Thursday, June 10, 2010

Time To Tell: The Church and the Sexual Abuse of Children

Pope Benedict XVI

USA Today reports, "Pope Benedict XVI has apologized -- again -- for clergy sexual abuse of minors as the global scandal continues to scorch his papacy. This time, the apology came at a Mass celebrating the conclusion of the Year of the Priest. Bemoaning these sins, he said, the Church will devote itself to choosing and supporting priests. (The Pope said), 'We will do everything we can to weigh the authenticity of their vocation and make every effort to accompany priests along their journey, so that the Lord will protect them and watch over them in troubled situations and amid life's dangers.'"

The victim's rights group BishopAccountability.Org responded to the Pope's most recent statement writing, " The Pope's response has been platitudes, metaphor, and rhetoric. What's worse, with the appalled Catholic laity waiting for solutions, the Pope prescribed merely an internal, inadequate next step -- better seminary screening and formation. But we all have learned in recent years that the most effective solutions lie outside the Church. To solve this massive crisis, the Pope must take specific actions himself and also endorse and facilitate certain external measures that would advance transparency and justice."

I don't usually write about religion, although now that I think of it religion lives at the intersection between culture and politics, which is my interest. But there's a difference in writing about the interactions between the faithful and the cultures in which they reside (which I have written about) and debating matters of faith themselves. (For example I write about Islamophobia because the close relationship between the irrational hatred of Muslims and Arabs, whether they are Muslim or not, makes it a necessity--despite the fact that I am not a Muslim myself. But I don't write about matters of faithfulness within Islam because there are so many others better positioned to explore those issues from within that community.) Of course it's easier for me to keep a separation between faith, politics and culture when I am not among the faithful. But when the subject turns to the religious tradition of my family--Maronite Catholicism-- it's more difficult...

The last time I went to mass was a few Christmases ago at the behest of my aunts. I was sitting there thinking, 'This isn't so bad... the music is beautiful and I am here with my family, maybe I have been too harsh in staying away..." And then the priest seized the opportunity of the celebration of the birth of Our Lord to sermonize against the encroaching Muslim horde... Right. So, fair to say I have an ambivalent relationship with my church on a lot of counts. While elements of the Catholic faith are still compelling to me in many ways, the bureaucracy employed to deliver them is full of fail in my eyes. And hands down the issue that crystallizes my disdain for Church hierarchy is the growing global child sex abuse scandal.

During Holy Week I got into an argument on Facebook (I know, I know) with a fellow Catholic who defended the--in my view--indefensible positions of the Church. The inciting incident was my reaction to comments made by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York who called on Catholics to pray for the Pope, who was beset by accusations he'd been instrumental in protecting a pedophile priest.* In doing so, Dolan compared the storm of critique directed at the Pope with the torments endured by Christ. (A grotesque comparison to my heathen ear...) He rehearsed all the arguments of Church apologists and I've quoted our exchange below.

Him: Yes, in honor of Holy Week, let me help you. As the Passion states, Jesus was wrongly accused and did not speak up to defend himself. In the current attack on the Church, it is left to us to defend the Church, with facts. The Pope is currently under a storm of false accusations, at least 4 articles in the NY Times this past week alone, all about the same priest. I get delivery 7 days a week and amazed how in their own story, they conclude that the Pope had no involvement, but people do not read and then others, hoping against hope that the moral authority of the Church will be dissolved so they can go on and to do what they want, simply parrot it.

Lets take the case of the WI Priest who is cited as abusing some 200 deaf children. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee reported the accusations to police in 1973. The Priest, just on the allegations was removed from his post. The police investigated this back in 1974 and no charges were filed. The entire matter, both legal and civil was past tense as of 1976.

Some 20 years later the Vatican was made aware of this priest and regardless of the legal outcomes in the US, needed to apply Canon Law to what this priest may have done. Which was Crimen Sollicitationis, which deals with clergy who are accused of using the sacrament of confession to make sexual advances toward penitents. The priest in question died of natural causes on 8/21/98, 2 years after the Vatican was notified.

No party of the Church covered this up, local authorities were notified and the Vatican knew nothing about it for over 2 decades and when they did, they sought to bring the priest in line with canon law.

So, yes, Pope Benedict XVI is unjustly accused, and so is the Christ's Church.

Me: Anyone who defends this Pope against the legitimate grievances of Catholic survivors of child sexual abuse at the hands of priests or supports the ongoing efforts of the church to obfuscate its role in protecting pedophiles is at best foolish and at worst dangerous to children.

This is a black mark on the global Church and no amount of puffed up sputtering from conservative Catholic windbags will make it go away. "Canon law" is meaningless when a crime has been committed-- Catholic priests are not above secular law. If a pedophile makes confession his slate is wiped clean with the Church but not with the State.

The role of the Pope in this scandal is sickening but not entirely surprising, given Church policy on shielding pedophiles and shaming their victims into silence... But it is a new day for pedophile priests, the Church and this Pope: Adult (and increasingly child) survivors of sexual abuse are no longer ashamed to identify themselves and demand justice....

I'm not.

Him: I defend this Pope and all Pope's before him, including Christ's first pick, Peter. I defend Christ's Church.

I do not defend the crimes of man.

Facts are facts. You don't have them correct and are completely wrong. But that is the way you want it, as opposed to the way it is.

It is also humorous when critics apply contemporaneous societal norms to past events expressing selective outrage. Catholicism is an easy target. How about teachers, police, musicians, movie directors, etc?

