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Katie van Schaijik

John Allen on Benedict’s handling of the issue

Mar. 29, 2010, at 12:02pm

Right after linking the Weigel piece below, I found this op-ed by John Allen in today’s New York Times. It’s good—as is a National Catholic Reporter article he wrote on the same theme a week or two ago.

The outside world is outraged, rightly, at the church’s decades of ignoring the problem. But those who understand the glacial pace at which change occurs in the Vatican understand that Benedict, admittedly late in the game but more than any other high-ranking official, saw the gravity of the situation and tried to steer a new course.

Be that as it may, Benedict now faces a difficult situation inside the church. From the beginning, the sexual abuse crisis has been composed of two interlocking but distinct scandals: the priests who abused, and the bishops who failed to clean it up. The impact of Benedict’s post-2001 conversion has been felt mostly at that first level, and he hasn’t done nearly as much to enforce new accountability measures for bishops.

That, in turn, is what makes revelations about his past so potentially explosive. Can Benedict credibly ride herd on other bishops if his own record, at least before 2001, is no better? The church’s legitimacy rests in large part on that question.


Scott Johnston • Mar 30, 2010 - 11:40 pm

Here is a very important article by the very priest who was the actual canonical judge for the Fr. Murphy case in Milwaukee. He is now in Alaska. He reports that though he has been quoted (inaccurately) by name in the NY Times article, not a single reporter from any media organization has ever contacted him for information on the case. This is a must read to get the bigger picture.

http://catholicanchor.org/wordpress/?...

And this piece by Jimmy Akin is also noteworthy:
http://www.ncregister.com/blog/cardin...

Katie van Schaijik • Mar 31, 2010 - 4:57 am

Fr. Raymond de Souza had a great take down of the NYT article on the Wisconsin scandals here: http://corner.nationalreview.com/post...

The most encouraging part of John Allen’s articles from my point of view is their report that the then Cardinal Ratzinger underwent a dramatic change after John Paul II, before he died, put his office in charge of handling the scandal worldwide.  Up until then the Vatican had tended to view the whole thing as mostly driven by anti-Catholic media.  Ratzinger asked bishops to send him their files, and he read them all.  He emerged from the terrible task convinced that he had to clean up what he called “the filth in the Church.”  May God give him the grace to succeed!

I also note (as a personalist) this comment by the Wisconsin priest you mention, Scott:

“The priest said that in his work as a volunteer prison chaplain he has found similarities between those incarcerated for child sexual abuse and the priest-perpetrators he had met.
“They tend to be very smart and manipulative,” he said. “Most are highly narcissistic and do not see the harm that they have caused. They view the children they have abused not as people but as objects”

This is evil: the objectification of persons.

Scott Johnston • Mar 31, 2010 - 1:31 pm

In the sex abuse prevention training that the Dominicans underwent over the course of about a year in order to be certified as a religious community as having met the new standards set by the bishops after the scandals (there is a list of standards that include training as well as other policy matters that all have to be met, and then an auditing process by an independent lay agency to become certified), we had a half-day workshop from lay experts who have worked with sexual predators for some years. [And these were not people who suggest predators be counseled and placed back into apostolic work]

In their workshop, they talked about some of the traits that one sees in such people, as well as some of the commonalities in how they try to develop relationships that they eventually turn into abuse. Part of the day included a wrenching video of several convicted abusers speaking frankly while in jail about how they would go about luring someone into their confidence in order to abuse them. It was quite eye-opening. One of them was a father who would target vulnerable friends of his own daughter. Smart, manipulative, narcissistic, definitely is a pattern.

One of the goals of the training was to enable members of a community to recognize possible warning signs in the behavior of others. I think it was very effective in this regard. It included fairly subtle things like the sorts of jokes a person tells, small boundaries crossed physically in public settings, etc. This certification process was pretty extensive and included along with training for every single community member, a further rigorous background check of every single member (more detailed than what had already been done in the usual application process for every person) consistent written policies that met certain requirements to be in place in every local community (and all members trained on those policies), additional training for superiors and other provincial leaders, and I think I recall we even had to take a written test after the training to ensure our knowledge of the new policies. Then, after all this, yearly reinforcement training also took place for a certain number of years.

And the Dominicans (who, like most religious communities in the U.S. have had fewer abuse complaints historically than secular priests) were not unusual in going through this process. By now, I would bet the vast majority, if not all, American religious communities have gone through something similar.

