Monday, November 30, 2009

It Takes An Abused Village To Collude In Abusing Children

As usual there is only silence from the big church on the hill regarding the Murphy Report on the Archdiocese of Dublin. The Vatican cover up continues.
Of all the commentary I have read on the Dublin Murphy Report the following is with out a doubt the best piece. I wish I had written it myself. The argument laid out in this piece is precisley why the entire idea of the Church based on an elite priesthood and the theology behind it must be re evaluated and re thought. The abuse crisis in the priesthood could not have continued for decades without the complicit help of a laity who had been taught to see themselves as 'less than' and the priesthood as 'much more' than themselves.

Church relationship with Irish society has itself been abusive
Irish Times, 11/29/09

IN HIS pastoral letter of February 1979, Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Ryan drew attention to the “corruption of the young”.

And he was quite specific about the forces that were responsible for it. He attacked “the modern era of enlightenment and permissiveness”, and stated that “the new frankness and openness in regard to sexual matters had not made people more healthy in mind and body, but less healthy”.
The corollary of Archbishop Ryan’s complaint was, of course, that a lack of frankness and openness in sexual matters would make for a healthier society, and would protect the young from corruption.

Like the three other holders of the office scrutinised in the Murphy report, Ryan certainly practised the first part of what he preached.
He was a great enemy of openness and frankness, and a great practitioner of the arts of evasion and cover-up. It was the second part of the formula – the protection of the young – that gave him trouble.

In 1981, for example, Ryan sent a Father X as curate to Clogher Road church in the Dublin Corporation housing estate of Crumlin. He knew that this man was a dangerous and manipulative paedophile who was set on attacking children, as Ryan himself noted, “from six to 16”.

He knew that X cultivated parents who involved themselves in school or parish activities so as to gain access to their children.
He knew that in one previous case, “Having got access to the home through this acquaintanceship, Father X abused a young son of six years of age.”
Yet not alone did Ryan send X to Crumlin to continue his assaults on children, but he colluded with the activities of his auxiliary bishop, James Kavanagh, in interfering in a criminal investigation into X’s behaviour, persuading one set of parents not to press charges against the priest.

As the commission concludes, Ryan took a “close personal interest” in the case of Fr X: “He protected Fr X to an extraordinary extent; he ensured, as far as he could, that very few people knew about his activities; it seems that the welfare of children simply did not play any part in his decisions.”

In attempting to come to terms with the institutionalised depravity of the Roman Catholic Church’s systematic collaboration with child abusers, it is useful to start by considering the contradiction between Ryan’s preaching about the “corruption of the young” and his role as a facilitator of sexual assaults on children.

Is there, indeed, a contradiction at all? Or are we not, rather, dealing with two sides of the same debased coin?

The arrogance and obscurantism of a church leadership that could rail against openness and frankness is in fact completely consistent with the same hierarchy’s consistent preference for secrecy over truth and for self-interest over the interests of children and families.

When all the numbing details of the report are absorbed, we have to reassemble the big picture of the institutional church’s relationship with Irish society. And we have to say that that relationship itself has been an abusive one.

The church leadership behaved towards society with the same callousness, the same deviousness, the same exploitative mentality, and the same blindly egotistical pursuit of its own desires that an abuser shows towards his victim.

It is important to say that this is not a comment on the Catholic faith. “The Church,” as the report puts it, “is not only a religious organisation but also a human/civil instrument of control and power”. It is this second aspect – the instrument of control and power – that we have to understand.

We know that all institutions and subcultures have the capacity to create systems of denial and self-protection – think, for example, of the toleration of paedophiles within Irish swimming, or the support of artists and intellectuals for the child rapist Roman Polanski.

But in the case of the institutional Catholic Church we have an organisation with an unusually powerful mechanism of self-protection: the capacity to convince the society it is abusing to take part in the cover-up. The damage the church has done to Irish society lies in the ways it has involved that society in the maintenance of an abusive instrument of control and power.

It is easy to miss a central aspect of this whole scandal. The report is concerned with the actions of the church authorities and describes in damning detail their sense of being above the law of the land.

(Cardinal Desmond Connell, for example, told the commission that “the greatest crisis in my position as Archbishop” was not, as might be imagined, his discovery of appalling criminality among his clergy, or even his own disingenuous public claims that “I have compensated nobody”, but the decision to allow gardaí access to diocesan files.) (This is the truth in the US as well. Bankruptcy is now the last ditch stand to protect files.)

