Monday 15 March 2010

Abuser Catholics

Here we are in the UK debating whether ten year olds have the level of development that gives them criminal responsibility. Some want it raised to twelve, and some in Europe say fourteen or even fifteen. Go back to 1975 and we have Cardinal Sean Brady before he was a bishop asking a boy of ten and a boy of fourteen to sign papers to be silent about the child abuser cleric Brendan Smyth, who then went on to abuse others. This cardinal will not resign. Then we have BBC reporter Olenka Frenkiel's investigation into former priest Bill Carney who was named as one of the worst cases in Dublin's Catholic diocese in the Murphy Report into clerical abuse there. Despite all the loud talk, the Irish authorities are still doing nothing about him.

There are increasing numbers of reports emerging from all around Europe about Catholic priests and abuse, and this Church looks rotten to the core as it will not get to grips with its situation. The BBC report about Sean Brady includes emerging stories of abuse even linked to a choir once led by Pope Benedict's clerical brother, Georg Ratzinger. For known decades it has preached morality and has been quite other in its many dirty corners.

It's good that Ireland and Spain and Poland are breaking free now of this monolith Church, but obviously not yet free enough regarding the State. It is the people breaking free who are exposing the shoddy actions of those who covered up the wrong doers, and who moved them on to carry on. In more supernaturalist parts of the world, one can only wonder at what abuse is still going on and being covered up within the religious bureaucracy that first of all looks after its own.


Erika Baker said...

And on the other end of the "we're totally screwed up about sex" spectrum, RC adoption agencies have stopped providing all services because they might just have to deal with the odd gay couple, and the RC in the States has told people working for its charitable organisations that it would no longer provide health insurance for spouses because it's not allowed to discrimminate against gay partners any longer. And that in a country where there is no decent state system to pick up those who fall through the net.
Add the "no condoms" policy in Africa and you really have the most Alice in Wonderland kind of morality you can imagine.

You just wonder how long it can continue and what will eventually happen.

NUFer said...

The record of the RC church is very poor in this matter and although abuse happens in all sorts of institutions - religious,academic and business - most organisations in the last ten years have faced up to the matter and put procedures in place to deal with it.
It should be noted that similar 'cover up' procedures were employed in other churches at the time - a parallel case to the one you cite 'came to light'locally only a few years ago in the CofE :we all like to think that we would 'blow the whistle' if we saw abuse happening unchecked but one should not underestimate the courage required to do so,as the 'whistle blower'often finds him/herself censured and ostracised in the community involved, notwithstanding that they have done 'the right thing.'

Erika Baker said...

Yes to all of that. But academia and business don't usually set themselves up as morally superior, as guardians of their flock's sexual morals and as active followers of a particularly morally courageous man. Religious organisations have to be measured by their own yardstick and by that they fail much more than any other organisation has done.

rick allen said...

"Religious organisations have to be measured by their own yardstick and by that they fail much more than any other organisation has done."

Not only do they fail more often, they really must necessarily fail more often, because of the demands of the gospel that they are duty-bound to promulgate. Who else, after all, has the burden of "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect," or "Love your enemies," or "Forgive seventy times seven times"?

I think we need to keep that in mind and recognize that, however little hypocrisy there is in business's "Greed is good" and government's "Power is its own reward," we may still prefer pious hypocrites to honest villians like Hitler.

I myself also try to keep in mind Jesus' words prefacing his most severe attack on the religious authorities of his day:

"The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not."

Erika Baker said...

I agree with you in as far as individuals are concerned. We are all weak and Catholic priests are no less weak than others. Although they are in a profession where daily analyzing your failings and trying to improve ought to put them in a better position that non religious people, they often live terribly lonely lives with huge expectations being placed on them. On balance, they may even be more likely to fail.

And I will allow a general kind of moral blindness in society until it suddenly becomes aware that what it previously condoned was evil and had to be confronted. It’s how moral progress works and we see it time and time again. To that extent, I am willing to make some allowances for the early responses to sexual abuse by priests. Very little was known about sexuality and abuse and a Bishop could possibly be excused for believing that if he removed an apparently repentant abusing priest to another parish he would have a fresh start and with God’s help make the most of it. These days, we know better. And the point is that we have known better for a long long time.

So what are we to make of the official responses to this weakness? What are we to make of an institution that has colluded with its priests way beyond the period when most of society did so?
You see, my real moral problem doesn’t stem from the individual priests, but from the compounding failure of the whole institution to recognize the problem and to address is properly, openly and honestly. Even now, when intelligent Catholic priests and theologians are asking whether compulsory celibacy might have anything to do with it, the knee-jerk response is to put out a press release that compulsory celibacy is not to be discussed.
What is that saying?
Would a mature response not be to say “we do not believe at present that compulsory celibacy is a contributory factor, but we will certainly investigate this because our theology and doctrine can only be considered to be right if it does not actively contribute to harm being done”. This would not mean that compulsory celibacy would end, but it would allow the church to engage with the findings of psychology, psychiatry etc. instead of giving the impression that it feels threatened by them.

You mention business and greed – but it is generally accepted that successful business is based on generating profits. We may find personal greed personally abhorrent, but it is deeply written into our way of conducting our economic lives and no-one seriously believes it is wrong to encourage our children to do well at school so they end up getting good jobs and earn good money for their families. The businessman accused of greed can say in his self defense that he generates money for the economy, that he creates jobs etc., and all we should possibly get worked up about is the size of his bonuses, not the fact that he receives them.

