WHEN DOES SACRED RITUAL BECOME A CLOAK FOR ABUSE?
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the following videos is the willingness of parents to subject their children to questionable aggressive behaviour by some priests which would never be accepted in secular life. Parents standing by as their infant is slapped by the priest or obediently queuing in line with their children at the altar to receive the priests ‘blessing in the form of what can only be described as physical assault. Their deference to the priests in question demonstrates the effectiveness of religious indoctrination and goes some way to explaining how the sexual abuse by clergy could have continued unchallenged for so long.
The recent video of the baptism of a baby where an elderly priest slapped the baby has to be seen to be believed and understandably went viral.
The elderly French priest described the assault on French radio as ‘not that severe…somewhere between a caress and a slap’ saying that he was ‘just trying to calm the child down.’ Surprisingly, the parents of the child have accepted his apology for his ‘clumsiness‘. His bishop has suspended him from all baptisms and marriage celebrations, describing the incident as ‘a loss of coolness that can be explained but not excused’. stating that ‘a baptism can be long and the baby was crying a lot’...‘it is regrettable but understandable and great age certainly played a part’.
Infant baptism is a profound sacrament of the Christian church using water as a symbol of purification and renewal, denoting acceptance into the Christian family.
The sacrament commemorates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. The way the ceremony is performed varies by denomination, most often using water to gently mark the forehead of a baby with the sign of the cross and to pour water over the crown of the head. This is referred to as ‘affusion’ from the Latin meaning ‘to pour on’ alluding to the Pentecost event when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples. Total immersion is practised by some denominations, including the Eastern Orthodox and some Roman Catholics. While respecting all religious traditions, it must be said that repeatedly immersing a baby’s head completely under water would be construed by most as child abuse.
And what are we to make of a priest who physically assaults children on the altar in the guise of giving ‘a blessing’.
Whatever the supposed intention, the video explicitly shows aggressive physical contact causing apprehension in the children. The priest aims a kick at one small boy who crawls away on all fours in an attempt to avoid ‘the blessing’ while a woman holds her head in anticipation of the shaking.
Such behaviour is marginal, however it reveals an implicit aggression which should be confronted wherever it is found. If we refuse to recognise and identify such overt, violent behaviour on the altar we can not hope to address it when it is hidden in its more sinister expression as the sexual abuse now plaguing the church. As a consequence our children will remain unprotected through our complicity.
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