Saturday, April 10, 2010

It's One Thousand Years Later And Still The Message Goes Unheard

The following editorial from the Toronto Globe and Mail refers to this story. This one clearly demonstrates that Catholics can not trust the hierarchy to implement their own strategies when it comes to the sexual abuse of minors. It doesn't matter what bishops say they are going to do because they have the freedom not to do it. In this case at least six Ontario bishops were aware of this priest and none of them insisted their own protocol be followed.

The church and the priority of child protection
Editorial from Toronto Globe and Mail - Published on Friday, Apr. 09, 2010 9:43PM EDT

Senior members of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy in Ontario showed contempt for the law and for the most loyal and unquestioning among their adherents, in seeking to protect a sexually abusive priest, Bernard Prince, from police charges.

In so doing they ran the risk that an apparent abuser would go on to abuse other children, and that his victims would be denied justice. As revealed in a letter written by the late Bishop Joseph Windle of Pembroke, Ont., the church preferred to hush up the priest’s serial abuses and spare itself a scandal rather than to face up to its moral responsibility to make child protection and care for victims the priority. The 1993 letter, obtained by The Globe’s Tu Thanh Ha, makes clear that at least four archbishops and two bishops knew there were serious allegations from four or five victims, dating back several years. It was not until 2005 that police received a complaint; Mr. Prince was convicted in 2008 of molesting 13 boys between 1964 and 1984.

The church’s actions may not have broken any laws. But they were inimical to the spirit of the law – that the protection of children comes first. Most of Canada has child-welfare legislation that requires everyone, not just professionals, to report suspected child abuse. While all these rules and laws generally pertain to children who are currently at risk, rather than to incidents from many years earlier, they convey the importance our society puts on protecting all children from serious harm. This is the point that the church still seems unable to grasp, to judge from recent comments at the Vatican in which the subject was dismissed as “idle gossip” and the treatment of the church compared to that faced by the Jews during the Holocaust.

The letter from Bishop Windle to the Pope’s envoy to Canada pleaded that Mr. Prince not be given any Papal honour, lest any of his victims be so angered they complain to the police about the abuse. (He was eventually given the title Monsignor anyway.) Cynically, Bishop Windle pointed to the church’s good fortune; the victims were of Polish descent and had such respect for the priesthood and the church that they had not gone to the police. All this came just a year after the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, after wrenching experiences, especially at the Mount Cashel boys home in St. John’s, Nfld., produced guidelines called From Pain to Hope, on how to deal with child abuse. “Together with all other responsible citizens, the Bishops respect the civil laws and fully collaborate with civil authorities in sexual abuse inquiries,” the church’s website says in introducing the report. But the letter from Bishop Windle suggests the church saw itself, at least in this instance, apart from the law.

When the church puts the protection of its reputation ahead of the protection of children, it is bound to suffer a much larger and more devastating injury, once the truth emerges.


There are a couple of things about this case which should raise red flags for a lot of people. The first is he was transferred to the Vatican City States where the age of consent for sexual activity is 12. He was seen in Thailand which is a hub of the pedophile sex trade, especially for Western men. He was promoted to monsignor against the advice of Canadian Bishops. He was a friend of JPII and was known to facilitate Canadian laity meeting with the Pope. The Vatican knew about his proclivities and accepted him into their ranks.

Yesterday was not a good day for the Vatican. It was not a good day for Pope Benedict. The AP released a story which included a signed letter from Cardinal Ratzinger in which Cardinal Ratzinger shows great pastoral sympathy for the abusive priest, blocks his laicization, alludes to the good of the Church, and fails to mention one single word about any victims--other than the church.

Some of the Pope's defenders are decrying the amount of publicity all this is engendering. They maintain that Benedict's record in unassailable and that everything is being taken out of context. The implication seems to be that this is the pope we are talking about and we shouldn't be talking about His Holiness in this way because it harms the dignity of his office.

Some of these defensive bishops and cardinals seem to be willfully oblivious to the Catholic tradition. The tradition is replete with reformers who took on the abusive use of power in the hierarchy, especially if the hierarchy were hiding behind exalted theological notions of their august positions. For instance St. Peter Damien, as explained in this article by Anderson C Colt, had very strong opinions about what would happen to bishops and popes who refused to deal with offending clerics. Lest I forget, St Peter Damien was writing about this topic in 1049.

