John Paul II in Inferno of the Divine Comedy of Dante
Written by Dante Alighieri in the 14th century, The Divine Comedy is widely considered one of the greatest works of world literature. The poem’s imaginative and allegorical vision of the Christian afterlife is a culmination of the medieval world-view as it had developed in the Western Church.
The Divine Comedy is divided into three parts: Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise).
In the Inferno, the Roman poet Virgil guides Dante through the nine circles of Hell. The circles are concentric, representing a gradual increase in wickedness, and culminating at the center of the earth, where Satan is held in bondage. Each circle’s sinners are punished in a fashion fitting their crimes: each sinner is afflicted for all of eternity in a manner befitting the chief sin he committed.
Each sin’s punishment in Inferno is a symbolic instance of poetic justice; for example, fortune-tellers have to walk forwards with their heads on backwards, unable to see what is ahead, because they tried to do so in life. Allegorically, the Inferno represents the Christian soul seeing sin for what it really is.
A tip of the hat to the wonderful Internet Wikipedia from which the above summary was crafted.
The Tenth Circle, a powerful reflection by Vinnie Nauheimer, follows. It describes Vinnie’s vision of how clerical sex abusers of children and their enablers will ultimately be dealt with.
Readers beware: the language is graphic and may be triggering for some victims of clerical sexual abuse.
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The Tenth Circle
By Vinnie Nauheimer
While heading back to his office from lunch, Charlie took notice of the truck making a delivery to Joe’s Deli. Not because it was out of the ordinary, but because there were several boxes precariously perched on the edge of the side door and they were swaying in the strong March breeze. The next thing Charlie saw was a young boy about five or six years old walking past him. The kid was doing a balancing act while walking along the edge of the curb. Just as the boy walked under the boxes, a strong gust of wind blew and the boxes started on their descent to the sidewalk.
Charlie acted on instinct as he knew the potential outcome. He darted toward the curb, snatched the boy out from under the falling boxes, and slipped while trying to avoid a head on collision with a parking meter. Charlie managed to set the boy down as his momentum propelled him towards the sidewalk. He tried to break his fall with an outstretched hand, but his momentum was too great for his hand to function as a brake. For this heroic effort he received a scratched palm, bruised knee and a ruined suit. Once again, in trying to do the right thing, Charlie found himself in pain. Worse was the fact that no one witnessed the event. By the time he had gotten up and inspected the damage to his knee, the child was gone. Run off to play no doubt and probably totally oblivious to what could have happened. The only thing the truck driver saw was Charlie getting up alongside the boxes scattered on the sidewalk. His only concern was about getting sued.
Charlie lay in bed praying for sleep that evening. The pain shooting from his knee and hand were reminders of the day’s events, just like the pain in his heart reminded him of this past year’s troubles. “Who was that kid anyhow?” he asked himself. Then he told himself it didn’t make a difference because the kid didn’t get hurt.
After reliving the day’s events, Charlie’s mind turned to what was had been eating at him for months: his son’s molestation at the hands of their parish priest. He prayed as he prayed every night lately, “Please God! Let me know that going public wasn’t a futile gesture on my part. Tell me my sense of righteousness didn’t get in the way of my better judgment. Tell me that the publicity surrounding this suit won’t make things worse for my son. Let me know there is a purpose to this mortifying charade that has torn my family, my community and me apart. Most of all, Lord, let me that my son will be all right.” These were the same prayers that Charlie recited so many times during the past few months as he lay in bed desperately wanting the escape only a deep sleep could provide.
Once again, as he lay staring at the ceiling, the litany of whys started in his head: Why was his son chosen as a victim? Why was the Archdiocese protecting this pedophile priest who wronged not only his son, but others? Why did they keep this priest on as pastor in spite of the overwhelming evidence against him? Why did the Archdiocese attack me and my family as if we were the guilty parties? Why have some of my friends, neighbors, community and church members turned against me? Why was this happening to me and my family? Tired of no answers to these questions, Charlie faced the onerous task of telling his mind to shut up so he could sleep. Finally, Charlie prayed for sleep. God was prepared to grant his wish this night.
