Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Lost Opportunity and Much Unfinished Work

Despite the pope’s apology for the “pain” caused by the
sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, the complicity
of the Roman hierarchy in the sex abuse crime/scandal
has largely gone unacknowledged, and the church’s
“pedophilic theology” remains unchallenged.

Some have been rhapsodizing about Pope Benedict’s public apology for the decades-long Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal, and his private meeting with six people (three of whom are pictured at left) who, as children, were victims of clergy sexual abuse.

I’m not so impressed, however, as I’ve yet to hear from the pope an apology for his own and other members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s complicity in the sex abuse scandal.

In October 2006 I had a commentary published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in which I discussed who was to blame for the church’s sex abuse crimes, and who should be held accountable.

Part of my commentary reads as follows:

Pedophile priests must be brought to justice, that’s a given, as must members of the church hierarchy who knowingly ignore such priests’ criminal activity and simply transfer them to other parishes or dioceses.

Yet what of the structures and attitudes that surround, enable, and even encourage and reward such deplorable actions?

Could it be that the scandal is so overwhelming because of the church’s dysfunctional hierarchical culture – one more reflective of imperial hubris than of the egalitarian model of community offered by Jesus? It is a culture clearly prone to face-saving silence and conspiratorial efforts at covering up and scapegoating rather than acknowledging and reporting long-term abuse of children and youth.

It is clear that the Vatican has failed in many ways. It has failed in promoting a teaching that reflects the diverse reality of human sexuality; it has failed in encouraging GLBT people, in particular, to celebrate and integrate their God-given gift of sexuality, preferring instead to promote through groups such as Courage, a shame-based preoccupation with sexual repression; it has failed to protect children from sexual abuse by pedophile priests; and it has failed to hold itself fully accountable for its own complicity in this abuse.

I want to focus on this last point. In short, it appears to me to remain true. Members of the hierarchy have yet to hold themselves fully accountable and thus apologize for their role in various aspects of the sexual abuse scandal - a scandal that not only saw minors abused by members of the Roman Catholic clergy, but known offending clergy shuffled around from parish to parish, and survivors of the abuse, when they courageously step forth and seek justice, still often being treated more like criminals than the abusing priests.

As far as I can gather, the only thing the pope has said about the hierarchy’s complicity in the sexual abuse crime/scandal during his visit to the U.S. is that this scandal was “very badly handled.” I’m sorry, but that’s not good enough.

LaLonne Murphy, who was one of a number of Catholics featured in a recent Minnesota Monthly story about the “Fate of the Faithful,” had a powerful letter in yesterday’s Star Tribune in which she offered a much more just and healing way by which the pope could acknowledge and apologize for the hierarchy’s role in the sex abuse crime/scandal.

Murphy’s letter reads as follows:

Say more, please

Aboard “Shepherd I” on his way to the United States, Pope Benedict said he is ashamed of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Ashamed? That is the vocabulary of a victim. When the perpetrator speaks and acts as a victim, beware! It appears the Vatican continues to proceed as if this sexual-abuse scandal is more the fault of the media than abusive priests and complicit bishops and cardinals.

As a political and religious figure, the pope is obliged to offer a sincere apology to the families and victims of clergy sexual abuse. His predecessor, John Paul II, apologized to Muslims for the Crusades, Jews for anti-Semitism, Orthodox Christians for the sacking of Constantinople, Italians for the Vatican’s associations with the Mafia and to scientists for the persecution of Galileo. John Paul II issued 90 statements of contrition.

Why can’t this pope say, “I am deeply sorry for the wounds so many of you have suffered at the hands of your trusted pastors, teachers and religious leaders and the ensuing cover-ups and denials by church officials. I humbly ask forgiveness?” Does he not know that amends for grave sin and moral failures are required before harmony can be reestablished? I believe his failure to admit wrong-doing and apologize for this injustice from within the organization renders the pope impotent to call for justice and moral order in the world.

