Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Liberal Bishops Aren't So Enlightened When It Comes To Clerical Abuse

Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen testified Monday in Seattle in the civil trial against the Archdiocese of Seattle by two men molested by Patrick G. O'Donnell. O'Donnell was originally a priest of the Spokane diocese and was almost single handedly responsible for putting that diocese into bankruptcy. O'Donnell's story surely testifies to both the charm and charisma of narcissistic pedophiles and society's inability to deal with them.

According to Hunthausen, Bishop Topel, who headed the Spokane diocese at this particular time, transferred O'Donnell to Seattle, telling Archbishop Hunthausen he was there for graduate studies. There was apparently no reference to O'Donnell's penchant for altar boys, although in fact, the transfer coincided at exactly the same time a scandal in Spokane was about to erupt around O'Donnell. Someone in Hunthausen's chancellery assigned O'Donnell to a Seattle parish where he continued his predatory behavior.

In his own testimony O'Donnell admitted he maintained silence about his pedophilia and that as far as he knew, no one knew about it in Seattle. This is somewhat evidenced by the fact O'Donnell went on to receive a Phd from UW and licensing as a clinical psychologist in the State of Washington. His practice specialized in disturbed adolescent boys. Shock and awe. O'Donnell, like a lot of pedophiles, is really good at passing himself off as something other than what he really is, and because the statute of limitations has run out, he is not looking at jail time.

Archbishop Hunthausen used the same justification for his actions that Archbishop Weakland uses in his forthcoming book, and his deposition in June 2008, that they did what they were told by their psychiatric experts and their understanding of Canon Law. In both Weakland's and Hunthausen's cases, both Archbishops more or less stated they didn't really see the criminal aspects of this behavior until much later, both viewing it as a psychological and canonical problem. A problem that was treatable and when priests were given a clean bill of health, these priests were re assignable.

The problem is, even back in the 70's, the majority of the mental health community did not share the same point of view. I keep wondering who were these mental health professionals and clinics that these priests were sent to and did they specialize in self fulfilling prophecies for remuneration? You want them cured, we'll cure them, they're cured, here's our bill, kind of thing.

I guess what I'm saying is that at this time (1970's-2000) it seems everybody involved in clerical abuse, found the rose they were desperately seeking--except victims. Police and DA's found reasons not to prosecute, bishops found mental health professionals who would certify 'cures', parishes and parents looked the other way, and guys like O'Donnell went on praying and preying. It took the whole village failing for O'Donnell to go on and become a certified licensed psychologist for his preferred pedophile clientele. Looking back from today's perspective this is pretty mind boggling.

I'm going to be the first to admit that both Hunthausen and Weakland sound pretty lame. That's not a welcome admission, because I really value the liberal voice of both Archbishops, but the fact is, when it comes to protecting the Church and the clerical culture, there was no distinction between the left and the right. They found the same common ground at the expense of the children of their dioceses. The black clerical wall stayed true to its self image.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in his book "Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church" maintains the real issue in clerical abuse is really clerical power. I think he's dead on right, because Archbishops Hunthausen and Weakland, for all their social justice liberal bent, caved on the clerical abuse issue, like everyone of their conservative contemporaries.

When such theologically disparate bishops act in concert on such a devastating issue as clerical child sexual abuse, it points to a fundamental problem with in the clerical culture itself. Clerical abuse is not just about a 'few' rotten apples, it's about a structurally rotten orchard.

Finally, today in Dublin, Ireland, the long awaited report on clerical abuse will be issued by the government. It is said to run some 3000 pages and involve hundreds of priests and tens of thousands of victims. It will be another blow to an already reeling Irish Church. It is said that a chain is only as strong as it weakest link. It maybe that Catholicism needs to admit the all male celibate clergy and it's absolute authority, is it's weakest link before the whole chain snaps.

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