Charlie tossed and turned trying to find a comfortable position for his swollen knee. When at last he found one, the mantle of sleep quickly enveloped him. Moments later, his consciousness was transported to a strange and beautiful place where peace and tranquility seemed to permeate the very air. As he walked about lush vegetation he felt the serenity that he had been seeking all his life. Walking down a path towards him was the same young boy from the truck incident earlier in the day. Charlie smiled at the boy and the boy smiled back saying, “My name is Innocence.”
Charlie felt an overwhelming sense of calm as the boy neared him. “Come,” said the boy as he reached for Charlie’s hand. He held it like any child would hold his own father’s. At once Charlie felt the unconditional love that emanated from the child’s hand as it surged through him. Charlie asked in a matter of fact manner, “Where are we going?” The child just pointed in a direction and they started to walk. Innocence led Charlie to a beautiful glen filled with people radiating love. As Charlie and Innocence entered their midst, they gathered round and applauded. Two of the group walked up to Charlie and somehow, he instinctively knew who they were.
“You’re Virgil and you’re Dante aren’t you? Charlie asked.
“Yes we are,” was the reply.
“What am I doing here?” asked Charlie surprised at the calmness of his voice.
Dante said, “The Lord has seen fit to answer your prayers and ease your pain. You will learn shortly that there is a special place for those who use God and his church to desecrate children. For the Lord holds children close to his heart. Woe upon the man who masquerades as a priest in order to fill his own lusty desires with children. He has a special place in hell as do all those who aid him in his crimes. Innocence has brought you to us so that we may put your mind at ease.”
“Will I learn exactly what becomes of these monsters and more importantly, to those who allow it to continue?” asked Charlie.
Dante told Charlie that it was God’s will that his question be answered and the time was near. Virgil cautioned him to hold onto Innocence’s hand for only Innocence could protect him from the horror he was about to witness. Charlie looked down at Innocence and patted the little hand that rested snugly in his own. At the same time, he felt the incredible strength that flowed from the child to him. Suddenly Charlie and his guides were in the depths of hell. Without being told, Charlie knew they were in the ninth circle. The Circle reserved for the souls who were fraudulent against those to whom they were given a special trust.
“It is here that we will find the priests who have violated children over the centuries”, said Dante.
“Why weren’t they mentioned in the Inferno?” asked Charlie.
Dante replied, “It wasn’t time. The Comedy was written to legitimize the church, not offend it”
As Charlie took in the surreal view of the ninth circle before him, he saw Satan seated in the middle on his great throne with Legion at his side. Then looking over the souls before him encapsulated in ice, he saw a great many priests immersed in the ice up to their collars.
“Is this where the abusers go?” asked Charlie.
“No,” said Virgil, “this is too good for them! Then he turned and commanded Satan, “In the name of God most high and holy I command you move aside and let us see the most prized of your souls.”
Charlie whispered to Dante, “Why are they the most prized of his souls?”
Dante replied, “Because their acts were such abominations that next to Satan himself, no single group has driven more people from God than sexually abusive clergy.
Satan boomed, “Who is it that wishes to see my pets?”
Virgil replied, “Someone who is trying to thwart their work on earth and it is heaven’s desire that he see the punishment which lies in wait for those who commit these atrocities. The Lord wishes man to know that regardless of the outcome of the earthly courts, there is one court of justice that cannot be escaped.”
With that, Satan waved his hand and the great throne he was seated on slid back revealing the tenth circle of hell. This circle was reserved exclusively for clergy who sexually abused children and those who enabled them. This level was ten times that of the largest football stadium Charlie had ever seen. It contained four concentric rings; each one was a different level reflecting varying degrees of punishment. The innermost and bottom ring radiated various shades of red. Charlie knew that the bottom ring contained the worst of them all.