From the first sighting of the white smoke indicating a pope had been chosen, Vatican spokespersons were telling people to give Benedict a chance. Well, here’s another chance for His Holiness.

LaLonne Murphy

And then there’s the perspective of Barbara Blaine (right), a survivor of clergy sexual abuse and the president of the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Yesterday, she told Newsweek that “the enablers — the church leaders who engage in the cover up and enabling of perpetrators — should be punished.”

“Bishops or church leaders who are found to knowingly lead a cover-up should be fired,” she said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to remain as bishops. The religious superiors around the world who are harboring fugitive priests and giving them sanctuary should be forced to resign, as well.”

Of course, there are some within the church who refute the idea that members of the hierarchy “aided and abetted” priest-abusers by not acting to remove them.

At a news conference yesterday, Cardinal William Levada (left), the former San Francisco archbishop who Joseph Ratzinger named to replace himself at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) when Ratzinger was elected pope, responded to such a suggestion by declaring: “I don’t believe that [was the case].”

He added, “I know bishops who have said to me, if I had known then what I know now, I would have acted differently.” He insisted that bishops who moved abusers around to other parishes or did not remove them from ministry were acting on bad advice from experts and psychiatrists.

“[This scandal] has been a learning experience for bishops,” he said. “I personally do not accept that there has been a broad base of bishops guilty of aiding and abetting pedophiles . . . If I thought there were, I would certainly want to talk to them about that.”

The cardinal’s words don’t convince everyone, of course. Thomas Doyle (right), for instance, posted the following on a BeliefNet message board:

Bishops have been shifting the blame to psychologists for a decade. This . . . is grossly dishonest. I have seen scores of reports wherein psychologists said that priests were not fit for ministry. Some bishops just ignored them and many others twisted them to interpret them in a way that would be favorable to their needs. The bottom line is that bishop were intentionally negligent. Any adult male leader of anything who claims that he did not know that grown men having sex with minors is wrong and insidiously harmful to minors, is either an idiot or a liar or both. Levada’s arrogant line is the same as everyone else in the Vatican and most bishops. Basically they are saying its someone else's fault and in reality, its their fault.

On the same message board, Augusta Wynn writes:

More than any other bishop, [Levada] and Cardinal Law knew all about the sex abuse crisis in 1985. His arrogance has caused the church billions and now he whimpers about psychologists being responsible. . . . Levada placed a known pedophile as his chancellor in San Francisco and put him in charge of creating sex abuse policies for the dioceses all over the U.S. Levada admitted under oath that he knew Rev. Gregory Ingels was a pedophile since 1996. Might someone want to mention this to him?

Meanwhile, Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether notes the following in a current blog discussion hosted by the New York Times:

Declaring himself to be “deeply ashamed” by the misbehavior of Catholic priests in the sexual abuse cases, the Pope said it “is more important to have good priests than many priests” . . . [However] when a church recruits its leadership exclusively from those who repress their sexuality and are taught to view sex as the opposite of sacredness, it is inevitable that some of those who take such vows have an immature sexuality that will be acted out secretly in sexual abuse of the vulnerable, young boys and girls. Until the Catholic Church faces up to the way its negative views of sexuality are connected with sexual abuse, it will continue to be faced with the problem of priests who are both not “good” and also not “many.”

Ruether’s remarks remind me of the observations and comments made by Simon Rosser, PhD, renowned researcher on sexuality and sexual health, during an interview I conducted with him in 2004 for CPCSM’s Rainbow Spirit journal.

As you’ll see from the following excerpts, Rosser has some interesting things to say about, among other things, the “pedophilic theology” of the Roman Catholic Church.

The theology of human sexuality that the church is teaching is seriously disturbed. [. . .] Part of the problem is that as the scientific world advanced, the church first didn’t keep pace with change, and then became a refuge for those frightened of change, including the psychosexually underdeveloped. I don’t think it’s fair to expect the church to be ahead of science, but when it lags so far behind, it loses credibility and starts becoming extremist.

