Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why Does Clerical Sexual Abuse Always Stay At The Clerical Level?

Pope Benedict's response to the sexual abuse crisis with his calls for conversion in the laity bring this sort of thing to mind. Especially since it's the laity that ultimately get to pay for the clerical abuse crisis.

The just released book on Pope Benedict, "Light of the World", contains a wealth of information concerning Benedict's views on many topics of current importance in Roman Catholicism.  For me personally three topics were of critical interest: condoms and HIV, the Legionaries of Christ, and the sexual abuse crisis. All three represent what John Carroll called the tendency towards inhumanity in Catholic doctrine and the fact sometimes this cruelty becomes sacrosanct. These three however, take the cruelty issue to another level.  They all represent the lengths the Church is willing to walk to sacrifice it's laity on the altar of clerical authority.

The following exerpt on Benedict's view of the sexual abuse crisis is taken from the translation offered by the Italian journalist Sandro Magister from his blog Chiesa Espresso.

The shock of the abuse

The facts did not take me entirely by surprise. At the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, I had worked on the American cases; I had also seen the situation escalate in Ireland. But the dimensions were still an enormous shock. Ever since my election to the see of Peter, I had repeatedly met with victims of sexual abuse. Three and a half years ago, in October of 2006, in a speech to the Irish bishops I had asked them to "establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes." To see the priesthood suddenly tarnished in this way, and with it the Catholic Church itself, was difficult to bear. At that moment, however, it was important not to look away from the fact that good exists in the Church, and not only these terrible things. (Benedict has been totally consistent in not placing a single bit of blame on the hierarchy. The longer he continues to pretend the hierarchy and the Vatican curia has no blame to share, the longer this crisis will fester.)

The media and abuseIt was evident that the action of the media was not guided solely by the pure search for the truth, but that there was also enjoyment in putting the Church in the pillory, and, if possible, in discrediting it. And nonetheless it was necessary that this be clear: as long as efforts are being made to bring the truth to light, we must be appreciative. Truth, united with love when understood correctly, is the number one value. And the media would not have been able to give those accounts if the evil had not been there in the Church itself. It is only because the evil was inside the Church that the others were able to hold it against her. (Again, Benedict fails to note a great deal of the 'hostility' in the press was the direct result of the idiotic statements of his own Vatican curia and the almost universal strategy of bishops not to cooperate with secular authorities when it came to compensation for victims or releasing files pertinent to legal proceedings. It is much cheaper to talk about spiritual healing than it is to pay for real life compensation.)

The priesthood was not, as Benedict states, 'suddenly tarnished'.  Clerical abuse has been with the Church for millenia. It has been a topic of reformers like St John Damian since the 1100's.  What made the abuse crisis different this time around was the public exposure.  Finally, after all this time, Vatican secrecy was breached, and it's clerical machinations exposed for all to see.  It effected all levels of governance. The curtain had been pulled back on dioceses big and small, and on bishops both orthodox or progressive. The  things they all had in common were secrecy, manipulation, revictimization, and allegiance to the Vatican. 

Neither individual bishops nor the Vatican had any idea how to respond to this sudden 'nakedness'.  They did not have a history of having to respond to this kind of exposure in the present.  It's hard to reinvent history when the story is being written in real time. The strategy became the strategy of emotional children caught in lies--blame someone else, especially the messengers, while attempting to maintain innocence in the face of all the damning evidence.  In Benedict's case, he pretends to be above it all, surprised and shocked at the "enormous dimensions' even though he headed the CDF for eighteen years, the very Vatican congregation which had the most to do with the systemic cover up.  Sigh........

Of these three issues, the condom issue most easily lends itself to respinning and allowing our hierarchy to pretend they still hold the truth, that Benedict has changed nothing, and that this has always been church teaching---this notion that condoms can be considered a 'lesser evil' when used to prevent the harm of HIV.  "Lesser evil' are the magic operative words as condom use itself is still always and everywhere evil.  Humanae Vitae has not been breached. Ignorant immoral selfish people can use condoms as a first step to a more moral or less evil sexual life. The Church has always taught this, just not very loud.  The problem is this completely ignores the fact the Church has loudly taught just the opposite and that ecclesial bodies like the USCCB have used their influence to gut programs like PEPFAR to prevent government programs from distributing condoms or even teaching safe sex.   Ooops......... Ignore the men behind the curtain.