On the first ring were those clergy who inflicted harm with lecherous touches. Each priest was surrounded by devils who had taken the form of every victim the priest had abused; victims who had been demeaned by the touching and fondling of the priest. These devils turned children looked pure and innocent. The kind of children molesters would drool over. Some priests were surrounded by only girls, some only by boys and still others by boys and girls. Each priest was in his own enclosure along with the replicas of his victims. It was bounded by walls, but no ceiling and the children were gathered around the priest in a circle. Some circles were very large and others were small, but in each circle, the same scenario was unfolding. As the perverted priest reached out to passionately touch and caress one of these children, his hand or hands would instantly ignite in a bright flame. Then the hands would turn to ash and the priest would let out such a sorrowful cry as not to be described.
Charlie held his hands to his ears as his eyes remained riveted on the spectacle before him. And one by one in turn, the priest went round the circle trying to touch each of his victims again and again with the same result. And after the attempted touch, the once beautiful child would return to its hideous hell form. The priest continued until all of the children that he had molested were touched and returned to their hideous hell forms. Then all the demons attacked the priest tearing him asunder and the cries from the priest and his tormentors bespoke the agony of their eternal suffering. Then the cycle repeated itself with all the demons returning to their childlike forms while the priest once again tried to molest them. It was a scene that was to play out for all eternity giving Charlie his first insight into the true essence of hell.
Next they viewed the second ring containing the priests who had penetrated children. They too were surrounded by devils in the form of the priest’s earthly victims. Again, some were surrounded by only boys, some only girls and others by both. Some priests had several victims, others had hundreds. The childlike demons were completely naked, innocent looking, and appearing with the features most craved by their abuser. Charlie stood in horror at what he saw next. The priests in this ring grabbed each child in turn looking to relieve their visibly aroused state, but they couldn’t because there were no orifices to penetrate. Try as they may from every conceivable position with each child, these feverish priests could not penetrate one child. Frustrated they moved from one to the next. As the aroused priest tried each child in turn; his frustration grew a hundred fold. He cursed, screamed, begged and pleaded for relief, but none was to be found.
When the priest reached the last child, all the children returned to their demonic forms, circled and turned on the priest. One at a time, they recited Matthew 5, “If your right eye causes you to sin then gouge it out.” Then a demon would pluck out the priest’s eye and each demon in the group in turn took a piece of that priest saving the genitals for last. When the priest was totally dismembered and the genitals were removed, the priest returned whole and the process started again and would continue for eternity.
There were some exceptions though; a certain number of these priests would leave the second ring to go down to the third ring. There they would go through a different cycle before returning to the second level. Their eternity would be spent going back and forth between two kinds of hell one worse than the other.
The third ring was horrific and at the same time heartbreaking for it contained devils in the guise of children who had committed suicide. Charlie cringed at a thought which raced to his mind, but Innocence squeezed his hand and the awful thought passed. There before each priest were the children who took their own lives because the sexual abuse suffered at the hands of that priest. These deviant priests had shattered their will to live. These were the faces of victims who could not cope with the ultimate betrayal. They were betrayed by priests from whom they sought solace. Abuse at the hands of a priest was the last straw and the final confirmation that life was hopeless. These children suffered the ultimate betrayal. They were the victims who had been sent to priests for help, be it bereavement counseling, divorce, parental alcoholism and various forms of abuse. The priests, who were supposed to help them, sexually abused them. The victims of these priests shared the common thread of ultimate betrayal, which leads to total despair.
The eyes of these victims reflected their absence of hope; they were dull and lifeless. Their movements were slow and mechanical. Each had with them the means of their own end and was seated in a row in front of their abuser. Some of the girls had razor blades or pills, some boys had ropes or guns and there were a few without anything. Charlie watched the horror; his eyes riveted on the unearthly scene as each victim gave the priest the means of his or her demise. As each victim handed the priest the means of their death, they watched the priest use it upon himself.
Charlie saw the blood flow as one priest slit his wrists and he instinctively knew the priest was experiencing the pain of the life flowing out of him while being mocked by the child turned demon again. Another priest took a rope, put his head in the noose and stepped off a stool. Charlie heard the snap as his neck broke and watched him writhe in agony as his face swelled while the ever-tightening coil slowly choked the life out of him. Charlie was startled as one boy stood up and an instant later, out of nowhere, a train smashed into the priest. Some priests had only one child in front of them while others had several and more. Those that had multiple children in front of them had to experience each death in turn by whatever means their victim had used. Then the priest was returned to the second ring.
