Why we leave the ninety-nine

Some American Catholics haven’t learned a damn thing from our ordeal. Some American Catholics, when they hear about new victims of sexual assault and abuse by Catholics, are still dragging out all the old defenses:

Well, but look at all the good fruits.
Well, but look at all the energy we waste if we focus on the tiny minority.
Well, but we have to think of our reputation.
Well, but no one will trust us if we admit there’s a problem.
Well, why would you even dare to criticize us? Is it because you hate shepherding and want anarchy?

Well, but it’s just one sheep. It’s unfortunate, but . . . we’re in the fold, and we’re doing all right.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Photo via Pxhere (Creative Commons)

Is Vatican II to blame for the sex abuse scandal?

The Catholic Herald UK reports

Mgr Peter Smith, former chancellor of Glasgow archdiocese, said the Church accepted conventional wisdom of the 1970s that it was “better to repair the [abuser], to fix them or to redeem them”, than punish them. In that era priests accused of abuse could be sent for therapy rather than face criminal charges.

The paper is reporting Mgr Smith’s words with the strong insinuation that Vatican II is to blame for the scandal. I’m not sure if that’s what he really meant, or if his comments might be taken out of context. But I have most certainly heard other Catholics say outright that we can pin the sex abuse scandal on the laxness, the sloppiness, and the psychological sentimentality of the 70’s and Vatican II’s implementation. Vatican II, at least the way it played out in many places, was all about letting go of mean old rules and regulations, and doing what felt good, they argue. Of course we had abusers.

But they are forgetting one thing: Almost 70% of the abusive priests were ordained before 1970. They weren’t formed in feel-good Vatican II seminaries. These were old school guys. They are the ones who were molesting kids, and their world was the world that allowed it to happen.

The sex abuse scandal has three components:

1. Priests abusing kids;
2. The Church knowing about it, and letting it continue; and
3. Various people either not believing kids or parents who reported abuse, or being too in awe of priests to do anything about it, or blaming the kids for the abuse.

This third one has absolutely zero to do with any touchy-feely spirit of Vatican II, and everything to do with what Vatican II set out to change in the Church, because it needed changing.

Priests did not suddenly begin to abuse kids in the early 70’s (although the reports of alleged abuse peaked then; which is not to say that there was necessarily more abuse, but only that more people reported it). Many of the victims who came forward to report childhood abuse, after the Boston Globe‘s work started to gather steam, were children in the 1950’s. At that time, it was unthinkable to criticize a priest, unthinkable to believe that Father could do wrong, unthinkable to go over a priest’s head. There simply wasn’t any precedent for doing such a thing, other than, like, Martin Luther.

Sex abuse by clergy wasn’t a problem of loosey-goosey, post-sexual-revolutionary perverts infiltrating an institution that had heretofore been utterly chaste and holy. This was a problem of a horrible marriage between two deadly trends in the Church and in the country as a whole: the nascent sexual perversions that pervaded 1950’s American culture, and the institutional perverted understanding of authority and respect.

Where do you suppose the sexual revolution came from? Out of nowhere? It never could have happened if things weren’t already rotten underground; and it was just as true in the Church as it was everywhere else in the country. It’s a lie that things were wholesome and pure in the 50’s. But that grotesque artifice of happy, shiny exteriors worked exceedingly well together with the “Father knows best,” mentality. If Doris Day had to smile and have perfect hair no matter what, good Catholic families had to be respectful and obedient to their pastor no matter what. There was no room for going off script, even when lives were at stake.

Children who were molested were too afraid to speak up, because it was Father.
Parents who knew their kids were being molested were too afraid to speak up, because it was Father.
Parents who reported abuse were not believed, because it was Father.
Kids were rightly afraid that no one would believe them. Parents were afraid that their reputations would be ruined. Parishes were afraid that their reputations would be ruined. Bishops were afraid that their reputations would be ruined. And so this horrible carapace of silence was formed to cover up and cover up and cover up, shift the blame, shift the responsibility, and never look at the person at the heart of the problem.