Fundamentalists of various varieties – Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, and Christian – appear to perceive science and medicine as a threat, and seem to confuse their particular brand of God’s Revelation with ultra-conservatism. They all interpret their special brand of ‘truth’ to condemn homosexuality. Curiously, all of them are simultaneously displaying the scandals you get when ultra-orthodoxy runs amok – scandals of power, pedophilia, and abuse. What do the Taliban, Catholic clergy, and the ex-gay movement have in common? All of them are mired in sex abuse scandals – the Taliban in gang rape of Afghani boys, Catholic priests in child molestation of boys, and the ex-gay ministers in orgies and abuse of clients. Clearly, we Catholic don’t have a monopoly on abuse, but sadly, our sexual theology is very impoverished.

In my opinion, several of the Church’s recent statements on sexuality read as if they were written by a 12-year-old, or someone attracted to 12-year-olds. This places bishops like Archbishop Flynn, who has one of the deepest commitments to addressing the problem of pedophilia in the priesthood, in an untenable position. He has publicly declared he will do whatever it takes to address the sexual abuse in our clergy; yet he is ordered to defend a sexual theology that experts predict will perpetuate another generation of abuse.

[We need to remember that] the same people who attempted to cover up clergy sex abuse are the one’s formulating the church’s current sexual theology condemning homosexuality and same-sex marriage. This isn’t a coincidence. The homophobia inherent in the current articulation of church policy mirrors the homophobia in pedophilic clients, pre-treatment.

Rosser sees hope in the fact that the situation is so bad that American Catholics “will be forced to think for themselves.” And that’s a good thing, he insists. “Whether it’s homosexuality, contraception, premarital sex, divorce, masturbation, or HIV prevention,” says Rosser, “the official church position is now so extreme, so negative, so ultra-conservative, and so ill-informed that I’m confident that less than five percent of Catholics actually believe or follow Catholic sexual teaching.”

In terms of remedying the sex abuse crisis and the overall impoverishment of Roman Catholicism’s sexual theology, Rosser suggests that “the first step is for the scientists and the bishops to sit down at the same table and talk. I spent over ten years treating pedophiles and incest families. Watching the church is like watching a giant incest family play out its dynamics. It’s deeply dysfunctional, it’s really sad, but it’s also fascinating. And it probably has to fall apart some more before real reform can be initiated.”

And what will “real reform” look like? According to Rosser, “signs of real reform, as opposed to cosmetic cover-up, include reform of the Vatican level – holding the Congregation of the Faith responsible for overseeing both the sexual abuse by clergy and the promotion of pedophilic theology, “mainstreaming” of Catholicism from ultra-conservative positions to more moderate ones, and the establishment of genuine dialog between scientists and bishops on this issue.”

Either the church will reform or it will die, says Rosser. Yet, “given the ability of the Catholic Church to survive, I’m confident it will reform,” he declares. “But,” he adds, “we have to do our part. American Catholics need to think for ourselves, to distinguish pedophilic propaganda from Catholic teaching, to support bishops and specifically to demand they reform or close down the Congregation of the Faith, and to commit to prioritizing a healthy adult-focused sexual theology. It has to happen. So, it’s a great time to be Catholic and, hopefully, to be part of the change that must come.”

Image 1: Three of the six survivors of the Roman Catholic sex abuse crime/scandal who met with the pope on Thursday, April 17, 2008. From left: Olan Horne, Faith Johnston and Bernie McDaid. (CNN)
Image 2: The Blade/Lisa Dutton.
Image 3: Source unknown.
Image 4: The Blade.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Why This Pope Doesn’t Connect - Lisa Miller (Newsweek, April 21, 2008).
Abuse Victims Warily Consider Pope’s Words - Richard G. Jones and Abby Goodnough (New York Times, April 18, 2008).
Empty Promises - Daniel Stone (Newsweek, April 18, 2008).
Archdiocese Blocks Bills to Help Sex Abuse Victims - Paula Ruddy (Progressive Catholic Voice, January 2008).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The “Perfect Papal Visit” Will Require a “Listening Pope”
Ghostwriting for the Pope
Assessing the U.S. Catholic Church
A Church That Can and Cannot Change
Agreeing with the Vatican
Uta Ranke-Heinemann on the Future of the Catholic Church
Authentic Catholicism: The Antidote to Clericalism
Listen Up, Papa!
What it Means to be Catholic
The Two-Sided Catholic Crisis
Crisis? What Crisis?
The “Underground Church”
A Catholic’s Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI


Anonymous said...

