recent encyclicals have drawn criticism as well as praise.
‘A Little Child Shall Lead Them’ prompted one conservative commentator to remark that the Pope, who was formerly known as a crusader against abortion “now expects us to waste our tax dollars on snot-nosed welfare brats.”

But despite accusations of betrayal from many of his former allies on the American religious right, this pope is enjoying a surge of popularity not seen since the reign of Pope John the XXIII. The attrition of the past few decades is reversing as the Church gains more new converts and lapsed Catholics return to the faith.

The rumor that the Vatican will soon make priestly celibacy optional has sparked a renewed interest that promises to alleviate the dire shortage of priests in the developed nations; and if implemented would legitimize the de-facto priestly marriages that are common in Africa.

Meanwhile, in Central America, the revival movement known as ‘Caridad’, endorsed by the Church despite its strong resemblance to the ‘Liberation Theology’ that was dismantled by Benedict just a few years ago; promises to take the wind out of the sails of the Protestant Evangelical revival as former Catholics return to the faith of their childhood.

Here in the US, it is interesting to see some of the same politicians who enjoyed support from the pulpits of their local Catholic churches now invoking the principle of separation of Church and State.

Worldwide, the Catholic church has undergone a profound shift in emphasis. New orders of nuns and other religious operate with a freedom and authority unimaginable just a few years ago. With the goal of protecting children, nuns have organized on behalf of women in practical ways–health care, literacy, employment, respect.

‘Space Your Children’ a family planning pamphlet by Liberian nun and midwife Sr.Grace Wah, has been tacitly approved by papal authorities despite its frank endorsement of birth control. Sr.Wah would have been facing censorship, if not excommunication, for such views prior to Benedict’s change of heart.

Pope Benedict continues to reach out to those who have suffered the most from global war. His conversation with Hussam Abdo, a teenage would-be suicide bomber disarmed by Israeli police, and Zawadi Mongane, a rape survivor from the war in Congo, is still being parsed by theologians for its affirmation of living a whole and healed life in the wake of unbearable wrong. Truly, Pope Benedict has become a voice of conscience for the Christian world and extended the hand of friendship to other faiths.

This Pope, who began his reign determined to roll back the changes of Vatican II, now stands in the shoes of John XXIII, and promises to take his legacy farther than any thought possible.

Pope Benedict’s Confession

At Kmareka we like to be on the leading edge, bringing you the news even before it happens. It’s in that spirit that our literary editor, Spectral_Ev, offers a review of the book that Pope Benedict XVI will write next year, ‘My Life in Hitler Youth’

New York Times Book Review, June 24, 2012
My Life in Hitler Youth by Pope Benedict XVI
Translated from the German by Sophia Magdalena Scholl and Hans Scholl
With commentary by Steve Biko, Rabbi Hillel, Badshah Khan, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and the Ven. Mahaghosananda
Forward by Archbishop Oscar Romero

While confessional literature has won an enduring readership, it is unusual to find a religious or political leader who is willing to attempt it. Most are less given to autobiography than to self-promotion.

It is all the more surprising that Pope Benedict XVI, whose tenure had been characterized by autocracy, even, some would say, arrogance; has humbly and honestly laid bare his experience as a teenage German boy caught up in the Nazi war machine.

In today’s world child soldiers are cannon fodder in countless civil conflicts. Teenagers are recruited to sign ten, or even twenty-year contracts with the privatized militias favored by the developed nations. The desperately poor allow their children to be implanted with RFID chips and fed psychotropic drugs to increase their value on the mercenary market.

Pope Benedict’s book stands as a powerful challenge to our 21st century way of war.

The catalyst for this amazing book was a 2010 meeting in Rome with survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
“I prayed with them, I assured them that never again would such violation of innocence be tolerated. Committees would be formed, the guilty would be routed out. I thought I was doing all that I could, but there was no mistaking the disappointment in their eyes. They wanted to hear something more from me.”

