“don’t make crimes into sins,” warns jesus christ
visited by the mobile unit of Emisoras Latinas.
RACHEL Come over here, Jesus, since this street is really crowded.
JESUS Tell me, Rachel, what’s all the noise about? What’s that man shouting?
RACHEL I’m not sure.
JESUS Is it another fight in this same street?
RACHEL If you want, we can get closer.
PREACHER … And who was I, brothers, before I received the Word and was saved? I have committed every sin there is. I went to the bars and got drunk, and I beat up whoever got in my way. I abused women, and even young girls. I’ve robbed, brothers. I’ve falsified signatures and committed fraud. And how did it help me? In no way at all! Because I still did not know the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be his name!
CROWD Blessed be his name!
RACHEL He’s talking about you, Jesus…
PREACHER I robbed, I fornicated, I even killed a guy who owed me money… And now you see, brothers, I have been rescued by my faith in Jesus Christ. Blessed be his name!
CROWD Blessed be his name!
RACHEL Where are you going, Jesus. Hold on.
JESUS I’m going to tell the bailiff …
RACHEL What bailiff?
JESUS The one who arrests criminals and takes them before the judge…
RACHEL Do you mean the police?
JESUS That man who’s talking there is a criminal. He needs to be detained.
RACHEL Wait a minute. Didn’t you hear that he already repented of his sins and …
JESUS What do you mean, he repented? Did he give back what he stole? And what happened to the widow and the children of the man he killed? It’s easy to commit abominations and then ask forgiveness of God…
RACHEL Hold on a moment, they’re giving me a signal from the studios… Friends of Emisoras Latinas, we are in contact with you once again from the streets of Jerusalem, and once again we have Jesus Christ with us. He has just heard, as you may also have heard, the testimony of an individual who says that he has been converted to the Gospel…
JESUS You put it well, Rachel. He says he has been converted, but faith without works is dead, it’s useless.
RACHEL Well, at least he asked God to pardon him for what he did.
JESUS What does God have to do with this? I’ve already said it quite clearly if when you’re presenting your gift at the altar, you remember that you have done something against your brother, leave your gift and go first to patch up things with your brother.
RACHEL And that means…?
JESUS That means that before going before the tribunal of God we must go before the tribunal of men and women. If you commit a crime, you have to pay for that crime. Blood is not washed away with prayers.
RACHEL So what do you propose, Jesus?
JESUS I remember a man named Zaccheus. I knew him in Jericho. He was a rascal; he had gotten rich by cheating poor people. But he heard the message of the Kingdom, and one day he said to me “To all those I have cheated I will make a fourfold restitution.”
RACHEL And did he do it?
JESUS He said it and he did it. The thing is, Rachel, crimes are not erased with tears or with shouts, but by repairing the damage done.
RACHEL But what if what they’ve robbed is a person’s dignity?
JESUS What do you mean by that?
RACHEL The crime of rape. I’m speaking about rapists. That guy who was preaching said he had even abused young girls.
JESUS And do you think that by beating his breast, like the Pharisees, he will be made clean?
RACHEL You should realize, Jesus, that the ones guilty of such abuse are often family members themselves, a brother, or even the girl’s father… Or priests. Recently there have come to light a lot of cases of sexual abuse against boys and girls committed by priests.
JESUS And do those priests go to jail?
RACHEL No, they send them off to a monastery to pray and do penance.
JESUS Hypocrites. Anybody who commits such a crime should have a millstone tied around his neck, one of those driven by mules, and he should be drowned in the bottom of the sea.
RACHEL Wait up, Jesus, where are you going? We still haven’t finished the program.
JESUS I already told you, I’m going to look for the bailiff. To tell him that a criminal is loose on that street corner.
RACHEL Well, I should go with you to present the accusation. From Jerusalem this is Rachel Perez, special correspondent for Emisoras Latinas.
ANNOUNCER Another God is Possible. Exclusive interviews with Jesus Christ in his second coming to Earth. A production of María and José Ignacio López Vigil, with the support of the Syd Forum and Christian Aid.
