Monday, October 17, 2011

Dereliction of duty

If you haven't been reading Rod Dreher's posts on the ugly situation involving Bishop Finn, Fr. Shawn Ratigan, and the diocese's mishandling of child porn found on Fr. Ratigan's computer, you really should be. Here are some of the posts so far:

Why Bishop Finn deserves indictment

Forgiveness as enabling behavior

What I wish every bishop would get

I left a lengthy comment beneath the first post. It had to do with this situation. Essentially, I learned a long time ago that many pastors (to say nothing of bishops) have an "us vs. them" mentality when it comes to the laity, and that even when the laity are completely right about something, some in the clergy--some, not all--will batten down the hatches and build a wall of resentment that their judgment was ever challenged. Failing to understand the clergy sex-abuse scandal in the light of that truth will make many scratch their heads and wonder how any human being could fail to react with outrage over child-porn photos on a priest's computer; but for far too long, bishops, pastors, and others went into "us vs. them" mode in these situations and saw their primary duty as the duty to protect the accused priest, not to protect the laity or the innocent children.

I can't say whether that was Bishop Finn's motive or mentality here, of course. But what I can say is that there is something deeply, drastically, horrifically wrong when in this day and age a diocese finds pornographic pictures of young girls on a priest's computer in December and doesn't get around to making any official notification of same to the police until May. Yes, others saw the pictures, and there are questions about why some of them didn't also notify police, and why they're not mentioned in the indictment. Fair questions, all of them. But either bishops are in charge of their priests and have the ultimate responsibility for them, or they don't. If the first is true, then we need to stop making excuses when bishops fail to act against clergy sex abusers. If the second is true, then there's no real need for a hierarchy at all.

I, of course, think the first is true. I think these situations involve, especially in the present age when the past realities about not knowing much about pedophilia, etc., no longer apply, a serious and grave dereliction of duty on the part of bishops. Christ appointed them to be the spiritual fathers of their dioceses, not enablers and protectors of those handful of priests who get up to criminal activities including the sexual abuse of children. By focusing on the latter, bishops are abandoning not only the laity, but every good and faithful priest as well, to the status of spiritual orphans.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

You know, Erin, I think a lot of it is an "us vs. them" mentality, but part of it to is an "us, not them" mentality -- by which I mean they just don't see the laity as being on the same level as the clergy.

6xblessd said...

"By focusing on the latter, bishops are abandoning not only the laity, but every good and faithful priest as well, to the status of spiritual orphans"

I'd argue they are also abandoning the bad and unfaithful priests, the child molesters themselves, when they protect and enable them to continue their sinfulness and deviancy, all to preserve the appearance of the hierarchy. After all, it appears that Ratigan was up to his old perverted shenanigans while he was doing "convent time"---attempting to take pornographic photos of a 12yr old girl.

Who was served here? Absolutely nobody but the bishop and the reputation of the diocese--everybody else suffered due to his decision to cover-up, starting with the precious 3 yr old girls Ratigan so disgustingly exploited and abused and ending with Ratigan himself, who was allowed to roam free preying on children, unaccountable to the law or to the diocese, continuing to foul his soul with sins of the most cruel and deviant kind, quite possibly damning himself in the process.

Finn's behavior in this matter served nobody but himself. Clerical narcissism and sociopathy at its best.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I'm really not trying to score points for the Reformation, but if priests and bishops have this persistent "us vs. them" mentality, doesn't it suggest that there is something amiss about entrusting the Christian faith to such a hierarchy? Is there perhaps something about being cast as a "Prince of the Church" that encourages this sort of mentality? Perhaps it generates a sense of impunity and destroys any sense of accountability.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I look around the church at Mass and I think it is a miracle that so many people keep showing up. It is the Holy Spirit at work, I am sure of that.

It's hard being Catholic these days. Very hard. That is all.

Ann Marie

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Bravo, Erin! You are finally beginning to understand what I've been saying all along.

The only reason the attitudes that you describe exist is that, for centuries, Church leaders have inculcated and encouraged an institutional arrogance and a fundamental sense of entitlement that contradicts the mandates for self-sacrificing service that Christ laid out in John 13-16, isolates the leadership from the people it claims to serve and views the laity as a lower class. That last attitude directly reflects the class system that so dominated Europe and bred Socialism and Marxism.

For that matter, the whole attitude of "clerical narcissism and sociopathy" comes directly from the Crowned Heads of Europe, which the Pope so manifestly tried to imitate for so long.

I'm not asking you to leave the Church, Erin. I'm not asking you to stay, either; that's a decision for you to make. But now you know why I say what I say -- and it's not as half-baked as you seem to think.