From that day, Benedict began to suffer from insomnia. He was tormented by nightmares in which he was visited by the ghosts of his Jewish playmates who disappeared in the Nazi violence. A letter from ‘Konrad’, a boyhood friend and fellow Hitler Youth, triggered a spiritual crisis. Benedict flew to Germany, secretly and under high security, to hear his friend’s confession and to give last rites.

“Konrad needed to unburden his soul to someone who knew what we did, and what was done to us. Our souls were violated, we were seduced by hate. Only to each other could we admit that we sometimes enjoyed the seduction. We were robbed of our innocence, and the loss did not diminish with time. It was not for me, his fellow sinner and fellow victim, to grant absolution. We prayed together for God’s forgiving grace. We wept together. Then we forgave those who had done this to us. They themselves were seduced.”

The Pope returned to Rome with a new resolve to address the needs of the world’s children. His Encyclical, ‘The Sin of Obedience’, shocked many in the Catholic hierarchy, but did much to mend relations with parishes torn by the sexual abuse scandals. His eloquent stand against war, previously muted by his close relationships with the world’s aggressors, was broadcast worldwide. Benedict’s frank conversations with Rabbi Hillel concerning the abuses that occur when religion becomes handmaiden to politics led to a change in direction that some call ‘radical’. His account of that conversation is not only a heartfelt apology for the failure of the Catholic Church to effectively oppose the Nazis, but an admission that political expediency corrupted the Church’s response to the atrocious acts of that regime.

“Christians had forgotten that the greatest Rabbi, Our Lord and Savior, spoke truth to power, even at the cost of his life. Being truly Man, as well as truly God, he suffered as we all do.”

The Pope’s incognito visit to Brazil, where he met some of the poorest of his flock in the favelas (slums), celebrating Mass in a tin shanty, washing the feet of meninos da rua (street children) will go down in history as an act of saintliness.

Since then, the Pope has led his flock in a direction that is changing the global Church. The Pope’s recent encyclicals have drawn criticism as well as praise.
‘A Little Child Shall Lead Them’ prompted one conservative commentator to remark that the Pope, who was formerly known as a crusader against abortion “now expects us to waste our tax dollars on snot-nosed welfare brats.”

But despite accusations of betrayal from many of his former allies on the American religious right, this pope is enjoying a surge of popularity not seen since the reign of Pope John the XXIII. The attrition of the past few decades is reversing as the Church gains more new converts and lapsed Catholics return to the faith.

The rumor that the Vatican will soon make priestly celibacy optional has sparked a renewed interest that promises to alleviate the dire shortage of priests in the developed nations; and if implemented would legitimize the de-facto priestly marriages that are common in Africa.

Meanwhile, in Central America, the revival movement known as ‘Caridad’, endorsed by the Church despite its strong resemblance to the ‘Liberation Theology’ that was dismantled by Benedict just a few years ago; promises to take the wind out of the sails of the Protestant Evangelical revival as former Catholics return to the faith of their childhood.

Here in the US, it is interesting to see some of the same politicians who enjoyed support from the pulpits of their local Catholic churches now invoking the principle of separation of Church and State.

Worldwide, the Catholic church has undergone a profound shift in emphasis. New orders of nuns and other religious operate with a freedom and authority unimaginable just a few years ago. With the goal of protecting children, nuns have organized on behalf of women in practical ways–health care, literacy, employment, respect.

‘Space Your Children’ a family planning pamphlet by Liberian nun and midwife Sr.Grace Wah, has been tacitly approved by papal authorities despite its frank endorsement of birth control. Sr.Wah would have been facing censorship, if not excommunication, for such views prior to Benedict’s change of heart.

Pope Benedict continues to reach out to those who have suffered the most from global war. His conversation with Hussam Abdo, a teenage would-be suicide bomber disarmed by Israeli police, and Zawadi Mongane, a rape survivor from the war in Congo, is still being parsed by theologians for its affirmation of living a whole and healed life in the wake of unbearable wrong. Truly, Pope Benedict has become a voice of conscience for the Christian world and extended the hand of friendship to other faiths.

