Beyond Belief - Review

A review of Beyond Belief - The Catholic Church and the Child Abuse Scandal, by David Yallop.

Investigative writer David Yallop has a knack of bringing books out in the eye of the storm. His book ‘Deliver us from Evil’ on the Yorkshire Ripper, was delivered to the publishers just before Sutcliffe was caught. He had time to quickly insert details of his capture.

Similarly, with his new book, ‘Beyond Belief’, Yallop brings events right up to August of this year, just as the Catholic Church in Belgium is going into meltdown with abuse allegations.

Of course, the current situation in Belgium has added another heavy dose of fuel to the raging bonfire upon which burns the decency the Church was for so long accorded. The Belgian Bishop, Roger Vangheluwe, the most senior Catholic clergyman in Europe to be directly linked with the allegations, has just gone into hiding after admitting he abused a young nephew for 13 years.

Yallop has been able to build upon the research carried out for his other work 'The Power and the Glory', which elicited 'moving and powerful accounts' of personal experiences. The preface to ‘Beyond Belief’ begins with the attention grabbing: 'As of now, many people across the world would not allow an unaccompanied child to enter a Roman Catholic Church'. However, reading on, he makes clear to state the measures put into place, thanks to the Nolan Report of 2001, which recommended the setting up of a child protection unit within the Church, by vetting clergy, lay staff and volunteers before they take up posts. Yet in many other countries the situation remains grim. For those who think that this behaviour, analogous to many of us as a rotten core of an already decaying apple, is something new (and that includes leading figures of the Church itself, some of whom term it a very modern malady indicative of the state of the world), it isn’t. It’s just that we know about it now. Here’s where Yallop shows off his detailed historical research, referring to age-old mentions of the problem, and the attempts of a brave few in highlighting what has been a consistent feature. Let me here make it clear so there can be no doubt: sexual abuse of minors has been a problem in the Catholic Church for over a thousand years. The vast majority of it will never come to light.

The present Pope, who had served as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith - CDF - the department responsible for Canonical discipline, has played a key role in covering up the misdemeanours of clergy. This includes the terrible case of Rita Milla, who was used as a sex object not by one priest but by six of his priest friends too, which conjures up images of the seediest porn rings that have been allowed to flourish.

The numbers of priests and their victims are mind-boggling. Having read this book is two sittings I came away with feelings of anger and sadness - to be served such an unflinching slice of the picture is to Yallop's credit as he has relentlessly pursued and delivered an equally relentless narrative of grim. Yet if you think that it's just the men, then nuns do not get off lightly, either. And nor should they. Yallop highlights those orders such as Little Sisters of the Poor, many of whom physically, emotionally and mentally abused the children in their care, many of whose only crime was that they were orphaned. I should also disclose a conflict of interest here. My own Mother spent a couple of years in a sacred hearts convent school in Liverpool in the late nineteen fifties. Actually, it would better be described as an industrial school for ‘wayward’ girls, many of whom, it would seem, were simply not considered demure or submissive enough for girls. She was haunted by the treatment she received, and witnessed, for the rest of her life. It goes without saying that Clergy are not all ‘like that’, even in the convent school my Mother had to put up with, there were also a few kinder ones. The headmistress of my old primary school was also one of those kindly ones.

A big part of the problem that has been allowed to go on for so long is the thick wall of denial of those higher up the chain. It is also telling that these crimes are often referred to in Latin, 'crimen pessiumum' being one of the key terms, which actually means 'the foulest crime'. There needs to be a direct use of language in all references to this abuse.

Another instance is the fact that, until 2002 Pope John Paul II did not even regard sexual abuse as a crime, but as a 'sin'. Sins can only be absolved by god, and not the law courts! In countries like Ireland, the covering up of these 'sins' committed 'within' the Church were enabled by the government and its institutions. Given that they were 'sins', and not crimes, they were confessed to and absolved behind closed doors.

The Church has leant heavily on the victims and their families not to go public – for the honour of the ‘Mother Church’; Coupled with the figure of the silent Holy Father, this is one hell of a dysfunctional and repressed family whose sons' sexual misdemeanours are swept under the carpet and the daughters take their anger out on those in their charge.

What Yallop does not mention and does not need to in this book, are possible reasons as to the rot at the core of the Catholic Church. Many of the nuns and priests who have gone into the Church have, throughout the ages, been handed out by their (large Catholic) families, or heavily encouraged by their parish priest, giving lie to the sense of vocation that many still view as being essential for the entry to these lifelong roles.

Yallop's is a damning book and not for the faint hearted, but one that most Catholics should read.

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