And this was in addition to the visitation process that every seminary went through a few years ago, which included looking at the overall social/cultural/policy environment for signs of possible problems.

A large component of the issue of prevention, in addition to careful screening to begin with, is about overall environment. Sexual predators tend to look for certain things in an environment, socially speaking and also physical aspects, in which they can develop potential victims in a way that goes under the radar of people around them. Good training, while not a cure-all, in part goes a long way toward making places inhospitable for being able to host the sort of behavior patterns that abusers try to engage in.

Any Dominican of my former province, because of this training and certification process, can tell you a lot about sexual predators, how they tend to operate, and how to make an environment inhospitable for such. In addition to this, anyone who works with kids (lay, cleric, or religious) also has to undergo another special training event that focuses on abuse prevention.

The general public has no idea just how aggressive and thorough the Church in America has been and continues to be to wipe out and prevent sexual abuse.

Katie van Schaijik • Mar 31, 2010 - 2:28 pm

I speak, though, not as a member of the general public, but as a faithful Catholic mother of five children.  So, new policies are in place.  (Channelling Shania Twain here) “That don’t impress me much.” 
I have looked in vain among the bishops of my Church for the kind of outrage and fierce determination to act to restore justice that every parent instantly feels at the thought of the sexual abuse of children.  (Policies intended to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future do nothing to rectify the wrongs already done—including the bitter disillusionment and loss of trust in Church leaders among the laity.)

What we have gotten from the Church is first, complaints about the media, then defensiveness about what they did and didn’t do.  Then pointing to statistics showing that it happens just as often if not more in other institutions and most priests are innocent.  Then plea bargains with civil prosecutors.  Tens of millions of the faithful’s hard-earned donations doled out in law suits.  Then homilies on forgiveness.  Then the whining, self-pitying rhetorical question, “What more are we supposed to do?”
Meanwhile, virtually no accountability on the part of bishops. 

Rev. John McCormick, Cardinal Law’s right hand man in charge of personnel in Boston, is still bishop in our summer diocese of New Hampshire (having plea-bargained with the police.)  Just last year he appointed to our parish there (which has had more than one priest convicted of sex crimes) a priest who had spent time in jail for embezzling money from his earlier parish.  (This came to light only after a parishioner who caught the bad vibes he emits, googled his name.) Complaints to the bishop were answered with preaching about forgiveness. 
This same priest gives bombastic, theologically dubious homilies.  I wouldn’t let my children near him.

Nor is New Hampshire alone.  Nor are religious orders exempt.  I’ve heard Dominican priests all but celebrating homosexuality in homilies, while they seem (sorry) to exhibit it in their manners.

I don’t agree, not at all, with George Weigel, or with the Wisconsin priest you cite above, or with you, dear Scott, that the Catholic Church as it is currently constituted is safe for children. 

It’s not only about abuse statistics.  It’s about moral and doctrinal formation.  It’s about giving witness to Christ.

We need a much more dramatic housecleaning, IMHO.

Scott Johnston • Mar 31, 2010 - 4:29 pm

Katie, I’m sorry about what is going on in New Hampshire. I think it is not the same thing, the issues of how bishops handled things (and in some cases their ongoing lack of an appropriate response to past sins of priests) and the issue of how men are being screened and formed for the priesthood today and in the recent past.

On the second issue—the screening and formation of the priests in the Church today—I am confident that things are good (though not without room for more improvement) and continuing to get better. This being the case, that does not change the state of character of existing priests who have issues (and embezzling money is a serious crime that should be prosecuted, but is in a different moral category from being a sexual abuser). They, as is the pattern, tend to be older, from a certain generation, who were not screened well and probably received very questionable formation in seminary (and then poor episcopal leadership thereafter).

Episcopal leadership and the character of individual priests are related but not identical issues. I agree Katie that the Church has much to be criticized in regard to episcopal leadership. But the Church has done, and is doing, a great deal to address issues with the character of the men being ordained to the priesthood. It is always possible to focus on a bad apple (and it is awful that you have to contend with this in the summer) and draw the wrong conclusion that nothing good is happening in the bigger picture.