But it is striking that parents, teachers and wider communities seldom went to the police either.
This was not a matter of ignorance. It is clear that some of the paedophiles were not secretive and cunning, but reckless and flagrant. In the early 1970s, for example, Fr James McNamee, who had built a swimming pool in his house into which only young boys were allowed, was so notorious among the children in his Crumlin parish that “whenever the older boys in the area saw Fr McNamee, they either ran away or started throwing things and shouting insults at Fr McNamee. Apparently he was known as ‘Father smack my gee’.”

If children were shouting abuse at a priest in 1970s Ireland, adults undoubtedly noticed. They must have known why.

Similarly, the appalling Patrick Maguire, who may have abused hundreds of children in Ireland, the UK and Japan, became, as the report notes, “astonishingly brazen”. He actually told the parents of a child he had just abused that the boy had a problem with his testicles. “Not surprisingly, the parents wondered how he had discovered that.”

Yet in most cases, parents who knew their children had been abused went to the bishop, not to the Garda. There may have been a mistrust of the Garda (sometimes well founded), or a fear of exposure in the courts.

But, in Archbishop Ryan’s internal notes on the Father X case there is a more extraordinary explanation: “The parents involved have, for the most part, reacted with what can only be described as incredible charity. In several cases, they were quite apologetic about having to discuss the matter and were as much concerned for the priest’s welfare as for their child and other children.” (What a sad statement this is.)

This was the church’s great achievement in Ireland. It had so successfully disabled a society’s capacity to think for itself about right and wrong that it was the parents of an abused child, not the bishop who enabled that abuse, who were “quite apologetic”.

It had managed to create a flock who, in the face of an outrageous violation of trust, would be more concerned about the abuser than about those he had abused and might abuse in the future. It had inserted its own “instrument of control and power” so deeply into the minds of the faithful that they could scarcely even feel angry about the perpetration of disgusting crimes on their own children. (I'm quite sure most of these parents felt quite angry, but that anger was over ridden by their reverence for and the need to keep the clergy on a pedestal. They had been enculturated to believe their very salvation depended on this dynamic.

This is, of course, precisely what paedophiles do to the children they abuse. They convince them that they are the guilty ones. The well-meaning local priest to whom Marie Collins – who has been a key figure in bringing this scandal to light – disclosed the fact that she had been abused as a child in Crumlin children’s hospital, told her “not to feel any guilt about what had happened”. He then, however, told her that “if she had guilt I could give her absolution”.

The suggestion that the victim should be absolved of sin speaks for itself. And it had its effect – Marie Collins did not disclose the abuse again for a number of years.

This ultimate triumph of making the victims guilty and their parents apologetic produced both an underlying contempt for the laity (especially in the working-class parishes where abusers were generally sent) and a sense of belonging to an untouchable elite.

The religious superior of the serial abuser Patrick Maguire captured both when he advised him not to pay too much attention to the views of the therapist he was attending: “You are a priest and you should not allow any person other than yourself to conclude that you ought not remain in ministry, albeit a limited one. I am distrustful of the capacity of any layman or woman to know what it means to be a priest.”

What it meant to be a priest was that, in the eyes of the church authorities, you were held to a different standard than the mere layman or woman. It was not just that you were not subject to the law, but that you were not really subject to Catholic teaching either.

All the episcopal fulminations about sexual sin were for the benefit of the ordinary punters. For the priests, there was a much more tolerant attitude. While bleating about the permissive society, the archbishops were often flippant about the sexual crimes of the clergy.
Cardinal Connell, for example, told Marie Collins that the action of an abuser in taking pictures of the genitalia of young girls in the hospital “was not serious as it only involved the taking of photographs”.

All of this did immense harm to the victims and to the church itself. But it also harmed Ireland as a whole. The abusive relationship between church and society in which people were induced to collude in the maintenance of a corrupt and cynical system of power and control screwed up the Irish relationship with authority.

It deeply damaged the democratic and republican notion that power comes from the people, by creating a culture of shame, of weakness and of collusion. It taught us to live with, and believe that we loved, an arrogant and unaccountable kind of authority. (This is exactly what some members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, in concert with like minded Evangelicals, are attempting to do in the US.)