Charlie’s attention then turned to the innermost and bottom ring. On this level were the enablers, the pastors, monsignors, vicars, bishops, cardinals and popes who allowed perverted priests to continue in their evil ways. These were the hypocrites who turned a blind eye to the rape, sodomization and molestations committed by the priests in the outer circles. They may or may not have partaken themselves, but they were responsible by their commissions and omissions, for the foul deeds of others. They were the hierarchy of the church; the men who were supposed to be emulating Jesus. This august group, who denied the existence of clerical sexual abuse, lied from the pulpit, railed against innocent victims and allowed the carnage to continue unabated. They used every trick in the book to deny, belittle or vilify victims to save their status quo. A variation of the color red emanated from each member of the hierarchy in the inner circle and it spread out encompassing all the predator priests they had enabled. Some were responsible for only a few while others could have filled a church with those they let run amok.
In the innermost ring each member of the enabling hierarchy was seated in front of a large mirror. The mirror reflected their atrocities. First they watched themselves defend the actions of pedophile priests to their victims, then to the victim’s parents, then to the parishioners and finally to themselves. Next, the prelate was forced to watch the acts of each individual predator he let loose upon unsuspecting children. One by one the prelate watched these acts in all their lurid detail. Next, the mirror showed how a predator, upon being promoted to the hierarchy, allowed even more abusers to run rampant and in turn promoted some of them. Charlie immediately realized that some of these links went on for generations: pederast in power empowering more of the same.
When the images stopped, the prelate stood at a pulpit and addressed the multitude of Satan’s legions in his defense, “But I did this to save the church! The church is more important than a few children! I was doing God’s work! I didn’t know they were serial molesters. Think of the scandal! It was consensual! You don’t understand how difficult a priest’s life is! Children of Satan were seducing my priests! Priests are only human! Think of all the money I saved the church, and think of all the good I have done with that money!”
The speech was suddenly interrupted by peals of laughter emanating from Satan himself. He said as he slapped Legions back, “This is my favorite part; I just love the good intentions speech!” Then as the speaker continued, one by one the members of Satan’s army started throwing coins at the speaker, and each coin tore a piece of the speaker’s body off. Not a large piece, but a small piece and piece by piece the speaker was flayed alive until only his tongue was left flapping in his skeleton. Then when the last coin hit the tongue, Satan burst forth from it saying, “Thank you my friends for destroying the innocence of children. You’ve planted the seeds of fear and distrust in their hearts. For with fear and distrust burned into a heart, it is almost impossible to accept the idea of a loving God.”
It was at that moment that Charlie understood the true nature of sexual abuse. He knew that the true violation was the stripping of innocence from children. By using them as objects, the abuser destroyed the fundamental building block of relationships, which is trust. Without trust, the victim can never truly love. In addition to destroying trust, the perpetrators created shame. Shame based behavior combined with the inability to trust wreaks havoc and spreads misery. Abusive priests were creating conditions that if not treated could or would last a lifetime. The defilement of a body was bad enough, but being defiled by God’s representative on earth generally closed the victim’s heart to friends, family and God.
Satan, aware of Charlie’s new found knowledge, flew at him in a rage and inflated himself until Charlie recoiled in fear at the immeasurable evil hovering above him. At that same moment, he felt strength surging from that little hand in his. The more the strength flowed from Innocence, the smaller Satan’s stature became until it disappeared. Then the whole scene faded and Charlie drifted off into a long awaited peaceful sleep.
The next morning Charlie awoke feeling well rested in spite of the vivid memory of his dream. As he slowly walked from his car to his storefront office, Charlie was shocked to see the new mannequin in the clothing store window next to his. It looked remarkably like Innocence and as he took note of it, the mannequin winked at him. Charlie winked back as a broad smile crossed his face and a new spring entered his step.