Constantly we are given to understand that the sexual abuse crisis, especially as it is symbolized in the Legion, has nothing to do with the heirarchy or the clerical system and everything to do with the failure of individual priests.  So Maciel is presented as a failed individual priest, not a contrived product of the family wealth of the Mexican/Spanish clerical culture--a culture which also provided Maciel with inside access to the Vatican from day one of his priesthood. For us simple laity, the issue isn't at all about this particular clerical sub culture and it's influence in the global church, it's about Maciel the unfortunate individual aberration.

Since I think the Vatican doth protest too loud, I do believe it's that very Spanish/Mexican clerical subculture that needs looking into.  The Legion debacle perfectly illustrates the nature of the clericalism that gave the Church Maciel and then protected him. The Legion is as clear a representation of the multiple forms of clerical abuse and doctrinal cruelty as we have to date.  In my thinking the Legion represents clerical abuse on steroids. To think this form of clericalism hasn't been inculcated in it's priestly formation or can be rooted out with a few tweaks is either purposefully myopic or just plain purposeful.

I understand that in the eyes of Pope Benedict, meaningfully dealing with clerical sexual abuse at it's roots would mean dealing with how authority is exercised in the Church and ultimately the entire theology surrounding the sacramental priesthood. It would mean dealing with belief structures that have framed an entire life and world view for Benedict and priests like him. In this sense he is in the same psychological space as any abuse victim whose lives and world views were also determined by these same belief structures. In the case of abuse victims their world views about their self worth and God and Catholicism were as concretely blown apart as Benedict's were concretely set. They are at opposite ends of the consequential spectrum of predatory clerical abuse.

Like it is for victims, it would be a monumental task for priests wedded to clericalism to overcome this enculturation even if they understand it on an intellectual basis. It's not the intellectual understanding that is the big bump in the road. It's the purposeful stunting of the emotional psyche at an immature stage of neural and psychological development. Richard Sipe et al, have been making this point for decades about the priesthood. The very men who move beyond this emotional immaturity are the ones who won't play the clerical game and never get promoted. The system is organized to self perpetuate and it's enforced by those at the top who benefit from how it works. Once a man gets to the level of a bishop he is never allowed to be wrong no matter how wrong he is because the whole ball of wax rests on the unquestioned authority of the bishop as a successor to the Apostles. Neither the Apostles nor their successors make mistakes, even when those original Apostles most certainly did and their successors most certainly have and most certainly still do.

How long Oh Lord will your faithful have to put up with this nonsense and the abuse it generates? Inquiring minds want to know.


  1. Powerful article, well written.

    We should just absolutely be rid of these stupid, evil, doddering old men. Wash our hands of the entire hierarchy and start issuing our own encyclicals and documents that are actually intellectually coherent and have something to do with the real world. Then let them sit up and take notice when leadership comes from US for a change.

    A couple other flash points for me are 1.) Why didn't the CDF use their resources to root out real evil in the church, instead of obsessively witch hunting (Progressive) "heretics"?

    And 2. This time there will be no cute revisionism about doctrine and "we have always taught this" horse pucky, we have the videotape, the Google machine and now the Tivo. There is nowhere to hide.

    Whoa, I just feel extra fiery today! I guess it's true what they say, If you're not angry you're not paying attention!


  2. Kallisti, I would like an answer to #1 also. In regard to leadership from the US. Well we have Cardinals, Law, Levada and Burke in Rome. SIGH!

  3. Excellent overview up to the end, which, as usual, keeps looking obvious but unachievable in practice.

    In April 2002, the Pope spoke: "Labeling child sexual abuse an 'appalling sin' and a crime, John Paul II told U.S. prelates there is no place in the priesthood and religious life 'for those who would harm the young'." (Sex Abuse an "Appalling Sin" and a Crime, Says Pope) He didn't define "harm the young", but he obviously did not include facilitating, protecting, and concealing serial priestly sex abuse. He rescued Bernard Law 8 months later when the Bostonians drove him out. Law was then elevated to the arch-priesthood of a major basilica, where he works directly for Benedict XVI, then and now spitting in the faces of the numerous victims, disheartened laity, and innocent priests.

    Meanwhile, Benedict remains apparently unaware of what was said by St. Peter Damian (Book of Gomorrah 1049), Pope Pius V (Horrendum 1568), and Father Fitzgerald (letters 1950s-60s) with brutal clarity about priestly abuse. Endless words and suits have done little.

    Bishops behinds bars looks like the only measure strong enough to end the festering. Justice there for child molestation is notoriously swift and sure. The laity smart and strong enough to make it happen don't seem to have showed up yet. Agreed -- How long …?

