16 October 2007

Crimes of the Church

I wanted to write about something that was news only a week ago, and something that wasn't news anymore, though it should be. The former is the life sentence for Christian von Wernich; the latter is the lack of punishment of Edgardo Storni. They have in common the fact that they're both priests, that as such they've lived off the state (i.e. us) for decades, that they've both committed horrible crimes, and that the Church, being aware of that, has refused to condemn them in the strongest terms.

Von Wernich's crimes were far more horrible (complicity in multiple instances of kidnapping, torture and homicide), and justice has come to him at last, with a delay of thirty years. He was sentenced to a life term for his collaboration with the last dictatorship's murderers. He masqueraded as a faithful chaplain, trying to convince prisoners to confess, and providing theological support for the program of extermination carried out by the military. In his trial he expressed no regrets and he compared himself to Christ.

The top of the Catholic Church stalled long until he was sentenced, and then released a brief note saying "they were moved to pain" by von Wernich's deeds, committed "under his personal responsibility", and speaking against "hatred and resentment" (in Churchspeak, that means the victims' insistence on pursuing justice). The note didn't even hint at the well-oiled relation between the dictators and the Catholic hierarchy, and didn't show any pain for the victims, which included not only guerrilla members but also young activists and pregnant women. The bishop overseeing von Wernich didn't immediately do anything; he said he'll wait a bit — so von Wernich is still technically allowed to confess, celebrate mass, and serve as any good loyal priest.

Storni's crimes were of a wholly different nature and comparatively minor (he only sexually abused a young seminarist) but the rot runs as deep. Storni was the Archbishop of Santa Fe. When the scandal broke out, a priest called José Guntern, sent him a private letter where he told the archbishop he knew about two other instances of sexual abuse, urging Storni to confess and repent. Storni sent for 85-year-old Guntern and had his proxies sit him down before a recantation and a public notary. Guntern signed, but then filed an accusation against Storni. That came to nowhere.

Storni was first sent to Rome, he resigned as Archbishop, and then the Church gave him a nice private home in a secluded spot in Córdoba for his trouble. He's still waiting for his sentence on the abuse case, but in the meantime, the Church arranged for him to receive the retirement pension that bishops are entitled to by a law dictated during the dictatorship — over 7,000 pesos per month. The arrangement was illegal, since it's for disabled bishops over the customary retirement age of 75, and Storni is a healthy 71-year-old. The money comes from the 16.6 million pesos that the state pays the Catholic Church each year, a relic from colonial times that somehow slipped into the Constitution and that nobody has ever challenged.

1 comment:

  1. Holy crap! Storni had sort of dropped off my radar. But 7000 pesos is a lot of money! That's insane.


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