Thursday, September 13, 2012

Feet of clay

It hasn't been altogether easy lately to be a lay Catholic who wants to believe that the clergy has really learned everything they needed to know to go forward in such a way that nothing like the Scandal will ever happen again. On the one hand, I personally know good priests and bishops who were outraged by the Scandal, who have gone out of their way to examine the records of their predecessors, who have (in my own diocese) acted swiftly and justly to remove from ministry any priest whose red flags "mysteriously" got overlooked by former diocesan leaders. I know both clergy and lay leaders who not only combed through priests' records but through those of other diocesan personnel as well, and who instituted policies to mandate regular background checks and child safety training for clergy and lay people alike.

On the other hand, we recently had the remarks of conservative figure of the stature of Father Benedict Groeschel to the effect that sometimes the victims were somewhat to blame (the fallout from that interview continues, as I wrote yesterday); and then we saw Father Zuhlsdorf write a blog post excoriating the National Catholic Reporter for calling for Bishop Finn to resign--and apparently refuse to post any comments other than those joining in NCR-bashing, which latter is apparently an act of great charity. (It is my personal belief that no lay person should tell a bishop to resign; rather, a lay person can only exhort that bishop to spend serious time in contemplation to discern whether or not it is fitting for a successor of the Apostles to fail to disclose for some five months that a priest in his diocese was taking lewd pictures of little girls including pictures of their underwear-clad crotches and--in at least one instance--nude genitals; and further whether the bishop modeled the Apostles by continuing to permit that priest during those five months to have unsupervised contact with children while failing to disclose to their parents, teachers, or anyone else that this priest might just possibly pose a small, unimportant threat to the little ones' innocent virtue and the privacy which they were justly owed as children of God: but if the bishop discerns that it's fine for a successor of the Apostles to behave that way, and is, indeed, so far above reproach that a newspaper saying otherwise should be loudly denounced for its deplorable lack of faith in Christ, why then, the bishop has spoken, and the matter must rest. And if you actually need a sarcasm alert here, then you don't know me, right?)

The problem here is not that our leaders will still keep having feet of clay and behaving with unbelievable dismissiveness toward the very real problems caused by priests who use children (yes, even 14-year-old children with that "come hither" in their eyes) as their sexual playthings; the problem here is that we keep expecting them to do otherwise. Some (a very few) bishops deserve great praise for the amount of time they've spent listening to lay people, especially parents, and developing sane and sensible policies designed to protect children--but I would counsel parents even in those dioceses that in the horrific event that their child reports an "incident," they should not call the diocesan abuse hotline or the chancery or the parish or their pastor. They should go straight to the police.

This is because the reflexive tendency to "protect our own" exists in all of our hearts--and in the hearts of bishops and priests, all too often, "our own" means their brother priests and bishops, not the sweet little girl sharing her parents' pew or the pious young boy who has just started training to be an altar server. If a priest like Father Shawn Ratigan has photographed the private parts of that sweet little girl, or a priest like Father Edward Avery has sexually assaulted that pious young boy, it will be the rare pastor or bishop who seeks to protect the little girl or the little boy first instead of protecting the priest. It is sad to have to say this, but the truth is often sad.

Once parents understand this, we will also be able to understand something else: it is our job to protect our children, and in the horrible situation where abuse has happened, it is also our job to call the police. If our children are grown or nearly-grown, we should still use our vigilance (the Keeping Children Safe classes say so, after all!) to make sure all the other children in our parishes are safe, and to report, immediately, to law enforcement anything we have seen that suggest that a child is in imminent danger of harm. If our pastors or bishops won't do that job (and some will, like I said, but we simply can't assume they will), we must. That is all there is to it.

It is not time for us to develop feet of clay when it comes to protecting children. They are not served by a cowardly reluctance to do what is right. Nor are they served by our idolization of priests or bishops whom we think will agree with us about the primacy of protecting children--not when they have shown us again and again by words and deeds that for them protecting children from predator priests may not be a top priority at all.


Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Erin, why is this happening? First, the Catholic Church always has had a problem with clerical sex-abuse. In 1049, St. Peter Damian published "The Book of Gommorrah," which detailed clerical pederasty and concubinage. He wrote is as a challenge to Pope Leo IX, the sitting pope of his day, to do something about it. Under the influence of Vatican bureaucrats, Leo blinked.

You might also recall (if you don't already know) that the Vatican governed as a "papal pornocracy" for nearly a millenium after the fall of the Roman Empire.

Second, bishops have always acted arbitrarily in the face of canon law (let alone secular criminal law) and have gotten away with it. Just look at Cdl. Wuerl's refusal to implement Canon 915 in his own archdiocese, and Rome's refusal to discipline him for it. If bishops are going to behave this way in the face of canon law, why should they behave differently in the face of the moral failings of their priests?

Finally, priests and prelates can act aloof from all accountability because they can. The ecclesiastical structure inculcates a sense of institutional entitlement that isolates the prelates from the lower clergy and laity...and has for centuries. Priests and prelates also exploit the theologies of alter Christus and apostolic succession to make the laity co-dependent. Since the priests are the sole vehicles of sacramental grace, they must never be criticized. All clerical failings are, ultimately, the laity's fault (they didn't pray enough, fast enough, etc.). That is the reaction of an abused spouse.