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Siarlys, a hierarchy is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Unfortunately, too many Catholics seem to think the latter, especially when it comes to their salvation. They believe that they will be condemned if they don't believe every single word eminating from the Magisterium. Don't believe that? Look at this link:

http://blog.adw.org/2011/10/on-the-noninfallibilists-and-how-they-diminish-virtues-of-docility-and-obedience/comment-page-1/#comment-71630

Church leadership uses rhetorical intimidation to keep the laity in line because that's all it really has. It has no heart for God. It has no compassion for the hurting. Yes, there are individual exceptions among the leadership (and I'm not including Mother Teresa because she wasn't a part of the hierarchy) but those exceptions merely prove the rule.

The ultimate question isn't whether any church should be governed on a hierarchical or congregational model. The ultimate question is what is the best model to manifest God's love and concern for His people, to teach honestly and to serve as purely as possible.

Word verification: comato

That accurately describes the moral condition of the Church today. Does this computer program have a prophetic anointing?

Charlotte said...

Siralys,

I would say the "us vs them" mentality of hierarchy and laity was alive and well when I was in the WELS (Wisconsin Lutheran Synod) here in Milwaukee. So it's not just a Catholic thing. I mention this because I am under the impression that you are either WElS or have experience with them.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

You're in Milwaukee Charlotte? I am a frequent visitor at Siloah, because a friend who lives around the corner on 22nd Street invited me, but I am no more welcome at communion than I am at a Roman Catholic church.

I don't exactly see an "us vs. them" mentality between pastors and laity, but there is, as befits a "Sola Scriptura" church, a sense of us who know the TRUE meaning of the Bible vs. all the world who do not. I'm one of the latter -- I'm quite certain that the foundation of evolutionary biology was all laid out in the first two chapters of Genesis. I do get frustrated at the long-winded sermons about how tragic it is that children in public schools are taught evolution.

I was raised Presbyterian in a Catholic neighborhood, have been to mass with elderly Hispanic friends (not in Milwaukee), spent some time in Catholic Worker houses, and currently belong to an AME Zion church. (Don't try to recognize me by skin color).

Joseph, all I can say about hierarchy is, if I have a hand in choosing leadership, based on whether it effectively gets a community of people to a goal we all share in common, I will happily obey that leadership. I will not take orders as to what I should believe or value. I will choose leadership based on shared beliefs and values.

The congregational form of church government is based on the understanding that Jesus is Lord, and the majority or consensus sentiment in a congregation sharing a common faith best respects the work of the Holy Spirit on each and all.

Tony said...

Ok, Erin. Next time we find child porn on a priest's computer, we'll just take him out back and shoot him. This will save the time and effort of discovering:

1. If someone else was using his computer for illicit purposes.

2. He got pagejacked and mouse-trapped into multiple child porn websites which he was desperately trying to close down until he finally pulled the plug (leaving, unbeknownst to him, the images in IE's cache).

We'll just turn him over to the police and the press, dragging his name through the mud causing suspicion which will ruin his relationship with his parish. Once it's discovered he's innocent (or he's wrongly convicted) his life and ministry are over.

Don't you think it behooves the Bishop to preview the facts of the case before throwing one of his priests to the wolves?

Tony said...

Ok, Erin. Next time we find child porn on a priest's computer, we'll just take him out back and shoot him. This will save the time and effort of discovering:

1. If someone else was using his computer for illicit purposes.

2. He got pagejacked and mouse-trapped into multiple child porn websites which he was desperately trying to close down until he finally pulled the plug (leaving, unbeknownst to him, the images in IE's cache).

We'll just turn him over to the police and the press, dragging his name through the mud causing suspicion which will ruin his relationship with his parish. Once it's discovered he's innocent (or he's wrongly convicted) his life and ministry are over.

Don't you think it behooves the Bishop to preview the facts of the case before throwing one of his priests to the wolves?

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Don't you think it behooves the Bishop to preview the facts of the case before throwing one of his priests to the wolves?

If the bishop is an ethical, moral man who follows Christ, yes.

If the bishop is a self-centered careerist who wants to protect his biological seat cushion at all costs, no.

Unfortunately, too many bishops fall into the latter category, and they're taking the church with them. Don't think that God isn't noticing.

Anonymous said...

Tony, I mean no disrespect, but it sounds like you have no idea at all what you're talking about. Have you looked at the facts of the Ratigan situation? Did you read the diocese's own investigation?

Siarlys Jenkins said...

As a general principle, Tony is correct. However, presumption of innocence does not require that a person against whom there is substantial evidence, should be left in charge of children or with access to them while the matter is investigated. If the bishop had promptly put him on paid administrative leave, prohibited contact with children, and notified police of the evidence, one could then carefully provide the protections of a thorough investigation, an opportunity to respond to the obvious questions, and if warranted, a trial.

In the fact of this case, it appears that a fair trial might well have resulted in conviction, and, the bishop was trying to circumvent anything of the kind.

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Erin, if you want another example of the clergy's "us vs. them" attitude, then read this. You won't like it.

http://articles.philly.com/2011-10-05/news/30247067_1_archdiocesan-priests-defrocked-priest-sexually-abusive-priests