Furthermore, this is not simply a Roman Catholic issue, this is a world wide issue with regards to preying on the most innocent as well as other crimes against humanity.

Me: Outrage over the sexual molestation of children at the hands of priests is the selective application of "contemporaneous societal norms"? Your unquestioning defense of the Church in re: to its policy of defending and protecting pedophile Priests and shaming, silencing and paying off victimized children is profoundly disturbing. That is the attitude that makes the victimization of children by the clergy possible in the first place. The charges against this Pope and the Church do not come from outside it, but from Catholic survivors themselves. Are you suggesting they are lying? If so, that is a sickening supplement to their original abuse. (And, not for nothing, you should probably take a long. hard look at that if you are.)

I am a Catholic too and you are right that the sexual exploitation of children is not limited to the Catholic clergy. But no other institution has worked as hard to prevent the prosecution of pedophiles as the Catholic Church-- that is the shameful fact. A culture of secrecy and sexual repression coupled with easy access to children and unquestioned authority make the Catholic clergy the perfect environment for pedophiles. If the Church continues to "manage" this problem instead of addressing it survivors will keep the pressure on. So, "defend" away: You will lose. You have already lost.

Him: I defend the Church. Always have and always will.

Where is it noted that Vatican, The Pope attempted to hide anything? Where? Is there questions about certain Bishops? Yes.

Another baseless claim, as the Church has not attempted to hide anything. Can you point to me any other organization that has paid so dearly? Nope. And let us also not confuse homosexuality with pedophilia. 97% of all accusations against the clergy are not pedophilia in nature, but homosexual.

Me: If you are unfamiliar with the--sadly-- multiple cases of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy and the organized attempts by the Church to shelter the offenders while demonizing their victims... who are/were CHILDREN, then l suggest you do a little research before commenting about this issue publicly again. The facts of these cases are a matter of public record, and originate from within the Church itself.

That you unthinkingly (and proudly?) identity with the perpetrators in this conflict is telling. Given the opportunity to defend children against their systematic rape and torture over generations you--and the Pope--have chosen to align yourselves with the rapists. That alone should give you pause. Your response is not about faith, so don't kid yourself.

Oh and: "97% of all accusations against the clergy are not pedophilia in nature, but homosexual" is a complete lie. If you are trying to count same-gender abuse cases as "homosexuality" you are mistaken: Homosexuality is--by definition--the sexual desire for someone like yourself while Pedophilia is about the sexualization of children, an asymetrical dynamic that is more about power than gender. Some pedophiles have gender preferences but if the child is young enough gender is absolutely secondary in the eyes of the offender. And the sexual abuse of --comparatively--older children and/or teens is not less-rape-y because, presumably they might enter into consensual relationships with each other. There is no such thing as "Rape-lite". A sexual relationship between an older authority figure and an underage person is rape. Period.

... Nice try blaming the gays though.

*The New York Daily News reports, "The future Pope Benedict XVI resisted pleas to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually molesting children, citing concerns including "the good of the universal church," according to a 1985 letter bearing his signature. The correspondence, obtained by The Associated Press, is the strongest challenge yet to the Vatican's insistence that Benedict played no role in blocking the removal of pedophile priests during his years as head of the Catholic Church's doctrinal watchdog office. The letter, signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was typed in Latin and is part of years of correspondence between the Diocese of Oakland and the Vatican about the proposed defrocking of the Rev. Stephen Kiesle. The Vatican refused to comment on the contents of the letter Friday, but a spokesman confirmed it bore Ratzinger's signature."


  1. wow, good Facebook conversation. The Church's cover-up sex scandal and the Pope's protection of child rapists is just do disgusting and outrageous. the Pope needs to be arrested and all those priests be defrocked immediately, arrested, and thrown into jail with the parents of raped kids.

    i understand why some Catholics are very defensive about the Church, it's part of their culture and their lives, but there ain't no excuse to defend the Pope who is protecting child rapists.

  2. The centuries of abuse perpetuated by the Church is the living, breathing definition of institutional evil. The betrayal of trust - of churchgoers, of faithful clergy, and of babies - embodies a tremeduum of horror that defies description. Speaking out against it should be standard operating procedure, not an act of courage.

    Can we...can we bring public crucifixion back? I'm just saying.

  3. @DIMA
    You hit the nail on the head.

    Dunno about "centuries" re: child sex abuse but we have a realistic time frame that covers at least the last half of the 20th century. You may be on to something with bringing back the classics... Although honestly I'd be happy if these kid fuckers just went to jail. That would be just great.

  4. Hey, Joe! Now, there's no way for me to prove any of this, but here's why I think it might be centuries. I truly believe that the silence about child sexual abuse is largely because the children who were subjected to it during earlier times often had absolutely no one they could tell.

    Catholic run orphanages and workhouses were around for a long time in Europe, particularly in the UK/Ireland.(The gross abuses of the Church with regard to the colonization of the New World is also worth exploring, but might be a lot more difficult to document.) Social secularization saw the care and welfare of children move from religious institutions to secular and government-adminsistered ones, so there were fewer children in Church-run institutions. I'd need to find some hard data on this to be certain, but I'm strongly of the opinion that psychological, physical and sexual abuse simply shifted from orphaned (or merely born out-of-wedlock and thusly discarded), disabled, and/or impovershed children to the next available population of kids, who clergy pedophiles often had privileged access to.

    I don't like to think about it, since this is one of those things that just gets rottener and rottener the more you dig, but the Church has been VERY good at covering all this horror up. And if you're good at something, it's usually because of years of practice.