If we are ever to awaken once and for all from the nightmare described by the commission, we have to unlearn that lesson and create forms of collective authority that are open, accountable, lawful and genuinely democratic.
Catholic Ireland shows what happens when a society is fundamentally controlled by an all powerful religious body. Ireland is a secular democratic country and has been for 80+ years. It is not a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy, but the truth is for much of it's existence it has been a fundamentalist theocracy. Anyone who thinks a theocracy is the best form of government needs to think about the points in this article. Power in the hands of an unaccountable elite is never benevolent, it is by definition abusive.
It seems incomprehensible to think that parents could side with a pedophile cleric against their own children, but it's certainly happened in this country. The current anti gay crusade will encourage devout parents to continue to reject their gay children. The Church will continue to interfere with and dilute the parent/child relationship. This is certainly ironic for a church whose latest crusade revolves around the primacy of that very relationship.
But of course that's all a lie and a smoke screen because the real truth is that the institutional church is way more interested in saving the last vestiges of it's own power as the primary relationship in a Catholic's life. At the bottom that's the real issue at debate. Is it the Church or the individual who is the primary bottom line for decisions in one's own life? Democracy says it's the individual, and that is the real threat behind all of Benedict's concerns about 'secular relativism'.
It's one thing to be one source of information for an individual, but it's quite another to be THE source, and the institutional church is very much still interested in being THE source. Ireland demonstrates in spades how disastrous that can be for a democratic society--but most especially for that society's children.


  1. Need I say that if parish priests were married, they'd have a spouse and thus would have to interact with a lay person as an equal? They would have someone who would not bow and scrape, but would expect spousal needs to also be taken into consideration as the two worked out a marriage.

    Leaving priests celibate - but outside of a monastic community, which would gradually wear away their selfishness - is to enable narcissism to grow unchecked. And an impotent laity that has to bow and scrape to narcissistic, undeveloped human beings (called superior to them!?) is going to be stunted, just as the priests are stunted.

    Thank God people are waking up!

    Thanks for this great post! I know it's not your writing. But also, thank God for the internet - where we can share information and analysis and thus work our way out of the position of "servitude" that even today's pope would like to keep us in.

  2. The narcissism is breathtaking and I think theraP is right--living in a family or community forces one to confront one's own selfish behaviors-but the parish priest?--unchecked omnipotence!
    Just received the 8 page "memo" of what a person must do to distribute communion at Mass-the one that bugs me the most is attend the "Protecting God's Children" program and get a criminal background check-it wasn't me,guys!
    And "our" priest preaching during the homily that it was the work of the devil to criticize Bishop Tobin in RI? The devil may be working but not in those who speak truth to power-I am so angry!

  3. coolmom, I can appreciate your anger, but I have to admit I burst out laughing at the line about your priest.

    It so fits the point the author is making in this post about clerical power and abuse.

    I sprinkled my key board with Holy Water before I wrote the Mathews post, so it can't be the work of the devil. The keyboard worked fine. There was no smoke and it didn't fly around the room.:)

    Bishop Tobin was still way out of line and more than adequately demonstrated he was unable to deal with Mathews or his questions. It's amazing what happens when you refuse to deal on a power level and keep it on an issue level. One finds there is no real legitimate argument other than power.

  4. ThereP, I'd like to think the argument that married priests would solve the power and abuse issues, but that all depends on who they married. A 'fully' Catholic wife may not be that much of a hindrance and could very well be the guys best enabler.

    This is why I think the whole concept of priesthood and it's theology has to be tossed out and reconceived. It needs to be about egoless service period.

    Maybe priests need to answer to a circle of grandmothers. I worked with and Assiniboine medicine man for quite awhile and once commented on his humility. He laughed and said it wasn't a product of the training he went through in his medicine lodge, it was the result of the grandmother's circle. They were the ones who really held the power and reminded the men just how little they actually held in this realm or any other.

    When I asked them who kept the grandmothers in line, he said they did themselves. That the eldest grandmother was so powerful and so humble that the other grandmothers were mortified is she commented on their behavior. That and the fact they were not front and center, but the unseen force behind the scenes meant they didn't have to deal with the usual kinds of power traps like wealth and politics. They weiled power of the family, family and tribal connections, and last but most importantly the power of the spirit world. This last is most important because the most truly humble of the grandmothers were the ones who wielded the most power on that level.

    Sure doesn't work that way in Catholicism I said. He laughed, and he said yea, those Catholic priests have it made, they don't have to answer to the grandmothers. The pope who came up with the Catholic system was a male genius. Then he added that he himself preferred the way his system worked, because the price paid in Catholicism was too high. That price was real male spiritual power and the almost complete loss of women's spiritual power.

    Maybe the LCWR and some of the male contemplative orders are on a path that will flip this on it's head.

  5. coolmom: Try a daily mass instead of Sunday! Little homilies are more likely to be about the actual the readings.

    colkoch: Yes, you are correct - a "fully Catholic spouse" would be some kind of robot. But how can one predict that one's wife will remain subservient? Most do not! But a circle of grandmothers is an idea whose time has come! Brilliant suggestion! And the grandmothers could assist the pastoral wife - when the time comes - to develop into a grandmother.