And yes, the errors of the 70’s perpetuated the problem. It is very true that in the 70’s, the 80’s, and beyond, the Church and the rest of the country believed that one could simply see a therapist, attend a few classes, and not be a real danger to kids anymore. That was horrible. But it was no worse than the attitude it replaced, which was that Such Things Never Happened, and if they did, we Simply Don’t Talk About Them.

Of course, dreadful to say, the abuse scandal almost certainly goes back further than the 1950’s — centuries further — but those victims aren’t alive to give their testimony. But at very least, we can put to rest the idea that this hideous stain on our history came about by means of the Vatican II-style “Church of Nice.”

It’s always tempting, when we see gross behavior, to blame it on those who speak of mercy, of forgiveness, of healing. It’s tempting to think, “If we just clamped down and got tough, like we did back in the old days when everyone wore hats, then we’d have none of this nonsense!”

But the real lesson here isn’t that mercy is an error. The real lesson is that mercy and forgiveness can be abused just like innocence can be abused, and that evil is endlessly adaptable. It will grab hold of whatever weakness, foolishness, and wickedness is popular in any age, and it will put it in the service of sin.

Hell is overjoyed when we learn all the wrong lessons from suffering. Violation of innocents was horrible enough. Let’s not compound the outrage by trying to root true mercy, true forgiveness, and true compassion out of the heart of our Church.

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Photo by Milliped (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The samurai martyr and the sex abuse scandal

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Where do we go when we as a church are caught persecuting ourselves? How do we respond when the aggressor lives within our walls, and when the criticisms of our church are accurate and true? When the enemy of the faith is a hostile outsider, our course seems clear: we fight back, to defend ourselves and our church. But this is a different matter.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly of Australia.

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Image: detail from woodblock by Hokusai(?)

“Pro-life” Trump is engineering an American Kristallnacht

Here’s a ridiculous scenario: Imagine you drive a red car. One day, the mayor of your town says that, every week, he’s going to head over to the post office and pin up a list of people who have done bad things with red cars.

The list includes people who have bought red cars, people who have borrowed them, and people who have stolen red cars; and it includes everything from driving with a broken tail light to deliberately plowing through line of kindergarteners. The list doesn’t specify: It just has names of people driving red cars, and it says they’ve all done something bad.

This goes on week after week, and even though you’ve never so much as failed to use a turn signal, you start to notice that you’re getting dirty looks when you step out of your red car. You find yourself parking around the corner, just so no one realizes that you’re one of those “red car people.” Your neighbor sees you washing your car in the driveway and she makes a disgusted sound and loudly tells her kids, “Let’s go find some other friends to play with.” One morning, you wake up and discover that someone has slashed your tires and beat in your windshield, and “NO RED CARS HERE” is spray painted on your driveway.

You haven’t done anything. But you do drive a red car.

Stupid, right? That is a silly story. Let’s talk about something that hits a little closer to home with some of my readers:

At the peak of the Catholic sex abuse scandal, a priest friend — a holy, kind, exemplary man — told me that when he passed a woman and child on the sidewalk, the woman instinctively shoved herself between her child and him. She made a physical barrier to protect her kid, as if, just because he had a Roman collar on, he was going to lunge over and start groping her child.

How unfair! How grievously unfair, to behave as if every priest is probably a sexual predator, when in fact priests are no more likely than any other man to abuse children.

But at the same time, my priest friend couldn’t blame the woman. When it does happen, molestation of children is an unspeakable crime. And every day, week after week after week, the papers and the TV news carried stories of priests who did abuse children, or who were accused of abusing children, or who didn’t do enough to stop the abuse of children.

Or, maybe they actually did everything they possibly could to stop the abuse of the children, but still, ugh, they’re one of those priests . . . 

We all know what priests are like. We know, because we read it in the news.

Imagine being a priest in this climate. I heard priests debating with each other whether it was safe to go out wearing clerical garb. Why put a target on your back? Everyone you meet has been trained to look at you and think, “Sex crime! Sex crime!”

This is the power of the selectively chosen printed word. This is what can be achieved when you take a story that is true (some people in red cars do commit crimes; some priests do molest children) and play it over and over and over and over again, chanting in the ear of the reader: DANGER. DANGER. WARNING. WARNING. NO TIME TO THINK. ALERT. ALERT. PROTECT YOURSELF.