  4. Jack, I was saving the laity for another day and another post. We too have a lot to overcome in terms of enculturation into the same clerical thinking.

  5. Colleen your comments here are right on target. Sadly, the bishops are protected from the fallout here. Rank has its privileges.

  6. Remember that the true opposite of love is ignoring the needs of the other. It is truly utter disregard for another. This is what the Catholic Episcopacy does to the laity. They will not listen because they still pretend to be THE TEACHERS even though they have very poor resume's when it comes to teaching. They believe that the Holy Spirit inspires them and only them. This is either delusional or sociopathic and which ever is their problem, it does not involve caring for the People of God. It involves only what they see as protection of (themselves) the church.

    It is time for the People of God to return what they are getting from the Episcopacy and simply ignore them. We need not hate these men, just ignore what they say in our lives. Yes, listen if you wish but ignore their conclusions in our personal daily lives. They do not represent authoritative Christian or Catholic thought.

  7. I see in the news again, apparently from the same book as his comments about the immorality of condoms in preventing AIDS transmission,B16 had made more comments about how the church can't ordain women as priests suing the old rule about 'Jesus only selected men as His apostles'. He actually has the nerve to again insist that women have more influence int eh church than men do. I'd like to know how he figures this out. Since nothing women can do or say is ever directly heard from the women themselves. With a few exceptions such as B16's example of Mother Theresa.

    Isn't part of loving someone also showing you are listening to them? Hearing them? Not shutting them down at every opportunity?

    I think Kallisti is right. We should just start issuing our own encyclicals and teaching documents. I wonder if we could get heard then...

  8. The Pope actually said that women have more influence in the Church than men do? Is that supposed to be some kind of a joke? Why would he say such a ridiculous thing?

  9. Veronica. I caught that quote too. He says women can shape the Church in more powerful ways than men without having to be priests.

    I suspect he might have been referring to not having children and not pushing sons into being priests such as the way women have influenced the Church in Europe and North America. Or he was thinking about his own mother which is more or less thinking the same thought.

  10. colkoch, I've heard that argument before. And quite frankly I just don't buy it. B16 is essentially saying that women must resort to tricks and stratagems so that their voices can be 'heard' through the men. The real power behind the throne and all that rot. Women are limited by the amount of communication they can do to the men in their lives to get their worldview across. Men have no such restriction. It is reserved to men alone to decide what is valid in women's experience.

    BUT, in B16's own worldview, men and women are so basically different as to be incompatible with social, or religious, or spiritual roles assigned to the opposite gender. [Granted, the number of roles restricted by gender has decreased over the last decades, but they are still in place where the priesthood is concerned.] Even to the extent that B16 claims that a homosexual male is ALSO incompatible with the priesthood because that homosexual male simply does not have the 'normal' feelings of paternity so 'essential' to the office. So many defective males in B16's opinion what with the women and the homosexual men.

    But here is my problem with B16's gender views: If men and women are by nature so incompatible and cannot fulfill each other's roles, then there can be no true understanding between the genders either. How can we ever trust that men are accurately reflecting the worldviews of women? Why would we trust that this is the case? Because the Holy Spirit intervenes? Well, OK but then I have to wonder why there isn't more intervention :)

    Then we come to parental experience. I've raised a son and 2 daughters. No way would I ever wish to have to rely on them to put across my life experience, worldviews and spiritual feelings. I'll speak for myself, thank you very much. I absolutely do resent the implication that I have to submit to the validation of another person - male or female - rather than God.

  11. Veronica, I like your last Comment. While there are emotional and hard wire brain differences between the sexes, Women have proven to be as qualified to preform the major professions as are men. For some reason they still are paid on a scale of about 80% that of a man. From my perspective Benedict vantage point for women is that they deserve far less than 80% of the humanity of a man. He of course would deny that but actions speak louder than words.

    Colleen your cartoon is cute and reminds me of Joseph Campbell stating that if he were to again go to confession, he would start by saying, "Bless me Father for I am OK." With the current state of affairs, I believe if he were confessing to a Bishop he might say, "Bless me Excellency, are you OK!"

  12. If the argument the Pope gives on ordination were valid, most of the Roman Catholic clergy would be married Jewish fishermen. Jesus made his preference clear. Such people can be found in the Holy Land today, but they don't appear much among those chosen to be Catholic clergy, especially among the successors of the apostles. One more need for "Vatican clarification". Keep going.

  13. @ Veronica,

    "So many defective males in B16's opinion what with the women and the homosexual men."