    I hope things turn around before even folks like you and I conclude our mental health deserves something better than what we've got! I honestly wonder how long things can go on before people simply declare the pope and his minions illegitimate.

  6. I like the circle of grandmothers idea. I think the sisters and the LCWR have come close to putting the pope and his minions in their place. It is, at least a beginning.

  7. Since Bishop Tobin has been mentioned again - a quick word:

    He is the 'boy' of Donald Weurl, who handpicked & groomed him for advancement, sending him to the "bishop factory' (North American College in Rome). What he learned there explain him (and Coolmom's priest):

    1. Enough factoids, buzzwords & quotes to make it appear that he is 'educated'.
    2. How to be a facilitator of agendas.
    3. How to be a talking head
    4. Obedience - and how to demand it of others.

    ....nothing about Christ or the Gospel.

    As to poor Ireland, all you need to do is to sit in an Irish pub in the US & listen to real Irishmen/women talk:

    Their entire culture, very sadly, is built upon abuse - and growing up to become abusers. For the most part the faith of the Irish was a thin as their tempers. It was mere cultural conformity; not faith in God.

    So that is why the Irish churches have virtually emptied out. Not because the Irish are evil or hate God. But as most of them never REALLY believed in Him to begin with. They were taught that the object of loyalty & devotion were the clergy & the church organization.

    The sex abuse crisis has burst that bubble - finally freeing many of them from social conformity masquerading as 'religion'. They see that the emperor has no clothes.

    As with all men: those Irish who seek God will find Him...and those who don't won't!

    Unfortunately, it is this attitude of 'cultural Catholicism" - and the intergenerational culture of abuse - which built the US church. Not the Irish. Yet as that quality so pervaded their society, they brought it with them. And it overwhelmed the pre-existing mostly German & French brand of Catholicism here in the mid 19th century.

    Now.....when will someone expose the decades of sordid abuses in US Catholic school? The non-sexual....the verbal/mental/emotional abuse.....the slapping, hitting, spanking & paddling?

    We US Catholics have yet to come to terms with this.

  8. anon, before anything else, I think the US Government and US Churches need to deal with the abuse in, and the entire reason for, the Native American boarding schools.

    We may not have been the only country who tried to wipe an indigenous culture out of society, but we are about the only one left who hasn't uttered a word of apology.

  9. A couple of points- The idea that celibacy is the problem is correct. It is part of the problem. It forces people to live a schizoid life without the relationship of a special other and a family. It is a deprivation and deprivation in of themselves usually lead to character problems. Could a person be celibate and holy, yes, but is celibacy a step toward holiness - probably not and certainly not in most cases.

    The next point is one that I have been trying to make for some time. It is up to the People of God as a whole to solve this problem. Our church system is one of authoritarianism- one that causes us to go down a false path of omnipotence and megalomania in the leadership. But it is the failure of the People of God as a whole if we do nothing about these men. I repeat, do not give them any resources and do honestly face them with truthful facts no mater what they label you.

    The fact is that if push comes to shove Catholics would do fine even better without the Vatican.

    Peace and understanding,
    R. Dennis Porch, MD

  10. And yes, Anonymous, the priest I mentioned WAS trained in Rome!

  11. ## "It deeply damaged the democratic and republican notion that power comes from the people, by creating a culture of shame, of weakness and of collusion. It taught us to live with, and believe that we loved, an arrogant and unaccountable kind of authority."

    How is this any different from the corruption of Germany by Hitlerism, so that the people, with very frew exceptions, colluded with the worst features of Nazism ? Germanyt, let's not forget, was very strongly influenced by hoghly authoritarian forms of Christianity: that is, by Catholicism, and by Lutheranism.

    Is it *only* a coincidence that the child victims of the Irish Church suffered many of the same horrors as those "concentrated" in the camps ? Or is there not a similarity in outlook between the Catholic criminals & the Nazi criminals ?

  12. “There is no heresy or no philosophy which is so abhorrent to the church as a human being.”

    Letter to Augusta Gregory (1902-11-22), from James Joyce by Richard Ellmann (1959) [Oxford University Press, 1983 edition, ISBN 0-195-03381-7] (p. 107)

    “I confess that I do not see what good it does to fulminate against the English tyranny while the Roman tyranny occupies the palace of the soul.”

    "Ireland, Island of Saints and Sages," lecture, Università Popolare, Trieste (1907-04-27),printed in James Joyce: Occasional, Critical and Political Writing (2002) edited by Kevin Barry [Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-192-83353-7], p. 125

    Jim McCrea

  13. James Joyce sure didn't pull his punches. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is still in my top five all time favorite books.