*More information about this polemical topic…*
What Jesus witnesses in a Jerusalem street can be observed quite often nowadays in evangelical churches, in sessions of new Christian groups, or in meetings of organizations like the Fraternity of the Full Gospel Businessmen. In settings such as these people “confess” their “sin” with shouts and rhetorical speeches and proclaim that they were pardoned when they “accepted” Christ as their savior. But often the “sins” of those who are preaching – extortion, robbery, forgery, maltreatment of their spouses, sexual abuse – are all crimes punishable by the law. They imagine that their “conversion” before God exempts them from going before the tribunals of justice and paying for their crimes.
Transforming crimes into sins is a perverse alchemy. It distorts the message of Jesus and favors a culture of impunity in the countries which suffer from an excessive tolerance of corruption and where the crimes committed by powerful people are easily “pardoned”, since they are considered mere pecadillos, weaknesses, minor faults – they are sins that God always pardons, because “to err is human”.
Zaccheus, a repentant criminal
Jesus recalls Zacchaeus, a man he once met when he was traveling to Jerusalem (Luke 19,1-10). Zacchaeus was a tax collector in Jericho, a city through which passed many commercial caravans. Along with Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, he is one of the few rich persons who are reported to have changed their lives when they met Jesus and heard his message.
The taxes collected by the “publicans” (as the tax collectors were called) like Zacchaeus ended up in the Roman treasury. The post of tax collector was auctioned off by the Roman authorities and awarded to the highest bidder. The publicans then had to pay Rome for their rent and other costs, so that they earned little if they were honest in the rates they charged. For that reason they arbitrarily increased their rates and kept the difference for themselves. Their constant acts of fraud and their complicity with Roman power made them persons despised and hated by the people. In repenting of his crimes, Zacchaeus understood that it was not enough to claim that he had faith, if he didn’t also return what he had robbed. And he was harsh with himself, applying the Roman law, which required that offender make a fourfold restitution to the person who was robbed, rather than the Jewish law, which was much more lenient.
The sexual abuser: a familiar enemy
Various studies show that most cases of sexual abuse against girls or boys do not occur in the streets or in dangerous places outside their homes. They occur within the four walls of what is anything but a “home sweet home”, and the abusers are people who are well known: fathers, stepfathers, uncles, grandfathers, and brothers. This form of sexual abuse is called incest.
All sexual abuse is an abuse of power, but in contrast to the physical violence exercised by a stranger who commits a sexual offense, the relative or other person known to the child does not usually employ violence, but takes advantage of the confidence, the respect and the affection that the child has for him, in order to seduce the child and guarantee his or her silence.
Among the “well-known” persons who abuse girls and boy there are also priests and ministers. The crime that they commit in abusing minors sexually can also be considered incest since clergy and religious are for the children authority figures, like their older relatives, and since such offenders make use of the bonds of affection that they establish in schools, orphanages, catechism classes or church services.
There are a great number of films that treat, from different angles, the complex topic of sexual abuse in the home. Outstanding among them is “Shattered Trust” (1993) by U.S. director Bill Corcoran, which narrates the true story of a U.S. lawyer who in the course of dealing with cases of child sexual abuse comes to remember that when she was small her father had abused her. The personal and legal struggles of this woman contributed to eliminating the statue of limitations for crimes of child sexual abuse, so that they can now be denounced, tried and sanctioned even after many years have passed. Another film with a more commercial tone is “Dolores Clairborne” (Taylor Hackford, 1994), which is adapted from a Stephen King novel.
The most covered up crime
Incest has been the most covered up crime in all the world’s societies, and the cover-up is greater if those abused are boys. And thicker still is the silence when those who commit the crimes are priests and religious. The silence is thicker because the offenders are shielded by their superiors or because the victims do not dare to speak because of the “sacred” character of those who abused them.
In the United States during the 1980s the first denunciations of sexually abusive priests began to be heard. Since then there has been an increasing number of cases there, and hundreds more in Canada and throughout Europe. In chapter XI of the book The Power and the Glory: Inside the Dark Heart of Pope John Paul II’s Vatican (Carroll & Graf, 2007), by British writer David Yallop, there is a highly detailed, chilling report on the great number of these crimes that were committed by Catholic priests, religious and bishops; they were discovered during the pontificate of John Paul II and then covered up with his complicity and that of the church’s highest officials.