Protect yourself against what? Why, against people like that: people who commit crimes, people you can easily pick out on the street, because they’re illegal immigrant criminals. Well, they’re illegal immigrants. Well, they’re immigrants. Well, they have brown skin and an accent, and you know what people like that do.

We know, because we read it in the news. We read the weekly lists that the president of the United States says he is going to publish — lists of “crimes” (he doesn’t specify if we’re talking about rape or murder or driving over to Kroger’s without a license) committed by “aliens” (he doesn’t specify legal or illegal).  The important thing is, we have to have constant reminders that there are people coming into our country and doing bad things! Never forget!  Immigrant and crime! They go together.

Never mind that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. Doesn’t matter. What matters is the constant reminder of facts without context to create an emotional response. It’s not rational. It doesn’t have to be. In fact it works better when it’s not rational (especially when you’ve been training the populace to believe that there is no such thing as objective truth, just facts and alternative facts).

There are already laws on the books about deporting illegal immigrants. There are already laws on the books about arresting and prosecuting criminals. There are already numerous public records of crimes committed in this country. We don’t have a secret court system. Just about every arrest is public record. There are already numerous aggregators of statistics to tell us who commits what kind of crime. Most Americans already agree that crime is bad, illegal activity is wrong, and criminals should be punished by the law.

These lists do not give us more information. They do not “better inform the public,” despite what Trump’s statement claims. All of the information in them is already public information.

There is only one reason to publish a list like this, and that is to whip up fear, suspicion, and outrage. To make people feel unsafe and angry. To constantly remind them (as Trump did in his inauguration speech) that we are drowning in crime, awash in violence, crumbling into ruin, teetering on the brink, losing ourselves in the darkness.

Things are terrible, terrible, terrible. And whose fault is it? Well, I happen to have a list. And I’ll be updating it every week, so you’ll know who to blame.

Now imagine that you are the one with dark skin and an accent. Imagine your kids have dark skin and accents. Maybe you’re legally here and maybe you’re not, but it’s very clear that you’re some kind of immigrant.

Remember: immigrant crime immigrant crime immigrant crime. That’s the important thing to remember. Your neighbors have been hearing it for months.

Imagine that you live in a country where, every single week, your president has been telling everyone that people with dark skins and accents are criminals. Imagine getting your kids ready to walk to school, and knowing that half their classmates have been reading these lists every week. Imagine leaving work at night and finding that a couple of guys have had a couple of beers and they’ve decided they’ve had enough of these fucking immigrants fucking up their country, and if the police won’t do anything about it, then they will.

Think it won’t happen? Why? Because fearful, angry people never lash out at the innocent?

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Because we’d never let things go that far?

Why not? If we’re not going to say “halt” now, then when?

This is classic scapegoating. It’s what fascists do to gain control. They tell the people, over and over and over again, “You’re not safe. You’re not safe. It’s the fault of THESE PEOPLE. I will protect you from THESE PEOPLE, and then you can be safe.” And then, while you’re thrilled to get his help and protection, you barely notice the other stuff he’s doing, stuff that directly contradicts the things you said you cared about ten minutes ago. Stuff like small government, religious freedom, freedom of the press, respect for the disabled, protection for the innocent and vulnerable.

My friends, I have always thought that Trump would be a bad and dangerous president, a vulgar and ridiculous man, but I thought the accusations of fascism were overblown. I thought it was hyperbole.

I don’t think so anymore. This is textbook behavior. This is how it always starts. This is how totalitarians persuade the population to give him everything he wants: By whipping up fear and anger, by pointing to a scapegoat, and then by offering to take care of that scapegoat for you.

Up until now, I’ve been angry at Trump. Last night, he broke my heart. I wept when I heard of his plans, and I wept harder when I saw some of my friends defending them. Not because I want to protect criminals, but because I want to protect my country. I love my country. This is not what I want for my country.