The former Wisconsin priest was simply setting the record straight about the particular situation of Fr. Murphy’s canonical trial. The blame for not handling things aggressively there lies certainly with the bishop at the time. But when a canonical trial was commenced (much later than it should have), a fair look at the evidence does not suggest mishandling by then Card. Ratzinger. The CDF, in fact, advised the diocese to proceed with the case against Fr. Murphy (which they had begun). And before 2001, the CDF only would have known about any particular case if they were consulted about it (see Jimmy Akin’s article).

As far as preventing future sexual abuse perpetrated by priests, what do you think is specifically lacking in the moral and doctrinal formation in seminaries at present? It is exactly in this area where great progress has been made.

And I know this is no consolation, but generally speaking, the New England area was among the worst areas in the country as far as episcopal leadership and lax priestly formation back in the 60’s and 70’s. The ongoing reforms will take the longest to be felt in areas like that because there are still so many among the older priests and bishops who are too ready to be sympathetic with the accused.

Also, I don’t fault anyone in the media who calls attention to real issues, even in a very critical way. But I don’t think it is inappropriate to criticize the media for shoddy and biased journalism. It is not irrelevant that an entire generation of American men who embraced the degraded sexual mores of the 60’s end up sexually abusing children and young people later in life. This does not excuse priests in any way. And they should live up to a higher standard. But, for the media to seize on the Church and the priesthood as though the very same issues are not even happening in other sectors of society (as though priests are not a reflection of the larger culture) paints a very biased and false picture of reality.

And this harms the gospel. When the public gets the false idea that the Church is much worse than (say, public schools) other places, the saving mission of the Church is harmed. I am for truth, not for falsehood and misrepresentation because the latter is, first of all, sinful, and secondly, represents a victory of Satan who wants to do all he can to stop the evangelical effectiveness of his greatest enemy, the Church.

It is outrageous that any parent should have to feel that their children are unsafe around any member of the clergy. And I (though not as a parent) as well have had my share of visceral reactions against the general demeanor, way of speaking, and mannerisms of individual priests. But please keep in mind that once the priesthood has been tainted by something rotten for a generation, you can’t just throw out everyone who was less than appropriately enraged by the abuses. You can throw out those who have committed abuse. And (a bishop with spine) can at least silence and/or punish or keep from public ministry those who would explicitly promote what is objectively sinful and/or doctrinally false. But, bishops can’t yank away priests who are implicitly sympathetic to a culture of homosexuality without their having committed an offense or clearly promoted homosexuality. Such priests may (and should) be distasteful to people; their attitude might turn people away. But this kind of spoiled ingredient in the banquet can only be slowly removed by the passage of time. There is no other way that I can see. Bishops do not (and thankfully, don’t) have the power to simply remove priests from public ministry for private, or what might seem arbitrary reasons. They can move them around without much justification. But they must have provable, concrete reasons based on sound evidence to remove a priest from ministry. And if a priest is not an abuser, he is not going to be removed from ministry even if people are uncomfortable with his demeanor. If bishops had that degree of arbitrary authority, there are places where the most ardently orthodox priests—the most outspoken and evangelically effective preachers—would be removed. That would be awful.

Scott Johnston • Mar 31, 2010 - 4:51 pm

I should say, I don’t think the priest embezzler who spent time in jail for his crime should have been assigned to a parish. This is crazy. But that particular bishop obviously lacks good judgment at the least, as is clear from his own dubious background.

But, looking at the Church in America as a whole, how many priests have spent time in jail for embezzling? And are now serving at a parish? This is not exactly typical of the priesthood (by a long shot).

Katie van Schaijik • Mar 31, 2010 - 10:18 pm

I don’t mean to compare embezzlement with the evil of the sexual abuse of children.  I meant rather to point out the severe moral obtuseness and contempt for the laity expressed in his having been appointed—especially considering that that parish had already endured more than one arrested pastor.

Katie van Schaijik • Mar 31, 2010 - 6:21 pm

Dear Scott, you are missing my point, and sounding patronizing (sorry!). 
The dismay and outrage that I and so many other faithful Catholic parents are feeling has to do with the absence of the due response on the part of the bishops to the discovery of deep and wide hideous corruption in the Catholic clergy.

Enacting policies that do a better job of screening candidates for the priesthood is well and good.  I’m all for it.  I just go nuts when I hear that touted as if the problem has been taken care of and no institution is safer for children now than the Catholic Church—especially considering there are bishops like Bishop McCormack and Cardinal Mahoney and others still heading dioceses across the country.  And there are priests still serving all over in the Church who knew about these things and didn’t take them seriously, while priests and others who DID were dismissed from seminaries or sent to the boondocks or hospitalized for “psychiatric evaluations.”