In other words, such men (pedophiles) were supposed to be confined to monasteries where they could be supervised for the rest of their lives. Since these sins require such a degrading, public penance, Peter Damian argued that they were grounds for deposing men from holy orders because canon law forbade men who had to perform public penance from assuming ecclesiastical offices. (43)

Leo IX was not moved by Peter Damian's arguments. He informed him that he did not believe clerics who had seduced boys and young men to commit acts of mutual masturbation and other sexual acts should be automatically deposed. In the name of acting humanely, Leo argued that these men could retain their offices as long as they had not engaged in such behavior for long periods of time or with many people. The pope did concede, however, that any cleric who had engaged in anal intercourse should be deposed. (44) (Does this argument sound somewhat familiar?)

As far as Peter Damian was concerned, any sexual act by a member of the clergy with others, including contractual sex with prostitutes, was a form of sexual abuse that demonstrated the offender was unfit for holding a priestly office. This was true because of the imbalance of power and social standing between the participants. He was more concerned about the spiritual impact that it had on their victims, who were being seduced into mortal sin. He knew that he could not hope to raise these other issues with the pope and bishops if they were unwilling to act against clerics who were essentially raping boys. So Peter Damian continued to work for reform in other areas and waited until Rome was more receptive to his reasoning before again raising the issue of sexual abuse.

After Peter Damian had become a cardinal bishop, he returned in 1039 to the issue again and vented his frustration at a man whom he had helped to be elected pope. Writing to Pope Nicholas II, he made the following warning about bishops who had either participated in the sexual abuse of someone or who had tolerated it in their jurisdiction:

The day will come, and that certainly, or rather the night, when this impurity of yours will be turned into pitch on which the everlasting fire will feed, never to be extinguished in your very being; and with never-ending flames this fire will devour you, flesh and bones. (45) (Words for our time as well.)

Here's another relevant thought from St. Damien. In fact I will let this be today's final word.

" Listen, you do-nothing superiors of clerics and priests. Listen, and even though you feel sure of yourselves, tremble at the thought that you are partners in the guilt of others; those, I mean, who wink at the sins of their subjects that need correction and who by ill-considered silence allow them license to sin. Listen, I say, and be shrewd enough to understand that all of you alike "are deserving of death, that is, not only those who do such things, but also they who approve those who practice them""


  1. Wonderful post!

    In response I'd like to flag a comment just posted this morning to my TPM blog:

    This commenter, a wonderful writer and teacher, uses a metaphor from the Hobbit and draws out the similarities between Smaug (the dragon) and the pope. Her analysis is so brilliant I've asked her to post it a blog in it own right. (I hope she will.)

    Follow the link above, which goes directly to the comment itself. It is a Must Read!

  2. While I do not necessarily agree with all the 'penalties' upon such grossly errent clerics proposed by St.Peter Damien - I agree with the main thrust of his reasoning:

    That this is a VERY serious matter. That the abuser MUST be IMMEDIATELY removed from any possible contact with youth & quickly expelled from the priesthood or religious state. There is no excuse for equivocating on his 'prior record' or 'exceptional service to the church', ad nauseum. Throw the bum out!

    Peter's concern is for the welfare of the victim as well as for causing scandal to the FAITH of the masses. He understood what I & other have referred to: that such scandals utterly 'pulls the rug out from under ppl' in terms of how they view 'religion' & God. It literally can destroy souls.

    If the mission of 'The Church' is to save souls by guiding them gently to God by spiritual direction, the tacit/overt toleration & enabling of clerical sex abuse is akin to switching a road sign to point toward.....a bridge that is out!

    Anon Y. Mouse

  3. It is not enough to throw them out of the priesthood. For the good of society they also need to be locked up!

    And if priests could marry, far more of them would totally understand the need to protect children - theirs and everybody else's.

    The lack of concern for the welfare of children (and adolescents and women and men) is simply so reprehensible - that it makes my head steam!

