Me, The Pope & Aaron Vargas

by Mike Geniella, April 5, 2010

I don’t know if Aaron Vargas, the Fort Bragg man who was scheduled to go on trial this month for killing his longtime sexual abuser, is by baptism a Roman Catholic.  But I suspect during his lifetime he encountered the same icy indifference of those in authority not unlike that being offered up by Catholic Church elders worldwide.

Much has been written during the past two decades of the abuse suffered by young Catholic boys at the hands of errant priests, a minority among many to be sure. The Diocese of Santa Rosa, which stretches from Santa Rosa to the Oregon border, was a hotbed of widely reported abuse cases. Story after story out of Santa Rosa, and across the U.S. and Europe confirmed what victims already knew – church leaders knowingly protected the perpetrators.

Sister Jane Kelly, an Ukiah-based nun whose whistle blowing led to the downfall of then Bishop Patrick  Ziemann, was shunned by church leaders for going public about problems within the Santa Rosa diocese. The diocese’s sad story turned even more bizarre when Catholics learned Bishop Ziemann confessed to engaging in sex with a former Ukiah priest. The priest said he was forced to disrobe for the bishop to keep from being turned over to police for suspected sexual abuse of young Latino men and theft of church money.

Church leaders knew of the bishop’s confession but kept secret his letter of resignation for nearly a year until a civil lawsuit forced his case out in the open. Only then did the bishop step down, and relinquish the authority granted to him by the Vatican in Rome.

So it’s no surprise to me or anyone else even remotely connected to tawdry tales of  Catholic Church cover-up that victims of sexual abuse like Aaron Vargas often feel they have no place to turn for help.

What is disturbing, however, is how little those in power have learned over the past 20 years.

In Aaron Vargas’ case, it’s now known that other alleged victims including a stepson had years earlier told local police of their abuse at the hands of slain businessman Darrell McNeill. McNeill was never a priest, but he had enjoyed a similar position of trust as a Boy Scout leader on the Mendocino Coast.  It seems no formal law enforcement investigation into the allegations against McNeill was ever launched despite the complaints.

As the Easter religious celebration approached, we witnessed the sad spectacle of church leaders at the Vatican defending Pope Benedict XVI for his handling of abuse cases while serving as a cardinal in his native Germany.

I think columnist Jon Carroll summed the situation up best in a commentary published Monday in the San Francisco Chronicle, calling it an outrage that the Vatican, for example, is “still blinded by its own self-righteousness.”

Carroll wrote about the moving Catholic ceremony in which church leaders including the pope wash the feet of a dozen men, “following the footsteps of Jesus and demonstrating the humility that he both taught and practiced.”

“Wouldn’t it be amazing – follow me here – if the pope would wash the feet of the men who had been abused by priests? It would be ecclesiastical in nature, not legal. It would be an expression of love; no documents would be signed. It would indicate that the pope understands his position; that he is a servant of the church, and not its master.”

But Carroll knows, and so do I, that most people in positions of authority do not see themselves anymore as public servants.

Wrote Carroll, “The pope is a big shot; he acts like a big shot; he is protected by lesser but still powerful big shots. This is power politics; this is about protecting the church. The victims of the abuse are secondary. Protect the institution.”

At the last minute Aaron Vargas is being offered a deal that will let him plea to voluntary manslaughter in McNeill's death. Vargas faces up to six years in prison if he accepts.

We can't ignore the fact that Aaron Vargas killed a man, whether it was intentional or not.

Had we listened earlier, however, to the voices of Aaron Vargas and the other victims this might not have happened. Why is that so difficult for the Vatican or any other authority figure to understand?

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One Response to Me, The Pope & Aaron Vargas

  1. Trent Foster Reply

    April 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Unfortunatly it is oh so difficult to undertsand!
    With power comes perversion, it may very well be that the stress of a dominate public figure, can convolute the mind in a way that shall deem itself useless, unless a person can humble them selves to understand that they are a public servant and not a tyrranicle despotic dictatore, when we believe in our own press, as to how wonderful we are, held to high esteem by the people closest around us, that is those that shall tell us what we want to here in a means to manipulate us for there own good, a connivance of sorts! “You are only smart when you tell me what I want to hear” This power becomes like a drug, and like with a drug we push the limits to see just how invincable we are,
    We speak of the Roman chatholics now but just yesterday it was the Republicans in bathroom stalls, or the Democrats in the oval office!
    Every public figure we see now has a tool to present world wide like Jessie James, or gripping a ball Colbey “O” brien! Even Quentin Kope the SF politician was with a 13 year old hooker!
    Sex sells in the auto industries, the music industries, and the personal lube and protection industries!
    We not a one of use is immune of this.
    Once we as a culture understands that to give freely of ourselves in a altruistic way, and to take the position of a trusted member of society to benefit the world and not our own ego, shall we see a world far less perverted by power!
    And as the voting public has see that we need to vote by the character and conduct and not the sex appeal of the canidates, example given Arnold the gropper!
    Shall we have a goverment ran by the qualified people, Now remember this shit runs down hill, if you have a Mayor that is a sexual deviant, chances are the Boy scout leader will be one as well, birds of a feather flock together, in this case the preditory birds of pray! All acting like the good samaritan next door! Only to serve there own hedonistic/sociopathic desires.
    And how can you tell the difference, actions speak louder than words!

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