    The ancient Greek philosophers, Aristotle for example, considered women to be inferior to men because they were incomplete (not able to produce sperm and all) or defective. Thomas Aquinas similarly considered women to be defective men, weaker in both mind and body.

    Ratzinger is a German philosopher, no doubt influenced by Hegel who said in "The Philosophy of Right":
    "Women can, of course, be educated, but their minds are not adapted to the higher science, philosophy, or certain of the arts. These demand a universal faculty. Women may have happy inspirations, taste, elegance, but they have not the ideal. The difference between man and woman is the same as that between animal and plant. The animal corresponds more closely to the character of the man, the plant to that of the woman. In woman there is a more peaceful unfolding of nature, a process, whose principle is the less clearly determined unity of feeling."

    In the 1970's at the University of Toronto one would hear similar arguments from Catholic scholars. (I can name names.)

    In short, Veronica, women are expected to have as much influence on the Catholic Church as potted plants.


  14. p2p, maybe that's why women are mostly in charge of the plants decorating the sanctuary.

    What's sort of ironic for me is women surpass men by quite a bit when it comes to tests for psychic and intuitive ability--at least adult men. Benedict may actually be prophetic when he says women have the power to effect the Church in other ways. He has after all, been giving an extensive series of Wednesday lectures on women mystics from the Middle Ages and almost all of them soundly criticised the clerical ruling elite of their time.

    I had one Native medicine man tell me that he thinks Jesus drug the male apostles around for three years because men need a rigorous disciplined environment in which to reach any spiritual ability. He said that was true for their tradition which is why medicine men rarely trained medicine women. Women could directly connect to the Other Side Camp and their teaching was direct. Could be this explains why Mary Magdalene was called the Apostle to the Apostles. This status is made much more evident in the gnostic gospels.

  15. p2p, The quote by Hegel is so revealing of what men have bought as reason to keep women down to a lower level of existence, to subsistence and non-acceptance in the world and in the Church for so long. Hegel is disproved by many women, including the Mystics, women in science and medicine and in the arts. It is unfortunate that the many gifts that women have received from God have been stifled for so long. Women have been conditioned to feel that they have had to buy what the men such as Hegel have sold them as "truth" which has been manifested in the world into specific roles for women to fill. That trend must end if we are to survive as a species and as individual persons with special gifts to give and bring into the world.

  16. Butterfly, I think it goes farther than that. I think even boys are considered to be lesser humans. Which explains how the clergy can keep minimizing then covering up the abuse of children - which always seems to focus on the boys. Although I know girls have been abused as well, most of the media coverage seems to focus on the men coming forward to bring light to bear on the abuse they suffered when children.

  17. @Butterfly,



  18. Butterfly, it is very true that Hegel's philosophy can be a mixed bag ignored by some and praised by others and he does not seem to have given us as much as did Kant, but he never the less has a lot of merit. His ability to articulate a logical starting point. His ideas about idealism and his revised metaphysical point of view have stimulated many. In France, a version of Hegelianism came to influence a generation of thinkers, including Jean-Paul Sartre and the psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, largely through the lectures of Alexandre Kojève. I have personally studied Lacanian Psychoanalysis mostly taught by women who would not agree with Hegel in "The philosophy of the Right," but who certainly see much to his metaphysics. I think like many ingenuous minds, his has contributed much to what both men and women think. I think that we are all a mixed bag in the process of growth and development.

    I think we should look at the time people lived. By today’s standards, Sigmund Freud could not be thought of as a woman lover, but by the standards he lived, he was far ahead of his time in helping Anna Freud and Melanie Klein.

    So I hope women will be patient with us men who continue to struggle with what the feelings of our culture have deposited into us. LOL, dennis

  19. Dennis, I see and agree with what you are saying, even though I do not know the particulars of Hegel's work. We all seem to be a mixed bag. I think the point of spiritual growth is to outgrow what was formerly mixed up, or to prune where pruning is warranted in our thinking so it does not infect the rest of the tree. We should learn and take from history all that is the best.

    Veronica, I believe that whenever there are kingdoms ruled by men with special and selfish interests, especially via infallible or absolutist rule, that they will train people via propaganda to do their deeds for them. Most definitely boys have been abused and they in turn abuse women and children and that all contributes to the chaos in the world. It is a cycle of abuse and until the Kingdom of God reigns in every heart, the abuse will continue.

  20. Butterfly,

    I agree with you on both points, what you brought up with both me and Veronica. dennis