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. A good day to remember that everything Hitler did was with the consent of the people, whom he had primed to fear and hate certain groups of people. He started by posting lists of Jews who were accused of committing crimes. He started by reminding Germans of what a shambles their country was in, and then he told them, over and over and over again, whose fault it was.

And then they let him do whatever he wanted.

We have seen this before. We have seen this before. There is no Mexico City Policy, no phone call to the March for Life, no promise of new jobs that can justify the American Kristallnacht that our president is openly trying to engineer.

Resist. Even if you need a job. Even if you are pro-life. Even if your city is full of people who don’t speak English. Even if you think Hillary belongs in jail. Even if you voted for Trump. Resist this path we are on. Remember who you are, and resist.

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EDIT Friday around 5:00 eastern: Thanks to a reader, I realized that I misread and mischaracterized Trump’s statement. It was an honest error, not a malicious one, but that’s no excuse. I have edited the post to make it more accurate.

The original passage, as far as I can reconstruct it, read:
We know, because we read it in the news. We read the weekly lists that the president of the United States says he is going to publish –‘lists of “aliens” (he doesn’t specify legal or illegal) who have committed “crimes” (he doesn’t specify if we’re talking about rape or murder or driving over to Kroger’s without a license).

The corrected passage now reads:
We know, because we read it in the news. We read the weekly lists that the president of the United States says he is going to publish — lists of “crimes” (he doesn’t specify if we’re talking about rape or murder or driving over to Kroger’s without a license) committed by “aliens” (he doesn’t specify legal or illegal).

I apologize for the error. It does not change my argument in the slightest.
Kristallnacht image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1970-083-42 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

Living in a panic room: Virtuous pedophiles?

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“Eternally hunkered down in a panic room.” That’s how one psychologist describes  the interior lives of people who are sexually attracted to prepubescent children.

Who could pity a pedophile? Of all the crimes in the world, child abuse rightly seem unforgivable.  “It would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” That’s what Christ said about people who hurt little children.

But that’s how we feel about people who actually commit these unspeakable crimes. What about people who, through great effort, don’t?

Say you feel sexually attracted to children. You don’t want to feel that way, but you do, and you have felt that way your whole life. You’ve never acted on your attraction, but you’re afraid you might. What are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to live your life?

I need to speak to a therapist because I don’t think I can get through this on my own. But if I talk to a therapist he could report me, because I have to talk about my attraction to young girls. I don’t know whether he would or not and don’t even know how to go about getting more information. Even the friendships I have are in danger of falling apart because I can’t just keep saying ‘I’m fine’ and I can’t talk to anyone about my problem. I think about suicide a lot.

This quote comes from a website I came across the other day. It’s called Virtuous Pedophiles,  and its goal is not to normalize pedophilia but to “provide peer support and information about available resources to help pedophiles lead happy, productive lives.” They say,  “Our highest priority is to help pedophiles never abuse children.”

From what I can see, the approach is in keeping with how the Church understands temptation and sin: there is a difference between being tempted to do something, and actually doing it. People who are tempted are not sinners simply because they are tempted — but they do need help. It is possible that our extreme and fitting repugnance of crimes against children is actually making it harder for pedophiles to avoid committing these crimes, because there is no structure in place to help pedophiles who have never acted on their urges. People are, in effect, punished for admitting that they need help.

A few years ago, the American Psychological Association printed a new version of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and for the first time, it classified pedophilia as a “sexual orientation.” The nation responded with horror, and the APA quickly retracted what it called an “error.” In a statement, the APA said:

“Sexual orientation” is not a term used in the diagnostic criteria for pedophilic disorder and its use in the DSM-5 text discussion is an error and should read “sexual interest.” In fact, APA considers pedophilic disorder a “paraphilia,” not a “sexual orientation.” This error will be corrected in the electronic version of DSM-5 and the next printing of the manual.

APA stands firmly behind efforts to criminally prosecute those who sexually abuse and exploit children and adolescents. We also support continued efforts to develop treatments for those with pedophilic disorder with the goal of preventing future acts of abuse.

In other words, pedophilic disorder means that you are attracted to children, not that you do abuse children. If you have this disorder, you should be able to speak about it with a therapist, to help you avoid acting on your involuntary attraction. It is neither a sin nor a crime to be tempted, but it is treated as both.