It is always possible to focus on a bad apple (and it is awful that you have to contend with this in the summer) and draw the wrong conclusion that nothing good is happening in the bigger picture.

Nonsense.  I never said nothing good is happening.  I say that the good that is happening is woefully short of what’s called for, and used NH as an example.  There are plenty of others.

My complaint regarding the Wisconsin priest had nothing to do with his correcting the bad reporting in the NYT.  It referred only to his claim (echoed by Weigel and you) that the Catholic Church is the safest place for children in America.  I find this an offensive claim.  It may be statistically defensible, but to view the matter statistically is to set aside the enormity of the evil present in the fact that the abuse was by priests, into whose hands parents entrust their children in a way that they entrust them to no other person or institution.  This is not simply a matter of priest being held to a higher standard, it is a matter of priests being able to inflict much more serious harm.  To be raped and molested by a priest or several priests, to then be disbelieved and calumniated as a pervert and a liar when you tried to tell parents or others; to have police decline to pursue the matter so as not to bring scandal on the Church; to have the bishop urge silence on you and your family; to find that these same priests were allowed to commit these same crimes against others for years and decades…is to be destroyed, defiled and defrauded in a way that bears no comparison to instance of abuse in a Scout leader or a teacher at a public school.

Sometimes the priest operated in rings—sharing methods and victims and covering for each other.  Bishops allowed it to happen.  And it was by no means a regional phenomenon.  See (besides Wisconson) Davenport, Iowa and St. Louis for mid-west epicenters of evil.

you can’t just throw out everyone who was less than appropriately enraged by the abuses.

I’d like to see at least a few priests and bishops especially who are appropriately enraged.  Can’t think of even one (though Benedict, bless him, comes closest.)

Why has only Cardinal Law been removed from office?

As a friend of mine put it the other day: “Just give us good priests.  I’d rather have to drive two hours to get to Mass and have a priest I could hold up for my children as a true witness to Christ.”

I believe with all my heart that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.  I pray daily for the Pope who is battling powers and principalities.  I thank God that many good men still say yes to God and become priests.

And I wish God would act mightily to re-convert our hearts and bring about the renewal of His Holy Catholic Church.

Scott Johnston • Apr 1, 2010 - 2:45 am

Sorry, Katie, I do not mean to patronize.

I do agree that the response by bishops was woefully inadequate. I think, though I don’t know this definitely, that the cases of episcopal inadequacy are more typical than actually covering up abuse. How many bishops actually encouraged people to be quiet? This is obviously horrible and worthy of prosecution. But to have an objectively inadequate response vs. covering up known abuse are different things. Personally, I don’t understand how any man (and not having biological kids I don’t think should make a big difference) can become aware of another man abusing children and not want to have him prosecuted by the fullest means possible, both civil and ecclesial. Any bishop who covered up, or aided or abetted in any way, a known abuser, should himself be prosecuted both civilly and ecclesially.

Yes, more bishops should probably be removed from office.

But, also, it is relevant to note that since the majority of the abuse cases happened in the 60’s through the 80’s, a good number of the men who were the governing bishops at that time are either retired or deceased. I wonder how many bishops (such as Mahoney) today were also bishops back, say, in the 70’s?

The canonical retirement age for bishops is 75. If a man was a bishop in 1970, and if he were retiring this year at age 75, that would mean he would have been made bishop at age 35, which is considerably younger than most priests when they are appointed bishops. A more typical scenario, let’s say a man was appointed bishop in 1970 at age 45 (still on the young side). He would have had to submit his resignation in the year 2000. The scandals broke in 2001. The men who presided as bishops over the abuses in the 1960’s were already all retired or deceased. And those who were bishops in the 1970’s were mostly retired by 2000 (unless they were under 45 when they were made bishops). Those bishops who were still active in 2001 who also had had episcopal governance over a diocese in which there was abuse, were probably initially appointed bishops in the late 70’s or later. So, in other words, the majority of bishops who presided over dioceses during the 60’s and early 70’s were retired before 2001.