Quoting Dr. Reuther "...when a church recruits its leadership exclusively from those who repress their sexuality and are taught to view sex as the opposite of sacredness, it is inevitable that some of those who take such vows have an immature sexuality that will be acted out secretly in sexual abuse of the vulnerable, young boys and girls."

If this assertion is correct, how is "an immature sexuality that will be acted out secretly" to be explained outside the Catholic Church? There are other religious communities, Christian and non-Christian, who do not have the same polity as the Roman Catholic Church. Two minutes with Google will demonstrate that more than just a minority of Catholic clergy and religious engage in such deplorable behavior.

This is also true entirely outside of religious and/or hierarchic settings - in business and government, including public education.

Sexual abuse of children, and any organizational structure that enables such abuse, are rightfully condemned. But the Catholic Church is not the only place such abuse happens. Would that equal attention were paid to all people abusing children, and all organizational structures enabling such abuse - including those unrelated to Roman Catholicism.

kevin57 said...

The bishops have thrown their clergy under the bus. The Dallas Protocols violate several basic procedures of justice that in some ways, the cure is worse than the harm that was done:

1) There is no distinction between violations and their punishments. A priest who rapes a five-year-old and one who puts his hand on a seventeen-year-olds rear end receive the same punishment.

2) It is a post-facto law. Many priests who molested one time in the 1950s and never violated again were stripped of their priesthood and live now in disgrace. But the law was not in place in the 1950s. Analogy: one day smoking may be outlawed (not utterly unreasonable). Can you imagine anyone who ever smoked being fined/put in prison?

3) Rightly put, how is the "enabler" and sometimes even "facilitator" of these behaviors not treated with the same procedure and punishment as the perpetrator? That is, the bishop as the priest In fact, cynically, I think that the bishops' and even the pope's "newfound" outrage against priests keeps the discussion from being directed at them.

I wish Rosser had said more about the connection between the Church's sexual morality and its precise connection with pedophilia. It's a provocative hypothesis and one worth exploring, but I missed the connection.

CDE said...


Your comments are alarming (as usual).

Who cares if the law was implemented post-fact? It's not as if natural law and good reason changed. Rape was wrong before 1950, was it not? And it never was understood to be a privilege of the clergy. No one should hide behind the fact that "I didn't know that sexual abuse of others was a punishable crime." Ahem. Only a narcissist of the first order could say this with a straight face.

As regards punishment / reparation for the neglect of bishops - it does seem (from the limited perspective of someone not working inside the Curia) that feet have not been held to the fire. However, the approach that Benedict XVI took with Father Maciel, founder of the Legionnaires, may signal that the Catholic Church is less invested in public shaming than our founding fathers, the Puritans, but equally concerned about reparation and justice.

The Vatican's decision to air the Pope's address to the bishops on national TV, despite the wishes of the bishops, may signal a positive trend to no longer protect the egos of those bishops who have spent so much time protecting their images rather than protecting the faithful.

kevin57 said...


My statements are alarming. This is what I call alarming:

1) Those who actively encourage or promote homosexual acts or such activity within a homosexual lifestyle formally cooperate in a grave evil and, if they do so knowingly and willingly, are guilty of mortal sin. They have broken communion with the church and are prohibited from receiving holy Communion until they have had a conversion of heart, expressed sorrow for their action and received sacramental absolution from a priest. (Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, 11/15/07, "")

2) "ONE of Scotland's most senior Catholics has launched an attack on the 'gay lobby' in Scotland, claiming there is a "huge and well-orchestrated conspiracy" against Christian values.
The Rt Rev Joseph Devine, Bishop of Motherwell and president of the Catholic Education Commission, said gay rights organisations aligned themselves with minority groups, such as Holocaust survivors, to project an 'image of a group of people under persecution'.