Vladek said...

If you're right about what you say, then the gates of Hell have prevailed. The church cannot proclaim the true and the good while at the same time tolerating and propagating falsehood and evil. No one will take it seriously. To follow the Gospel does not mean not falling, but it does mean getting up every time. Lay people have to show the bishops and priests that their behavior, indifference, and unwillingness to discipline those who place children in danger won't be tolerated. Otherwise, it's all a sad joke. If to be a member of the Body of Christ means to tolerate and enable such people, then the gates of hell have prevailed...

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Vladek, Christ's promise that "the gates of Hell shall not prevail" has been erroneously interpreted by Church authorities to justify the Catholic ecclesistical system. It's that interpretation, not the original promise, that's the problem.

As a body of faithful, adopted sons and daughters of God through Christ's atoning, redemptive sacrifice, the church will not succumb. But that doesn't mean that those who claim to hold authority in His name and who abuse that authority ever were truly faithful to begin with.

Look at how God dealt with the Israelites. They succumed to the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities for their idolatry. The Temple was destroy in 70 A.D., roughly 40 years after Christ's crucifixion. Nevertheless, God has never renounced His covenant with the Jews; indeed, Christ's ministry was part of that covenant -- and the Jews will eventually recognize Christ as the "last days" come to a rapid end.

Read the Book of Revelation. The church is preserved. Satan is destroyed. Don't confuse the hierarchs, the clericalists and their apologists for the church. Christ is far more important and far beyond any ecclesiastical system.

Red Cardigan said...

Well, Joe knows I disagree with him about a huge and significant part of this. Either Christ meant to found a specific Church and meant what He said to the apostles as He confirmed them in ministry, or there's no such thing as the Church, and Christ isn't even who He said He is.

You simply can't have Christ without the Church, His bride and His mystical body. It's no accident that all the splinters in Christendom apart from the great schism involved a rejection of the Church and a subsequent rejection of the Eucharist, Christ's life poured out within the Church. Joe would, I think, reject Eastern Orthodoxy for having ecclesial structures, hierarchy, etc. just like the Catholic Church, but only Eastern Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church even claim that the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Christ, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity really and truly present (the accidents of bread and wine, not their substance, remain after the consecration). For all other branches of Christianity communion is a symbolic meal. If you want that instead of the Eucharist, there are plenty of options--but if you want Christ Himself, we find ourselves saying along with St. Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go?"

There have been plenty of Christian reformers who thought they could have the Eucharist without the Church, the bishops or apostolic succession, the priesthood, the Mass, etc.--indeed, the argument was, as Joe likes to put it, that none of that was instituted by Christ and all of it rose up afterward to solidify the power of some political group or other within or without the Church. Trouble is, one can't read the early Church fathers for long without seeing that there was already a hierarchy, a priesthood, and even the Mass--all of it within the first hundred or so years A.D., at a time when to be Christian was to face persecution and possible martyrdom. Strange way to attempt to seize power, if you ask me.

Joseph D'Hippolito said...

Erin, trotting out all the cliches to save your position won't help. I would suggest you read St. Paul's and St. Peter's prophecies about the increasing apostacy during the "last days." Also, I would suggest reading some medieval history, especially concerning the papacy.

The Catholic Church is imploding. It started with Vatican II, which was to the church what glasnost and perestroika were to the Soviet Union. Trying to make an inert, rigid system more open and accountable has resulted in both a reactionary conservatism (exemplified by EWTN's behavior toward Groeschel's remarks) and a chaotic sense of freedom that rejects even legitimate governors on behavior.

As someone once said, it’s like putting new wine into old wineskins.

Besides, the Christ who made the promise that Catholics mis-interprest also asked rhetorically, "When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the Earth?"

Christ meant to save all who would embrace Him as Messiah and God through his redemptive, atoning sacrifice on the cross. Billions of people in world history have done that without joining a hierarchical, bureaucratic eccesiastical institution.

What you would say to Chinese Christians who have to meet in secret and mouth the words to hymms without singing them because the authorities might arrest them? What would you say to Christians who have to hide from Muslim persecution? I happen to know one, personally.

Would you say that such Christians are less Christian than those who worship in a hierarchical, bureaucratic, ecclesiastical institution?

As far as the hierarchical church is concerned, where is the Vatican's vaunted diplomatic corps? What is it doing -- if anything -- to try to rescue Christians from persecution or to influence governments to crack down on such persecution?

As far as the Church being Christ's Bride is concerned, only those who remain faithful receive that designation. Given the nature of Catholic corruption throughout the centuries, it's an open question whether the hierarchs can be included in that designation.

Red Cardigan said...

Joe, whenever this topic comes up you haunt the Catholic blogosphere with this message: The bishops are all evil, the Catholic Church is apostate, so everybody leave now.

Okay, we get that this is your position, but I disagree, and I'm sort of tired of hosting your discussion. Why don't you start your own anti-Catholic Church blog? I'm sure you'll get tons of traffic from the people who agree with you that the Church is not Christ's and is actually the evil Whore of Babylon, or whatever you actually think today.

I'm closing comments on this thread, and am going back to deleting yours when you post anyway, because you only have one thing to say, and you say it regardless of the actual topic of conversation. Bye now!