I am not trying to explain anything away here. But just to show the fact that many (not all) of the men who were bishops in 2001 and later had not personally presided as bishops over dioceses where most of the abuse had taken place. In the 80’s the abuse cases were going down significantly. Often, the bishops of 2001 had inherited old cases from their predecessors. How much had they learned about these old cases? How much documentation actually existed in the chancery for them to read? I have no idea. Probably in some cases there was ample documentation that they did not look at, and they should have. And probably in some cases there were rumors about some priests but very little hard evidence available in the chancery. And in some cases there may have been little to no actual hard evidence or documentation for them to see.

Again, I’m not trying to excuse anyone. Just trying to be objective. I think to be fair we have to consider each bishop on a case by case basis if we are going to be just in how we regard them. When were they appointed as a bishop? What diocese? Where there credible accusations of abuse in their diocese while they were bishop? Were there cases of past abuse that they inherited? What documentation was available to them when they assumed the episcopacy about abuse accusations that had not been investigated or had not been resolved somehow? Was it thorough; was it minimal and inconclusive? These things are all relevant before directing our anger at a particular bishop.

I do think the U.S. bishops as a group are worthy of harsh criticism for the rather tepid way they publicly handled the scandals that broke in 2001. As a group their public response was inadequate.

Also, one other thing in regard to individual bishops. We have to take into account that a man’s personal culpability is diminished for presiding over a situation where he did the objectively wrong thing (e.g. sending an accused priest to counseling and then reassigning him) while nonetheless in his own conscience at the time he truly believed himself to be doing the right thing. It is hard for us to believe now (including myself) that a bishop back in the 70’s could truly believe that a priest abuser should not be prosecuted to the full extent possible and locked up and kept from society. But, it does seem to be the case that in good conscience, some bishops truly believed they were doing the morally appropriate thing when they sent someone to counseling, were told by the “experts” that the person was reformed, and then reassigned him to a new ministry. Today this does not fly. But back then, I do not believe that every bishop who did this was acting in bad conscience. Some probably were. But it is unjust, in my opinion, to presume bad conscience on the part of all bishops who followed what was at the time the typical way of dealing with this (that is, when the victims and their families and/or civil authorities did not want to prosecute, which I understand was fairly often). And no bishops should ever have encouraged anyone not to prosecute when an accusation was credible. This is inexcusable.

Should those bishops have insisted on ecclesial trials for credible cases? Yes. Should they have insisted with civil authorities that criminal prosecution move forward? Yes. But can we assume that those bishops who did not do these things (excluding bishops who inexcusably asked people not to prosecute) truly acted with bad intentions, violating what they understood at the time in their own consciences to be right? No, I don’t think we can. I don’t like it at all. But I don’t think we can. I have been around too many gifted, intelligent people who have spent much of their adult lives in a subculture of like-minded people to know that there really can be entire subcultures of people (e.g. bishops from the 60’s and 70’s) who actually do not realize in their own conscience things that are obvious to the general public.

As much as we might want to be angry at a particular bishop, I don’t think we can do so justly without knowing with certainty that he personally mishandled sexual abuse cases and that he did so in a way that violated his own conscience. Some of them probably are guilty of this. But I’m not willing to assume that most of them are in this category.

I’m not saying Katie that you are doing this, but it kind of seems like you might be. And I hope I am not seeming to be patronizing in any of the above. It would be better if more Catholics had a desire to hold the feet of our bishops to the fire, so to speak. But I do hope that whenever we do so in regard to any particular bishop, that we really know that he is truly culpable in his own conscience for whatever mismanagement he may have objectively committed.

Going into the future, I would think that the days of sending an abuser to counseling and reassigning are over. No longer can a bishop today credibly claim (when others do not want to prosecute) that he thought this to be the best course. There is no doubt today that it is not.

My overall approach to this subject is highly colored by my years of personal experience around priests and seminarians. I honestly can say that of the seminarians I lived with for years and the many others that I met in other contexts, I saw truly good and decent men who are as revolted by priestly child abuse as any other decent member of society. There is no sympathy or attitude of tolerance for this among seminarians and young priests that I know. And when I hear people refer to “wide and hideous corruption among the Catholic clergy,” it is something I just have not witnessed at all. And my experience of seminarians and priests is much more broad and numerous than most lay Catholics. I just don’t know where these hordes of horrid priests are supposed to be. These are not the men I know and have been privileged to live with and still call my friends.