He warned that the gay lobby – which he labelled "the opposition" – had mounted 'a giant conspiracy' to shape public policy.

He singled out the actor Sir Ian McKellen, who was given a New Year honour for services to gay rights, pointing out that Oscar Wilde was locked up only a century ago for homosexual acts. The bishop said he would 'not tolerate' the 'behaviour' of a child struggling to come to terms with his or her homosexuality.

In the fourth of the Gonzaga Lectures held at St Aloysius' College in Glasgow on Tuesday, Bishop Devine said: 'The homosexual lobby has been extremely effective in aligning itself with minority groups.

'It is ever-present at the service each year for the Holocaust memorial, as if to create for themselves the image of a group of people under persecution. We neglect the gay movement at our peril.

'I want to ask you if you are able to see the giant conspiracy that's taking place before our eyes, even if we didn't see it at the time. I take it you're beginning to see that there is a huge and well-orchestrated conspiracy taking place, which the Catholic community missed.'

He went on: 'In this New Year's honours list, I saw actor Ian McKellen being honoured for his work on behalf of homosexuals, when a century ago Oscar Wilde was locked up and put in jail. "It's a very small group of people, but very active and organised – and extremely indulgent. The opposition know exactly what they're doing. We don't.'

[O]ne audience member asked how Catholic parents should "come to terms with a child's mission to become homosexual".

The bishop replied: "This must be a nightmare moment for any parent. There are many days when I'm glad to not be a parent. I would try to handle it with a degree of compassion, but I would not tolerate (it]." (, 3/13/08)

3)"Abortion, euthanasia and genetic manipulation, and those who promote homosexual unions are expressions of 'terrorism with a human face' said Cardinal Amato of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. ("Spero News," 4/24/07)

No, my reflections, though a voice in the wilderness on this issue, are shared by none other than (Cardinal) Avery Dulles, one of the very few theologians and not careerists, among the American hierarchy. See his excellent article in America, June 21, 2004.

Anonymous said...

Reading Michael's expanded post, I picked up on the phrase "blame shifting to psychologists."

Its fair to use this excuse once at most. If somebody re-offends, even once, that's enough evidence to say that the psychologists were wrong.

It doesn't take the sense God gave a fence post to realize that, if somebody abuses kids even after treatment, its time to get off that bike. The offender can't be around kids ever again. Not to be crass, but if that causes supply problems at Sunday Mass, too dang bad.

My impression is that even businesses, while certainly not models of moral behavior, will deal with this kind of sexualized violence better than the Church did. If not for noble reasons than for self-protection.

Anonymous said...

I want the record to show that Archbishop John Quinn was "forced" out by JPII and Ratzinger, through the devices of Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., the Ave Maria chaplain of Domino Pizza capitalist exploitation.

Quinn was the FIRST and only religious figure to appoint Fr. Michael Lopes, O.P. as pastoral AIDS Minister. He had authored a pastoral on homosexuality in 1975, when he was bishop of San Diego, that lead Paul VI to appoint him to a leading diocese. Quinn opposed Dignity vociferously, insisting that the Church does not have "separate" services for "you" and "us." Quinn always insisted on "one holy catholic and apostolic church, and upon his appointment the Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe was his bridge from "Irish priests" to the "Hispanic" ignored.

Quinn fostered Most Holy Redeemer's unique ministry to gay catholics in the Castro, and the national media sent its cameras to show the nation a pastor's conclusion to a Forty Hours and Week of Prayer for AIDS, when other Christians were calling for "quarantine." Quinn's pastoral reach was to "all people," for which he suffered nothing but grief (largely from Fr. Fessio, Ratzinger's protege). Rather than be deposed after JPII's 1988 visit, Quinn retired, as did ALL his gay organists, acolytes, and cantors. Those who did not die, became Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to mock a "hierarchy" of queens no longer with credibility.