This Pope, who began his reign determined to roll back the changes of Vatican II, now stands in the shoes of John XXIII, and promises to take his legacy farther than any thought possible.

Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live

Regular readers of Kmareka know that I spent my teens attending a Pentecostal church and that I was exorcised to cast out the demons of depression. I can now say that like the song goes, I try to ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’.

It actually didn’t do me much harm, but our secular society and law are strong enough to keep a lid on violence. Even so, American children are injured or killed at the hands of parents or religious groups regularly, one case currently on trial here. Exorcism has the seal of Vatican approval and is practiced in many Evangelical churches, as well as non-Christian religions.

I’m not even saying that a religious rite that brings comfort and peace of mind is not a good thing. It can be. But literally demonizing troubled people can lead to ostracism and lynching, and has many times. Candles in the church are pretty if you don’t set the place on fire…

HOUSTON — At home in Nigeria, the Pentecostal preacher Helen Ukpabio draws thousands to her revival meetings. Last August, when she had herself consecrated Christendom’s first “lady apostle,” Nigerian politicians and Nollywood actors attended the ceremony. Her books and DVDs, which explain how Satan possesses children, are widely known.

So well-known, in fact, that Ms. Ukpabio’s critics say her teachings have contributed to the torture or abandonment of thousands of Nigerian children — including infants and toddlers — suspected of being witches and warlocks. Her culpability is a central contention of “Saving Africa’s Witch Children,” a documentary that made its American debut Wednesday on HBO2.

I am posting this to warn against complacency. Don’t be persuaded that this atrocious story is some exotic Nigerian oddity–tragic but nothing to do with us. In fact, this religion is some of the more extreme dogma of American and British missionaries, cycled through Nigerian culture and emerging in a nation where the government is weak and people are desperate. The photo in the NYT article shows Ukpabio preaching to a group of Americans in Houston. They have their hands up in praise. They love this stuff.

I am alarmed because I saw the same kind of thing in Warwick, RI thirty years ago. There was no better entertainment for the faithful than to have some traveling preacher tell lurid stories of demon possession and triumph over evil. If the preacher was from another country that was even more thrilling.

It’s relevant to note that American evangelical ministers are speaking to huge audiences in Uganda supporting laws that persecute homosexuals– even to the death penalty. It’s relevant to note that some of the troubled people I saw years ago who underwent exorcism were trying to make the gay go away. Dehumanization of the other allows people to practice brutality with a clear conscience.

There is wrongdoing under the cover of religion that should be exposed. We are reluctant to examine a candidate’s religious associations too closely–we have a tradition of respect– but this story has to be told. Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was blessed by an African minister, Thomas Muthee, who was leading a service at her church in Alaska. Muthee likes to brag about raising a mob against a woman he called a witch, and how he drove her from her home, and the American believers say, ‘amen’. Disgraced evangelist Ted Haggard also liked to practice ‘spiritual warfare’.

There are groups more political than spiritual that label themselves Christian and are doing harm both in the US and abroad. Like a wise man said, ‘by their fruits you will know them’. The New York Times story is disturbing and enlightening, and shows that faith is not always a good thing.

Fixer Priest

Michel Martin on NPR’s show ‘Tell Me More’ has a chilling interview with an ex-priest who once helped shuffle child abusers to poor parishes all over the world. It was assumed that the less powerful would not complain or be believed if they did.

Patrick Wall grew to understand that system from the inside. He’s a former Benedictine monk and served as a, quote, “fixer priest” for the Catholic Church. That means he’d be brought in to manage a church in the wake of scandal often involving sexual abuse. He left the priesthood and since 2002 has been assisting abuse survivors gather evidence to sue or prosecute their abusers.