  4. Long before Peter Damien there was this:

    'The Road to Hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks, and the skulls of bishops form the lamp posts that light the path' ~ St. John Chrysostom, 4th Century Patriarch of Constantinople

    I think there's plenty of evidence that clergy sexual abuse is as much a problem in the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, though far less media attention focuses in that direction. I'll simply say for any Catholics considering swimming the Bosphorus, you need to check out

  5. The age of consent at the Vatican is just 12 !
    How convenient!

    I notice in Italy it's 14. And Pius IX said Garabaldi's Italian Revolution was godless!

  6. Age of Consent in the Province of Ontario, where these cases originated was 14 years at the time.

    Last year the federal government changed the age of consent to 16, with some exceptions when there are two teenagers involved. (A 16 year old and a 15 year old won't be arrested for necking and petting for example.)


  7. According to another article I read the only other countries with an age as low as 12 are Angola, Mexico, Philippines, and Zimbabwe.

    In Spain it's 13, but what I find most interesting is that in Spain, Mexico, the Phillipines, and the Vatican City States homosexual activity is legal at those ages. In Angola no homosexual activity is legal, and in Zimbabwe female homosexual activity is legal but male isn't.

    Interesting that in these very Catholic countries where clergy rant on and on about the evils of gay marriage, gay sex is legal and at very young ages. How convenient for say Fr. Maciel.

  8. Ummm,

    The internet...

    Last year I became interested in the LC/RC because our parish priest and some friends, who are very, very conservative, home-schooling Catholics wanted to start up a youth group. They proposed to bring in the ConQuest/Challenge programs and had two cassocked young priests conduct a weekend retreat for youth.

    I don't question the sincerity of my friends and pastor but as soon as I saw these two LC priests I smelled a rat. About ten minutes of googling told me all I needed to know about Maciel and his organizations. I wrote a letter objecting to the use of LC/RC people and materials, as did at least one other member of the parish, and spoke against the idea at the one meeting called about this youth group.

    Thank God the LC visitation was announced about a month later. The youth group does not use LC/RC as the model and those LC priests have not been invited back.

    In the meantime I became fascinated by the whole issue of sexuality, morality, and the RCC. I have some professional training in this area but don't work in the health field.


    ... continued below

  9. ...
    Well... I learned that there are a lot of practices that people consider to be "Biblical". For example, although I won't link I can, some people consider male homosexual behavior forbidden but lesbian behavior is not. The quote the bible examples and teachings chapter and verse. The same for consensual Bondage and Discipline. Some consider the Male Led Household is Biblical and that this justifies all the practices of Dominance and Submission. (Yes all of them!) However, feminism and a Female led household would be anti-Biblical and therefore condemned. So bootlicking is ok if the woman is doing the licking, but not the man.

    Amazing! All the things I'd never once considered in my life. There are groups of people who consider polyamory where there are two or more women serving the same BDSM "Master" to be holy relationships but woe betide the Domme with her two boytoys, not Biblical.

    I don't know why I've written this. In one sense it seems tangental but on the other hand maybe the idea of "sexual deviance" isn't what I originally conceived it to be not what it was thought to be a few years ago.

    Oh, and there are Catholics in the BDSM scene who consider their subservience, the bondage, flogging, and other forms of foreplay to be blessed only if the sex is may lead to procreation.

    On the issue of age of consent. Only in the last 100 years has life expectancy doubled from about 30 years to over 60 for the average citizen of the world. It made sense for people to get married and have sex about the same time they hit puberty and so I understand why 14 was legal for marriage with parental permission here, 16 without parental approval. I have records of my ancestors marrying in the Church at age 15 in 1812.

    Natural law, seemed, and was, indeed, natural. Naturally in tune with the lives of human beings. But times have changed, people have changed, and the Church hasn't a clue about the irrelevance of their sexual teachings in relation to the change in the human life cycle. Puberty comes earlier, some as young as 11, and the age of first marriage comes later in life. In North America it is now about 25 years of age. There's a huge gap in the human development to a sexual being and the opportunity to practice sex. What was natural and livable wisdom in ancient times is absolutely unnatural now. Teens have always been interested in sex. In ancient cultures they could have culturally and religiously sanctioned sex almost immediately upon reaching sexual maturity. And I haven't even addressed the socio-cultural issues of education required for employment in today's society!

    One of the objections I have to the early indoctrination and taking of boys as young as 12 into the LC training for ordination is that they are too young!

    On the other end of the life cycle there are problems too.