One of the cases that is not documented by Yallop in his book was that of the Jesuits in the United States, who had to pay $50 million to 110 Eskimos who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a dozen of their missionaries in Alaska between 1961 and 1987. One of the lawyers of the victims declared that in some towns it was difficult to find an adult who was not submitted to sexual abuse by men who used religion and power to violate, shame and silence Eskimo children. And one of the members of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) filled out the picture: It would be difficult to imagine children who were more isolated and defenseless that those living in the remote villages of Alaska.
“In the name of the Father”
The topic of sexually abusive priests has been treated more specifically in other books. Beside the documentation provided by Yallop, we recommend Pederastia en la iglesia católica, by Spanish journalist Pepe Rodríguez (Ediciones B, 2002), and En el nombre del Padre: Depredadores sexuales en la iglesia, by the Mexican journalist Carlos Fazio (Editorial Océano, 2004).
In the prologue of his book Rodríguez states: “In this book the sexual abuse of minors committed by clergy or by anyone else is treated as a ‘crime’, not as a ‘sin’, since in all the democratic juridical codes of the world sexual conduct with minors is classified as a crime.”
Fazio’s book documents several cases extensively, especially one of the most repulsive: that of the venerated and powerful founder of the Legionnaires of Christ, Marcial Maciel, a personal friend of Pope John Paul II, who never acted against Maciel even though he knew of his offenses.
Various films have also treated this topic. Noteworthy are “The Boys of St Vincent” (1994), directed by John N. Smith, which narrates a real-life case that occurred in a Canadian orphanage, and “La Mala Educacion” (2004), from Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, who based the screenplay on his personal memories.
Just one case
The following is a report that an Irishman, Patrick Welsh, provided for a newspaper in Managua, Nicaragua, in 2007. It is just one case.
My little brother was 11 years old when he was abused sexually. Twenty-seven years later, in the year 2000, we became aware of the agony that he went through as a child and of the anxiety that he suffered in silence during most of his life. I come from an Irish Catholic family, and when the youngest son at ten years of age announced that he wanted to be a priest, the family was delighted. He soon left for the minor seminary of the Holy Spirit Fathers, a missionary congregation, where he was to receive his secondary education and also prepare for the priesthood.
My brother was recruited by Fr Frank Bligh, the man in charge of seeking “vocations” for that same congregation. I remember him well: a man who was tender, sweet, always helpful; for 30 years he always presided at the most important celebrations of our family: birthdays, weddings, baptisms, funerals. He was always there to accompany us and intercede before God. He was our friend, and we had great affection for him. Nobody ever suspected that he was a child abuser until he was arrested in the north of England in the year 2000. The times had changed, and one child broke the silence, unleashing a tragic, macabre history of decades of sexual abuse.
In my family we learned about it when the police contacted my mother. Their investigations had revealed that my little brother, by then a 37-year old adult, had possibly been abused. At first he did not want to talk with the police, but later he gave his testimony and a little after that Father Bligh was arrested and accused of many cases of sexual abuse. At the beginning we did not want to believe that our dear friend and spiritual guide had committed such horrendous crimes against hundreds of boys, and much less against our brother. But we heard our brother and we believed him. There was no doubt that he was telling us the truth.
I remember something he said: “I was only hoping that mom and dad would die before Father Bligh did, so that I could then accuse him. I didn’t want them to know about it because I didn’t want to hurt them.” My brother found himself in the impossible position of protecting the faith of his mother and father. For a while my mother personally felt sorry for Bligh, believing that he was sick man. However she soon realized that that was not the case. Bligh had used his position as a priest and his power as an adult man to violate the rights and the bodies of hundreds of minors, and he did so with premeditation. My brother recounts that when he was abused, the priest used to lock the door and hang his jacket over it so that nobody would spy in through the keyhole. Everything was coldly planned. … In June 2001 Bligh (I no longer call him Father) was sentenced to two and a half years of prison. He is one of 28 Catholic priests in Great Britain who were imprisoned between 1997 and 2001 for sexual abuse.