The problem in the Catholic Church is not a few bad priests, or the corrupting influence of the world. It’s the Church’s own deeply corrupt system that is dedicated to preserving its power. So many have been wronged– parents and children, faithful Catholics and clergy who keep their vows. That disadvantaged people, such as deaf boys and poor communities were treated as dumping grounds for toxic priests is heartbreaking, but not surprising. It’s consistent with an imperative to protect and shield the public image.

MARTIN: Is there any pattern to the kinds of communities that were selected for priests who had been accused of abuse or who were known to have abused children to go?

Mr. WALL: Oh, there’s a clear pattern. You always wanted to send them to a parish where people are not going to talk. The best ones are parishes of color, parishes of strong, Catholic ethnicity, parishes that have a reason to really want the priest. I remember stories of, for instance, Father Jules Convert. He’s a French Jesuit who ended up serving in Alaska. Now, he didn’t speak Yup’ik, but that’s where he ended up and that’s where he offended.

MARTIN: Why were they sent to communities of color, particularly, and strong ethnic parishes? Why?

Mr. WALL: Because they were so happy just to have a priest. These were places out of the way. I remember another story of Father Kelly(ph). He was a piano professor at St. John’s University in Collegeville. And they sent him, after he offended, up to the Ojibwe Indians in Red Lake, Minnesota. They were so happy to even have a priest, they wouldn’t dare accuse him of anything, let alone call the police on him.

A phrase from South Africa, ‘truth and reconciliation’ comes to mind– honesty, repentance, reparation and institutional change to ensure that these things will not be allowed to go unpunished again. Will that happen? Not from the leadership, perhaps from the laity.

The Catholic Church is not unique in this kind of crime and cover-up. Neither should it be given special treatment. Crime is crime, and victims have a right to justice; society has a right to protection from future offenses. It’s a characteristic of molesters that they prey on the vulnerable while cultivating allies among the more powerful. The Church hierarchy has followed this pattern in dumping its worst problems on its least powerful members.

Pope Benedict’s Confession

So 2012 is in its last hours, and my prediction that the Pope would get a visitation from the spirit of John the XXIII did not come to pass. But I offer this dream, dedicated to Catholic
Workers and child soldiers the world over.

New York Times Book Review, June 24, 2012
My Life in Hitler Youth by Pope Benedict XVI
Translated from the German by Sophia Magdalena Scholl and Hans Scholl
With commentary by Steve Biko, Rabbi Hillel, Badshah Khan, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and the Ven. Mahaghosananda
Forward by Archbishop Oscar Romero

While confessional literature has won an enduring readership, it is unusual to find a religious or political leader who is willing to attempt it. Most are less given to autobiography than to self-promotion.

It is all the more surprising that Pope Benedict XVI, whose tenure had been characterized by autocracy, even, some would say, arrogance; has humbly and honestly laid bare his experience as a teenage German boy caught up in the Nazi war machine.

In today’s world child soldiers are cannon fodder in countless civil conflicts. Teenagers are recruited to sign ten, or even twenty-year contracts with the privatized militias favored by the developed nations. The desperately poor allow their children to be implanted with RFID chips and fed psychotropic drugs to increase their value on the mercenary market.

Pope Benedict’s book stands as a powerful challenge to our 21st century way of war.

The catalyst for this amazing book was a 2010 meeting in Rome with survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
“I prayed with them, I assured them that never again would such violation of innocence be tolerated. Committees would be formed, the guilty would be routed out. I thought I was doing all that I could, but there was no mistaking the disappointment in their eyes. They wanted to hear something more from me.”

From that day, Benedict began to suffer from insomnia. He was tormented by nightmares in which he was visited by the ghosts of his Jewish playmates who disappeared in the Nazi violence. A letter from ‘Konrad’, a boyhood friend and fellow Hitler Youth, triggered a spiritual crisis. Benedict flew to Germany, secretly and under high security, to hear his friend’s confession and to give last rites.