Gay priests throughout the 1970s and 1980s were "open," many chastely, those not obvious. But voices could not be silenced by fiat, without stifling all voices. When Quinn resigned, those in holy orders and gay left entirely.

The San Francisco Jesuits tried to "reach" Portland's Levada, appointed by JPII and Ratzinger from a roster even Mt Angel Abbey could not discern. But Levada was the first prelate to urge concealment of STRAIGHT sexual predators -- dismissal of gay predators (except none existed).

In fealty to Fessio, Ratzinger brought Levada to Rome (along with the "miscreants" beyond the S.F. District Attorney's reach) as his and "orthodoxy defender," defender of "straight" sexual abuse protectorates.

Gay priests were OPEN during Paul VI and early JPII, some even sexually active (as were STRAIGHT priests), many from St. Patrick's Seminary or St. Albert's House of Studies, but all were "Open," deceit seen as "unChristian."

Only a couple of Irish monsignors had straight harems, such as St. Philip's in Noe Valley, who plundered his parish for his harem's needs (and his Porsche cars). Quinn knew of the Irish defects, of the Monsignor's harem and wealth, since his parishioners could not mistake the priest who "said Mass in 12 minutes," and had a pub fest to the alcoholics, before spinning the girlfriends "for Christ." Quinn did ask all clergy to at least keep their escapades from public view.

A true pastor knows sinners are pastors, and pastors are sinners, "altogether." Until Fessio, the Gestapo Jesuit ejected from the Archdiocese and the Jesuit Community as "dysfunctional."

But Fessio is the profile of the Vatican, Evangelical, and Rabbinical "tyrant." He does not nudge the errant, he demands they follow his authority. Quinn WAS that pastor that Fessio thought "indulgent" of sinners, a pastor even my gay Catholic friends would visit on the high holidays (and not to look at Sacred Heart's acolytes). A pastor that Fr. Lopes admired for his authenticity and being on the "forefront" of justice, equality, and care. As Quinn had worked for the Farm Worker's justice. As Quinn brought together a "church" to join its "universal pastor." Quinn was a "liability" to the ultramontane." The Church as Gestapo needs Benedicts, not Quinns.

Quinn stepped aside for Portland's Levada. He ruined that diocese, he'd ruin San Francisco. Let the little pricks rule with their sexual pathologies. Fessio, Ratzinger, and JPII discovered they had better fish to fry: Mother Teresa. Women obey. The Church demands it, or go to hell. I doubt it works any more. Even Catholics today have to deny everything to make themselves palatable. For who? Power.

kevin57 said...

Gay Species,

I am not familiar enough with the scene in SF either to affirm or dispute your narrative, but I know it is not the stuff of conspiratorial paranoia. Question: what was the political machinations that went into the Jesuits dismissing Fessio from his editorship?

Personally, I make a distinction between JPII and Benedict. At least JPII believed he was trying to "authentically" interpret and implement Vatican II's teaching (One can dispute his aims and methods, but I do think he believed his mission sincere in that regard.) However, this one doesn't even pretend to be living out of the spirit of Vatican II. He has all but ignored it.

CDE said...

I know it is not the stuff of conspiratorial paranoia.


That seems like a rash judgment. Please attempt to provide some evidence!


That was an exhausting rant. So much detraction in a single post! (see paragraph 2477):

Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.

He becomes guilty:
- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;
- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

Now I know you're not a Christian, but the 10 Commandments are not for Christians alone. They're for all human beings.

kevin57 said...

What I was saying, Clayton, is that many might read GS's account and interpretation of events as far-fetched or impossible for churchmen to do, but I wouldn't dismiss or reject his words outright. I said I could not speak to the veracity or mendacity of his post, but I do know that such political maneuverings do indeed occur in the Church...and not infrequently.