Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sex Scandals Continue in the Catholic Church

This week in the news was the discovery of yet more cases of pedophilia perpetrated by Catholic priests, in both Ireland and Germany. This follows years of discovery of similar crimes committed in the United States (many in the Boston area where I live) and elsewhere.

While the media is focused on the new evidence, particularly about a case of a pedophile priest reassigned in a diocese overseen by the current pope, I have some comments and perspectives on this issues that I don't see in the media.

So, first, I must say that I was brought up by my Irish Catholic mother, so I’m quite familiar with this church. I remain a Christian in faith (as I can separate the teachings of Jesus from these grievous sinners), remain a “cultural Catholic,” but have a tenuous relationship with the Catholic Church (for obvious reasons).

Here in the US, we've been through the devastating news of how such trusted men could use their position of unquestioned authority to take advantage of the most vulnerable. We've been angry with the cover-ups, the reassignment of abusers, the failure of church officials really to "get it" that these are serious sins and serious crimes!

Yet, years later I still have my unanswered questions, which deal with some truths that the institution known as the Catholic Church seems unable to say. And a disturbing suspicion about what is fundamentally at the root of this widespread abuse.

  1. I have yet to hear church officials name these crimes as “mortal sins” or grievous offences against God, which is the definition of moral sin that I learned as a child. A mortal sin also requires the full knowledge of the sinner and the deliberate consent of the sinner. Well, I think an ordained priest learned all about sin in the seminary, so they can't hide behind a claim of not knowing or not consenting. But instead of saying "mortal sin," I’ve heard these crimes called things like a “falling” or maybe a “problem.” But why did no one speak truth and call these the “mortal sins” they clearly are!
  2. I don’t know how church officials missed one of the fundamentals of forgiveness: avoiding the “near occasion of sin.” This is right out of the Act of Contrition! We learned that forgiveness is possible for even the most heinous of sins. But, and this is crucial, one must avoid the “near occasion of sin.” For a pedophile, that means no work with children!
  3. If church officials could see “mortal sins” when presented to them, they would have proscribed the path to forgiveness for the offenders: a) confess their sins; b) turn themselves into the police and serve their sentence under civil law; and c) be forever banned from ministry and particularly work with children.
  4. Finally, the sociological issue: In any organization, there can be a few “bad apples.” Thus, if pedophilia was confined to a few priests in a few locations, the “bad apple” analogy might apply. But it isn't; it's happening in some many places by enough priests that I believe it is clearly a subculture.

    While many priests were faithful to their vow of celibacy, those in this subculture seemed to integrate this dark side of pedophilia with their otherwise public face of piousness.

    But how did this subculture develop? The offending priests were in many countries, they were geographically distant so that they likely never met each other, and many of the offences happened in a pre-internet age where there was not the ease of communication among members of a small sub-culture that exists today. How does a subculture sprout in so many places at the same time period (1960s through 1990s)?

    This is what I find most disturbing. If it occurred around the world, wouldn’t officials – bishops, cardinals, even the pope – know or suspect something?

    The questions that follow could shake the foundation of the institutional Catholic Church:

    a) How long did this subculture exist? Is it a dark, unspoken “tradition” that goes back centuries? Or is it just isolated individuals?

    b) How do abusive priests come to turn to pedophilia? Did each one come up with the idea himself? Or did they find out about this from others? From some undisclosed network? Some priests who can't live up to celibacy may have relations with a woman or a gay man. By why children? Is it that they are more easily intimidated?

    c) It’s easy to think that officials – bishops, cardinals, popes – knew about it and ignored it (or just swept it under the rug) because they were in denial. Maybe they doubted the few brave enough to report what happened. May the truly believed priests could never do this. Or maybe they truly believed it was just a "few bad apples," because so few spoke out. Or, could it be they were only told a "whitewashed" story that didn't describe the incidents as sexual abuse? A heavy dose of denial, cover-up, and whitewashing could explain the reaction of officials (i.e., reassigning priests to a new parish).

    d) But if it had been so wide-spread geographically, did they ignore it because it was just a “thing” that some priest did, tantamount to other habits like smoking or drinking?

    e) Or worse, did officials ignore or deny it because it was commonplace and even some of their ranks also participated?

I shutter to answer these questions, but I just can't convince myself that this is just a "few bad apples" here and there and, well, everywhere.

1 comment:

  1. Where is the serious outrage from this church? What happened to passion for the good and hate of such crimes. Thanks for the great post Rachy. I am sure that the victims, "CHILDREN" who were raped and molested, are still hurting and will live the rest of their lives with the horrid memories and confusion of a priest sodomizing them. A church leader to make it even more evil and possibly ruin the child's faith forever!