Atonement, a central tenet of the Roman Catholic faith, seems in short supply ever since the ghastly child sexual abuse scandal broke recently. Paedophile priests who were found to have abused hundreds of children were just quietly moved to other diocese where, it would seem, they continued their predatory ways. The Vatican spinmeisters, instead of offering to inquire into these appalling crimes, have taken refuge variously behind the sanctity of the Church and by blaming detractors for indulging in unsubstantiated gossip.
There is a particular power that so-called holy men are able to exert over ordinary mortals. We have had several instances in India, one being very recent, of godmen molesting both men and women under the guise of imparting holy guidance and blessings. For some time now, there has been a clamour for the Vatican to apologise for the crimes committed by its clergy. But that is not enough. Father Gabriele Amorth, the chief exorcist for the Holy See, came up with the glib explanation that priests are human too and, therefore, will make mistakes. No doubt, but if a layperson were to abuse children systematically, chances are that he would be behind bars.
Being God’s representatives on earth does not give anyone the right to break the law. The law does not stipulate that certain categories of people who are spiritually inclined are exempt from its provisions. So even if the Pope himself condemns the horrific deeds of some of the shepherds of his flock, it does not make things any better. The Church, and our homegrown godmen, run hundreds of institutions, many of which are for the dispossessed and vulnerable. They are easy prey for these ‘men of faith’. But, if any attempt to cross the line were to be severely punished, it is certain that such crimes would not be committed with such impunity. In trying to cover up the scandal, the Vatican has tried every trick in the book from passing the buck to the former Pope to blaming other Christian denominations for carrying out slander campaigns. Repentance, clearly, has become an alien concept. The longer the Vatican speaks in tongues from behind its gilded doors, the greater the erosion of credibility in its creed.
Whether it is the Church, godmen or wellness gurus, the law can make no exceptions. Excuses that any action will damage the image of the Church hold no water. Sweeping such heinous crimes under the carpet certainly will do much more harm. In the Indian context, there should be much greater scrutiny into the vast empires built by godmen. These steps may not solve all the problems associated with this corporeal versus temporal tussle. But they certainly will put the fear of God into would-be offenders.