And it goes without saying that while a particular priest even though he might not be a very good preacher, or may not seem to have the evangelical fire that we desire our priests to have, or to be a man of particularly great virtues, this does not make him a horrible person or someone to be presumed a probable child abuser. Yes, all priests should be examples we would want to hold up to our children. But, if it happens that a priest is not particularly saintly, we should not jump to suspecting him without cause of the most horrid sort of immorality. And I will conclude with the idea that even if someone’s parish priest is not a great example of Christian virtue, the example of the parents with whom a child lives every day is much more important and has a far greater influence upon his life. Whether a priest is a saint or an antisocial curmudgeon, it is the parents’ role more than anyone else in the community to pass on and teach the faith, and to lead and inspire their children by example to want to emulate a saintly life.

Scott Johnston • Apr 1, 2010 - 11:26 am

Please, I mean no offense by anything above!

At the end of my last comment, I am thinking of parents (for instance, when I taught CCD to teens at a West Virginia parish while I was at Franciscan U, and others) who drop their kids off for CCD and Mass, do not bother to go to Mass themselves, and pick their kids up after Mass. I wonder if they will blame the Church when their kids end up not having a very strong faith or much interest in the Church. I also know of parents who went through significant hassle to assure a pastor that their kids would be faithfully and well-catechized at home, without placing them in the parish CCD classes (the family doesn’t otherwise home school and their kids are in public school). And I am pretty sure (without revealing too much, they are close to me) that their children are actually getting very little religious instruction at home, contrary to their assurances. Most comments about the Church I have heard the father make around his family are decidedly negative. Are these children gaining a balanced perspective? Are they learning the faith? If the answer is no, I am afraid the parish will be blamed. But, in truth, the blame would lie mainly with the parents.

I mention this because I know of people who seem to expect the Church to do everything in regard to passing the faith on to their kids and yet they don’t eve

Scott Johnston • Apr 1, 2010 - 12:00 pm

Oops. My last comment got cut off as it posted. Don’t know why. Here is the rest. . .

I mention this because I know of people who seem to expect the Church to do everything in regard to passing the faith on to their kids and yet they don’t even make Mass a priority for themselves. But then they will pile on the Church when the media does so, without themselves knowing any particulars or being able to tell the difference between misleading reports and accurate reports. Or there is the other example, of parents who claim to want to instruct their kids at home, and then do not do so (and also do not make Sunday Mass a priority themselves).

While such situations ought not exclude people from speaking critically about the Church, I am concerned that at least in the case of such circumstances, the adults really do not know much of anything about what they are criticizing; their scorn does not go beyond being a carbon copy of the latest scandalous article in the major media (e.g. the Fr. Murphy case and joining the chorus of blaming the Pope when the full picture does not suggest he did anything wrong regarding this case). This sort of blind critique cannot do much to bring about the reform that is so needed in episcopal management.

(Speaking now not of victims, who are in their own category as those who should be listened to with special attention, but of others who have not personally been abused. . .) That critique which has a decent chance of making a positive impact, I think, is the critique offered by those who speak from a place of genuine personal faith and of love for the Church. From such can come the seeds of new life. And I trust that this is what any of us here are doing when we are critical, whether of the Church or of each other—that we are speaking from a place of high expectations, and of love. (And always remembering as the Franciscans so rightly have reminded the Church that all reform must include me.)

Scott Johnston • Apr 1, 2010 - 12:36 pm

Here is a link to a blog that collects links to articles pertaining to Pope Benedict and the reporting about him. (Not an endorsement of all these articles.)
http://tinyurl.com/y939f2w

I’ll be praying today especially for priests, bishops, and the Holy Father. A most blessed Holy Thursday and Easter Triduum to all.

Katie van Schaijik • Apr 3, 2010 - 10:20 am

“How many bishops actually encouraged people to be quiet?”

I wonder if there are any who did not.  Can you think of a single case before the scandal broke of a bishop expressing public solidarity with victims of priestly abuse and calling for other victims to speak up about what they had experienced?  I can’t.  Yet I have heard many stories among my own acquaintances of even priests and bishops of good repute taking the line of “handling this quietly, through proper channels, in order not to cause scandal.”

Again, I’m not trying to excuse anyone. Just trying to be objective. I think to be fair we have to consider each bishop on a case by case basis if we are going to be just in how we regard them.

Scott, you are being more speculative than objective when you paint a picture exonerating most bishops of wrongdoing. 