If you want to compare like with like, let’s talk about the churches investing in property and art, in all its splendid vestments, in the splendor the Pope will be living and traveling in when visiting Britain. Like the business man accused of greed, there are many good arguments in favor, and many individuals who will recoil.

Sexual abuse is a completely different matter. It is just absolutely wrong every way you look at it. The abusing priest has no defense. There is nothing at all acceptable in what he does. And what’s more, he knows it. And so does his church. Why else would there have been all this secrecy, why else would children have been made to sign statements that they would not talk about the abuse, why else would abusing priests have been moved to different parishes?
Because the church knew they had done wrong, because it knew that the truth would be damaging to its reputation if discovered.
There can be absolutely not excuse for that kind of response, and the explanation that it is the church’s lofty morals that cause it to fail more spectacularly rings quite hollow.

rick allen said...

Erika, you write, "my real moral problem doesn’t stem from the individual priests, but from the compounding failure of the whole institution to recognize the problem and to address is properly, openly and honestly."

I agree with you entirely, but I also see that there is also a problem of proof, and that the response "just move on" is always the solution that protects those under my immediate care.

It's an evasion, and one of the things that disturbs me about the whole thing is that everyone knows that that's how the much larger problem of molestation in schools and day care centers and sports programs is still handled.

Some years ago, when the Paul Shanley accusations were much in the news, the New York Times ran an article, back around page 20, about how, on average, a child was molested every day in the New York public schools, and it was standard operating procedure in cases of suspicion to have them move on rather than try to prove a case against them. There was, of course, no follow up.

This continuing fact in no way excuses colluding Catholic bishops. But the contrasting scale of the problems makes me wonder to what extent our real concern here is child welfare.

I doubt that the celibacy rule has any role in this, but, by all means, we should investigate any condition that might correlate with molestation. But I think the vast majority of kids who are molested are victimized by their mothers' boyfriends.

One of the values to the celibacy rule (when observed), aside from its obvious role as a countercultural sign in a sex-obssessed society, is that it keeps the clergy from becoming another middle-class profession. I suppose one could argue that popes and Dalai Lamas, by virtue of their position, lead lives of luxury. But the celibacy requirement, the demand that one in that position, from initial ordination, lead an ascetic lifestyle, takes some of the edge off of that.

For myself, I am pleased that the Church is such a generator of art and architecture, and I would not be happy to see St. Peter's sold to Donald Trump.

As I have said elsewhere, anyone with any history at all knows that the authority of the Bishop of Rome doesn't rest on his personal holiness, and though of course we prefer that our pastors be men whose lives reflect the high moral demands of the gospel, we should certainly have the basic understanding that our clergy, far from being "spiritually perfect" or "ascended masters," are subject to the same temptations as the rest of us, are no less subject to original sin, and, in fact, from their position, are probably more subject to a deadly pride than most of us. Dante's hell is quite liberally sprinkled with popes.

So while our bishops' behavior is never beyond criticism, I think we need to be careful of those whose professed shock and amazement that clerics can actually commit serious sin provides an inroad to "reforming" the Church in ways inconsistent with the outline of Church structure set out in Vatican II or changing the moral teaching of the Church. There was not, after all, in the West, always such an abhorrence of pederasty.

Erika Baker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erika Baker said...

I love the idea that the Church of England should be full of Donald Trumps because it doesn't have the concept of compulsory celibacy.

I know that true celibacy is a grace. But I, and many others, wonder how many young men with very confused sexuality, maybe gay men who are terrified of or appalled at being gay, and also very sexually naive men, men scared of women flock to a place they feel will keep them safe from themselves only to find that this does not happen.

It would be wonderful to get a real scientifically structured study on the difference in RC and Anglican priest. Are Catholics really more ascetic; does being celibate automatically mean being less sexually obsessed or is being married, having sex and then just getting on with your life more likely to create balanced people? Is the constant campaigning against sex before marriage, homosexuality and contraception a sign of a well adjusted sexuality or one of obsession? Are celibate priests better pastors, better preachers, more spiritual?

As for your comment that it’s an evasion, I wonder if there is also a cultural difference in our experience. Over here, child abuse has become such a buzz word that child only needs to whisper that a teacher touched him and the teacher is immediately suspended and an investigation launched. The pendulum is almost swinging too far and there have been instances where teachers have been cleared in the courts and the schools have still refused to re-instate them. It is axiomatic that children are to be believed and adults initially to be disbelieved. Maybe that is why we find the RC response so shocking, because it is truly counter cultural.

And finally a serious question. I accept that the clergy are no more holy than the rest of us. In fact, I have never believed that they should be judged by a different moral standard or should have to be whiter than white.
And yet, this almost casual acceptance that they will fail like everyone else makes me wonder what it is their close relationship with God is doing to them. Where are the Fruits of the Spirit in the church if its clergy – celibate so they can focus more on God – are like everyone else? And what of “by their fruits shall you tell them”?
And I do not mean that in an accusatory way. But if we have potentially holy men entering the priesthood and if, on average, they end up no more holy than you and I, maybe there IS something systemically amiss that is hindering their development?