It is possible that the APA briefly used the term “sexual orientation” because they were attempting to classify non-abusive pedophiles in such a way that they could more easily speak to their therapists about their urges without triggering mandatory reporting.

I am not sure if this was the reasoning behind the choice to say “sexual orientation” (and Virtuous Pedophiles does use the term “orientation” in its site, which is disturbing).  There is most certainly a push, in some quarters, to normalize the sexual abuse of children, and to call pedophilia just one more shade in the rainbow. Goodness knows that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as well as in nearly every other organization that comes into regular contact with children, has been criminally slow to recognize and crack down on abusers and the structure that enabled them, even while condemning the sin itself; and some Catholics are still speaking as if the sex abuse crisis was some overblown, media-created hit job instead of the deeply scandalous tragedy it was and continues to be.

But as it is, people who are attracted to children are told that they cannot get treatment unless they’ve actually already preyed on a child! Part of the reason for this dearth of preventative treatment is, according to the NYT, because all the studies about pedophila have been done on pedophiles who have succumbed to temptation.Many psychiatrists believe that pedophilia has a neurological origin; but people who feel an attraction to children but do not act on it are not included in studies because they are afraid of being charged with a crime they have not yet committed — and so the information about pedophiles is all information about criminals, whose brains, psyches, behavioral patterns, and family histories may be very different from people who successfully resist temptation. It’s a vicious cycle.

I believe very strongly that society shouldn’t do anything that even suggests that attraction to children is within the normal range of sexual experience, and I believe that our laws should prevent child abusers from living and working near children. But refusing to acknowledge the existence of “virtuous pedophiles,” who are struggling against their attraction, is the wrong response.

The longer we refuse to acknowledge the existence of “virtuous pedophiles,” the less likely these suffering souls are to find effective treatment to help them remain virtuous.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann Replaces Finn, Signalling Change in Missouri Diocese

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Finn may not have been aware of Ratigan’s actions, but he should have been. There is no excuse for a bishop to ignore even the hint of sexual abuse in the Church; and whether or not his critics have ulterior motives for wanting him gone, his resignation was necessary. Even Finn’s defenders must agree that the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is hurting badly, and Bishop Finn’s presence as leader was only prolonging the pain. He could not effectively lead the diocese, and the Vatican must make it clear that real change is afoot.

Read the rest at the Register.

They keep telling me to look at the fruits of the Legion of Christ.

Well, the harvest keeps rolling in. Here’s the latest installment:

An Irish-born Chilean priest convicted of sexually abusing a minor while chaplain at a school in Santiago was sentenced to four years of probation Tuesday.

A court in the Chilean capital also banned the Rev. John O’Reilly from any job near children and ordered that his genetic data be added to a registry for abusers.

O’Reilly, who has denied any wrongdoing, was not present during the sentencing. Prosecutors had asked for a 10-year prison sentence.

The court found O’Reilly guilty last month, saying he abused a young girl while he was the spiritual guide at the Cumbres school in the affluent neighborhood of Las Condes.

Relatives had accused the priest of molesting two pre-teen girls between 2010 and 2012. The court absolved him in one case.

O’Reilly arrived in Chile in the mid-1980s and was granted Chilean citizenship in 2008.He is a member of the Legion of Christ, the once-respected conservative order that fell into scandal after it was revealed that its founder had fathered a child and had sexually abused seminarians.

Shut it down. Shut it down. Shut it down, salt the earth, give the victims of LC and RC support, and beg their forgiveness . And remember that the victims include not only the thousands who were sexually, emotionally, and spiritually abused, but also the good men and women who had the bad fortune to get their religious formation from Maciel’s fundamentally perverse and corrupt design. They are victims too, and should be given a way to escape the nightmare world that Maciel built when he designed the Legion specifically to facilitate predators like himself.

There is nothing that LC and RC did or can do that cannot be done by some other order. Shut. It. Down.

 

At the Register: Benedict’s Peculiar Record on Pedophile Priests

As long as old lies keep circulating, we have to keep the truth circulating.