Concern for victims

Image: Christian Thöni


Truth and not victim-creating violence will write the last word in the book of history

We are experiencing a strange paradox at world and national level. On the one hand, we see, as in no previous historical period, a growing concern for the victims of crimes committed personally or collectively. On the other hand, we see a blatant indifference towards the victims, whether for crimes of surviving femicide, for highly lethal conflicts and for the millions of refugees and immigrants, seeking to flee wars or famine, mainly in Europe and the USA. Especially the latter are the most rejected.

In 1985 the UN published the “Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice Relating to Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power”. This was a decisive step in defense of victims always forgotten by justice in authoritarian regimes or in low-intensity democracies, controlled by the powerful, the main victims.

Interestingly, in Brazil, the vision of human rights concerned primarily the defense of the perpetrators of crimes, when its central concern has always been the protection of the dignity of every human person, of their rights in all their dimensions. Although there is, in general, a normative deficit in Brazil regarding the encouragement of victims' rights, it should be noted that in Contemporary Criminal Law this concern has lately gained some importance. Modifications were introduced in the Code of Criminal Procedure, determining, as a requirement for the determination of a criminal sentence by the judge, the damages for the crime committed. It imposes indemnities and the obligation of the condemned to compensate the victim.

In short, it is worth emphasizing a certain legal turn: before civil liability was centered on the criminal, now it turns to the victim and compensation for the damage suffered by him: “from a debt of responsibility it evolved into a claim of indemnity”. This concern for the victims gained worldwide resonance when the Catholic Church (but also other churches), after much hesitation, aroused the ethical and moral demand to listen to the victims and to compensate for the psychological and spiritual damage caused. It wasn't like that at first. A decree by Vatican authorities required, under canonical penalty, not to report pedophile priests to civil authorities.

Everything was hidden within the ecclesial world. The pedophile was transferred to another parish or diocese, without realizing that even there, the abuse continued. This addiction has affected priests, bishops and even cardinals. Silence (not at all obsequious) was alleged in order not to demoralize the Universal Church institution, to preserve its good name as the guardian of morality and Western values. This takes us back to Pharisaism, so opposed by the historical Jesus, as the Pharisees preached one thing and lived another, believing themselves to be pious (Luke 11,45:46-XNUMX). This pharisaism prevailed for a long time within the Catholic Church.

The prevailing version of the Vatican authorities was moralistic: pedophilia was judged as a sin; it was enough to confess it and everything was resolved, but covered up. Double fatal mistake: it wasn't just a sin. It was a heinous and shameful crime. The proper court to try such a crime was not canon law but the civil justice of the state. So priests, bishops and even cardinals had to face civil courts, recognize the crime and submit to the penalty. For others, the Pope himself anticipated sending a pedophile cardinal to a convent to redeem himself from his crimes. The second fatal mistake: he considered himself only a pedophile ecclesiastic. Few thought of the victims. Initially, this was how the problem of pedophilia was treated, including within the Roman Curia.

It was necessary for the Popes to intervene, especially Pope Francis to give centrality to the victims of sexual abuse. He met many of them. He asked forgiveness several times on behalf of the whole Church for the crimes committed. There were dioceses in the United States that almost went bankrupt economically due to the reparations they had to pay to the victims, imposed by the civil courts.

In practically all countries and dioceses, pedophile clerics have been investigated, some in a dramatic way, as in Chile, which led to the resignation of a large part of the episcopate. No less dramatic was the investigation in Germany involving Pope Benedict XVI, at the time he was Cardinal-Archbishop of Munich. He had to admit in front of a civil court to having been lenient towards a pedophile priest, simply transferring him to another parish.

The serious thing about sexual abuse by clergy is the profound split it creates in the minds of the victims. By his nature, a clergyman is surrounded by respect for being a bearer of the sacred and, eventually, seen as a representative of God. Through criminal abuse, the victim's path to God is broken spiritually. How can a God think and love whose representative commits these crimes? This spiritual damage, in addition to the psychological one, is little emphasized in the analyzes that have been carried out and are still being carried out.

There are millions and millions of people around the world, made victims of discrimination, contempt, hatred and even death because of the color of their skin, because they have a different belief or political ideology, another sexual option or simply because they are poor. Knowing that it was the European, Christianized countries that claimed the most victims, with the Inquisition, with wars that claimed 100 million deaths. It was they who traded with people uprooted from Africa and sold into slavery in the Americas and elsewhere. They, with fire and iron, introduced colonialism, predatory capitalism, the systematic use of violence to impose their so-called Christian values ​​on the world.

From righteous Abel to the last elect, until the final judgment, the victims will have the right to scream against the injustices that were imposed on them. In the language of a sixteenth-century indigenous victim, referring to the brutal colonizers: “they were the antichrist on earth, the tiger of the peoples, the sucker of the Indian”. There will be a day when all truth will come to light, even though at the present time, in the words of St. Paul “the truth is imprisoned by unrighteousness” (Romans 1,18:XNUMX). But the truth, not violence that creates victims, will write the last word in the book of history.

*Leonardo Boff He is a theologian, philosopher and writer. Author, among other books, of Captivity and Liberation TheologyVozes).

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