    My parents are in their mid 80's and they laugh about the Church's stand on marriage and seniors. Can their octogenarian friends get married in the Church if the union cannot produce children? Don't laugh to quickly. Their friends are torn apart trying to set a good example for their grandchildren but they're confused. If we can't get married should we shack up? If there's no chance of sex for procreation are we committing a sin? After all that's one of the criteria used to judge moral sexual behavior such as the condemnation of birth control and anal sex.

    I'm just happy to think people in their eighties can have sex and enjoy sex, even if they need to strap on the leather to get excited.


  10. p2p I just loved your last line.

    It's interesting to me that some of the more prominent people in the Theology of the Body movement are just about essentially saying anything goes as long as it ends in vaginal intercourse between a man and a woman.

    Sometimes I just am speechless with some of the contorted thinking one has to use in Catholicism. Intentionally desiring not to get pregnant is OK if one uses NFP, which leads to the notion that it's a perfectly moral act to have sex with your wife with no intention to have a baby but you will go to hell if you use a condom to protect her life from your HIV status because using a condom usually prevents your sexual act from making a baby.

    How does one explain this kind of thinking to their children and remotely appear like an adult christian? It's like having an ethical discussion over what kinds of fines and taxes can be stuck on Free Parking in Monopoly when the rules specifically state none.

  11. Oh Colleen,

    Thanks for understanding. After I posted I wondered if I was totally out of line. I haven't been here long but I thought you wouldn't remove the comments.

    But seriously...

    You are familiar with the theology of the body and you did take my comments seriously. You know I wasn't kidding about the BDSM thing. How did I discover this? Try a series of google searches that include terms like: catholic, sex, abuse, scandal, perverted, deviant, etc. I learned a lot of things serendipitously through my interest in the LC/Maciel scandal.

    I won't go into details but one of the most astounding things I learned was that whip makers who serve the BDSM community also serve the religious communities by selling "penitents" for self flagellation. They advertise.

    I am so naïve. While watching the Da Vinci code I'm cringing while Silas is beating himself. Little did I know there were people in the audience going "Cool. Where can I get one of those whips?" and others thinking "Hey, that looks like the flogger I bought down at the sex shop last week".


  12. I wonder who buys more of these whips, the penitent crowd or the BDSM crowd? Who says that sado-masochism isn't part of the penitential mind set? Obviously not people who actually sell the whips.

    As far as censoring, it's a very rare event and usually because of spam or direct personal attacks. I've truly gotten some of my best information and ideas from the comments section--and a great deal of spiritual insight. Personally I think the comments section is the best part of this blog.

  13. And another thing!

    You're absolutely right about mental gymnastics and Catholic thinking on sexuality.

    How many LC/RC types couldn't bring themselves to face the truth about Maciel. My stomach turned to read their comments, talk about twisted. Some are so bad that it seems beyond denial. They don't even seem to have any grasp on reality. How can you discuss anything with those so deluded?

    One ex-LC calls his blog Goodness, Truth, Beauty but he uses the latin terms. Less than a month ago he published some photos that had appeared in a Mexican magazine calling Maciel's partner Norma a "whore". And he doesn't think that's being misogynistic. Other "orthodox" (sorry TheraP, that's what they call themselves, and I know that's not what you have turned to.) LC people commented on little Norma, Maciel's daughter, because her dress was sleeveless and didn't meet the "Pure Fashion ™" standards. Or the apologists who say the guy was never convicted, or those who describe ...

    I could scream.


  14. Colleen,

    It seems I'm not the only one in the blogosphere who has sex on the mind today.


    I agree I like the comments and dialog in blogging. But you can't have a good discussion without a good writer and topic so thanks for getting the ball rolling here.


  15. TheraP -

    In my comment I was not in any way implying that abuser priests should not be subject to Civil Law. I thought that should have been implicit.

    I was however making a distinction: that the Church & Canon Law is not the 'be all & end all'. In St.Peter Damien's time, it was. Canon & Civil Law were married (or virtually so). Now they are not - nor should they be!

    The ONLY thing the Church should do is to throw the bastards out of the priesthood.....and let the (Civil) law take its course.

    That in kicking them out...a phone call to the local DA should be very much implicit.

    Anon Y. Mouse