And in any case, your basic point would make sense only if I had been judging them individually.  I was judging them as a group.  Obviously some bishops were much worse than others.  Some are so implicated that it is a moral crime that they remain in office.  Some may have been entirely innocent (though that gets harder to believe).  As a whole, they failed miserably. 

And I wish you wouldn’t keep writing as if all this was back in the ‘70s.  The crimes against children, the rampant homosexual activity in seminaries and among groups of priests at least in some dioceses, not to mention religious orders, continued right up until the scandals broke.  The cover-ups were ongoing in virtually every diocese.

As much as we might want to be angry at a particular bishop, I don’t think we can do so justly without knowing with certainty that he personally mishandled sexual abuse cases and that he did so in a way that violated his own conscience.

This is completely beside my point.  I am not interested in playing God and judging consciences.  I am interested in renewing the Church.

My overall approach to this subject is highly colored by my years of personal experience around priests and seminarians. I honestly can say that of the seminarians I lived with for years and the many others that I met in other contexts, I saw truly good and decent men who are as revolted by priestly child abuse as any other decent member of society. And when I hear people refer to “wide and hideous corruption among the Catholic clergy,” it is something I just have not witnessed at all.

Dear Scott, if this is so, then consider whether it is you who have difficulty being objective in this situation.  Consider whether you are not projecting your own experience too much onto the whole Church.  And consider whether, in doing so, you are not tending to shut your ears to the cry of the poor—in this case the poor being those who have been defiled and defrauded by terrible priests and bishops—whether, rather than taking what they say at face value, you assume too quickly that they are being excessively negative and projecting their woundedness and so on.  (Remember that this was the mode of Legion defenders and Covenant Community defenders for decades.  Their experience was positive, therefore they assumed that the accusations were either false or isolated cases and that the detractors were either lying or exaggerating because they were wounded and bitter.)

I am thinking just now of two priests I am close to.  They are young, faith-filled, JP II priests.  One in a diocese with a great bishop.  At the beginning of the scandal he was confident that thanks to his great bishop, sexual perversion was a non-issue among priests in his diocese.  He’s since had a lot to learn, and changed his tune.  The other is in Boston.  Initially he, too, treated the whole scandal as a mainly media driven attack on the Church.  He scoffed at the idea that there were large numbers of homosexuals among priests.  Now he knows. 

Further, “wide corruption” does not imply total corruption.  I know many, many wonderful priests.  I know some good bishops, bearing their burdens with deep faith and Christlike humility.

And it goes without saying that while a particular priest even though he might not be a very good preacher, or may not seem to have the evangelical fire that we desire our priests to have, or to be a man of particularly great virtues, this does not make him a horrible person or someone to be presumed a probable child abuser.

Scott, you are friend and what I say I say in friendship, with truth (as always in Linde discussions) my aim: this is wretchedly patronizing.

Who thinks every priest is a probable child abuser?
Who is incapable of distinguishing in theory and in normal practice between lack of virtue and charisma and entrenched viciousness?

I was not speaking of imperfect priests, I was speaking of priests who by their unbelief and their vicious living undermine the Faith they are ordained to serve.  You seem to think these are rare cases.  Well, I personally have encountered many of them—priests whose homilies regularly insinuate unbelief and whose way of dealing with the faithful expresses an almost unbounded contempt for them, their Faith, and their moral values.

I mention this because I know of people who seem to expect the Church to do everything in regard to passing the faith on to their kids and yet they don’t even make Mass a priority for themselves. But then they will pile on the Church when the media does so, without themselves knowing any particulars or being able to tell the difference between misleading reports and accurate reports.

Then you are talking to people who are not here.

Speaking now not of victims, who are in their own category as those who should be listened to with special attention, but of others who have not personally been abused. . .

A final point before I get on with the day—
All of the faithful are victimized by vicious priests and weak, self-serving bishops.

Katie van Schaijik • Apr 3, 2010 - 10:26 am

Let me add that between vicious priests and priest lacking great virtue and charisma there is also the category of nice, well-meaing priests who were so badly formed that they seem not to be able to distinguish the Christian gospel from the self-help and social-justice gospel popular in the ‘70s.  Or priests who seem to think that the main role of a priest is administrate and organization, while the main role of the laity is to contribute money and volunteer time.

We need real priests and real bishops.  Real faithful too.

Jesus, have mercy on us and the whole world.

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