“Konrad needed to unburden his soul to someone who knew what we did, and what was done to us. Our souls were violated, we were seduced by hate. Only to each other could we admit that we sometimes enjoyed the seduction. We were robbed of our innocence, and the loss did not diminish with time. It was not for me, his fellow sinner and fellow victim, to grant absolution. We prayed together for God’s forgiving grace. We wept together. Then we forgave those who had done this to us. They themselves were seduced.”

The Pope returned to Rome with a new resolve to address the needs of the world’s children. His Encyclical, ‘The Sin of Obedience’, shocked many in the Catholic hierarchy, but did much to mend relations with parishes torn by the sexual abuse scandals. His eloquent stand against war, previously muted by his close relationships with the world’s aggressors, was broadcast worldwide. Benedict’s frank conversations with Rabbi Hillel concerning the abuses that occur when religion becomes handmaiden to politics led to a change in direction that some call ‘radical’. His account of that conversation is not only a heartfelt apology for the failure of the Catholic Church to effectively oppose the Nazis, but an admission that political expediency corrupted the Church’s response to the atrocious acts of that regime.

“Christians had forgotten that the greatest Rabbi, Our Lord and Savior, spoke truth to power, even at the cost of his life. Being truly Man, as well as truly God, he suffered as we all do.”

The Pope’s incognito visit to Brazil, where he met some of the poorest of his flock in the favelas (slums), celebrating Mass in a tin shanty, washing the feet of meninos da rua (street children) will go down in history as an act of saintliness.

Since then, the Pope has led his flock in a direction that is changing the global Church. The Pope’s recent encyclicals have drawn criticism as well as praise.
‘A Little Child Shall Lead Them’ prompted one conservative commentator to remark that the Pope, who was formerly known as a crusader against abortion “now expects us to waste our tax dollars on snot-nosed welfare brats.”

But despite accusations of betrayal from many of his former allies on the American religious right, this pope is enjoying a surge of popularity not seen since the reign of Pope John the XXIII. The attrition of the past few decades is reversing as the Church gains more new converts and lapsed Catholics return to the faith.

The rumor that the Vatican will soon make priestly celibacy optional has sparked a renewed interest that promises to alleviate the dire shortage of priests in the developed nations; and if implemented would legitimize the de-facto priestly marriages that are common in Africa.

Meanwhile, in Central America, the revival movement known as ‘Caridad’, endorsed by the Church despite its strong resemblance to the ‘Liberation Theology’ that was dismantled by Benedict just a few years ago; promises to take the wind out of the sails of the Protestant Evangelical revival as former Catholics return to the faith of their childhood.

Here in the US, it is interesting to see some of the same politicians who enjoyed support from the pulpits of their local Catholic churches now invoking the principle of separation of Church and State.

Worldwide, the Catholic church has undergone a profound shift in emphasis. New orders of nuns and other religious operate with a freedom and authority unimaginable just a few years ago. With the goal of protecting children, nuns have organized on behalf of women in practical ways–health care, literacy, employment, respect.

‘Space Your Children’ a family planning pamphlet by Liberian nun and midwife Sr.Grace Wah, has been tacitly approved by papal authorities despite its frank endorsement of birth control. Sr.Wah would have been facing censorship, if not excommunication, for such views prior to Benedict’s change of heart.

Pope Benedict continues to reach out to those who have suffered the most from global war. His conversation with Hussam Abdo, a teenage would-be suicide bomber disarmed by Israeli police, and Zawadi Mongane, a rape survivor from the war in Congo, is still being parsed by theologians for its affirmation of living a whole and healed life in the wake of unbearable wrong. Truly, Pope Benedict has become a voice of conscience for the Christian world and extended the hand of friendship to other faiths.

This Pope, who began his reign determined to roll back the changes of Vatican II, now stands in the shoes of John XXIII, and promises to take his legacy farther than any thought possible.