Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Weakland, the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal, and Homophobia

Over at Abbey Roads, Terry Nelson is calling for the burning of former Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s memoir, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church - and this before it’s even been published!

Apparently, it’s not just Weakland’s homosexuality that has raised Nelson’s ire, but the fact that Weakland, when Archbishop of Milwaukee, failed to comprehend the potential harm to the victims of priest sex abuse or realize that what the priests had done constituted a crime.

According to an excerpt from the memoir published in a news story, Weakland writes:

We all considered sexual abuse of minors as a moral evil, but had no understanding of its criminal nature. [I initially] accepted naively the common view that it was not necessary to worry about the effects on the youngsters: either they would not remember or they would ‘grow out of it.’

Truly pathetic but, truth be told, no different from what other prelates and various clergy members are saying. It’s not by accident that Weakland writes “we.”

A dysfunctional hierarchical culture

Which brings me to the first of two things that I find particularly disturbing about Nelson’s post: his total inability to acknowledge the role played by the hierarchical church in both facilitating and dealing with the clergy sex abuse scandal.

In October 2006 I had a commentary published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in which I discussed this scandal and who should be held accountable. Following is an excerpt.

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.

As far as I can gather, these failures continue. For instance, 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.

Not surprisingly, Weakland’s admission of non-comprehension about the criminality of what was going on fails to satisfy survivors of clergy sex abuse (as this recent article attests). Also, it’s wrong to assign special emphasis (and blame) on Weakland’s own sexual orientation – as Nelson appears to do – and yet totally ignore the role that the church as an institutional structure played in both facilitating and covering-up the clergy sex abuse scandal.

No “lone wolf”

Weakland’s defense of non-comprehension has nothing to do with his homosexuality or his affair with an adult male theology student. Nor is it an indication that he was some “lone wolf” bishop thinking about and acting on the abuse issue independently from his fellow bishops - nationally and internationally.

Case in point: At around this time last year during the pope’s visit to the U.S., Cardinal William Levada said: “I know bishops who have said to me, if I had known then what I know now, I would have acted differently.”

Hmm . . . note how these words are not dissimilar to Weakland’s.

Levada (pictured at right) also 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, for instance, posted the following on a BeliefNet message board in response to Levada:

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 wrote:

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?

Interestingly, just today in Ireland a long-awaited inquiry was made public into what has been called the “church-administered abuse” of children by Roman Catholic priests and nuns.

Notes the Telegraph of London:

The investigation has taken nine years, during which time it has heard the testimony of thousands of former residents of [Catholic Church-run] state schools and orphanages over more than 60 years in the Irish Republic. A second report, due to be published in the summer, is expected to criticise the handling of sex-abuse complaints in cases involving up to 500 priests.

The Associated Press reports that among the inquiry’s findings is that “priests and nuns terrorized thousands of boys and girls in workhouse-style schools for decades — and government inspectors failed to stop the chronic beatings, rapes and humiliation.”

The five-volume report — which was resisted by Catholic religious orders — concluded that church officials shielded their orders’ pedophiles from arrest amid a culture of self-serving secrecy. . . . [and that] according to documents uncovered in the Vatican, [they] knew that many pedophiles were serial attackers.

The investigators said overwhelming, consistent testimony from still-traumatized men and women, now in their 50s to 80s, had demonstrated beyond a doubt that the entire system treated children more like prison inmates and slaves than people with legal rights and human potential.

Now here’s the really interesting part (Terry: take note!): as you’ll see in the following excerpt, the same rationale that Weakland offers was also put forward by the leaders of the various religious orders in Ireland. It really does seem to be the “party line” of an institution that is both intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt.

The commission dismissed as implausible a central defense of the religious orders — that, in bygone days, people did not recognize the sexual abuse of a child as a criminal offense, but rather as a sin that required repentance.

In their testimony, religious orders typically cited this as the principal reason why sex-predator priests and brothers were sheltered within the system and moved to new posts where they could still maintain daily contact with children.

But the commission said its fact-finding — which included unearthing decades-old church files, chiefly stored in the Vatican, on scores of unreported abuse cases from Ireland’s industrial schools — demonstrated that officials understood exactly what was at stake: their own reputations.

It cited numerous examples where school managers told police about child abusers who were not church officials — but never did when one of their own had committed the crime.

“Contrary to the congregations’ claims that the recidivist nature of sexual offending was not understood, it is clear from the documented cases that they were aware of the propensity for abusers to re-abuse,” it said.

Making the distinctions, disentangling the issues

The second aspect of Nelson’s post that I find disturbing – and I’ve touched upon it already – is his fixation on Weakland’s sexuality, and on gay male sexuality and its expression in general.

Let’s be clear: No clergy sex abuse survivors organization places blame on homosexuality. They are capable of making the distinction between sexual orientation and sexual abuse; between homosexuality and pedophilia.

Archbishop Weakland had an affair in the late 1970s with an adult male theology student, Paul Marcoux (pictured at left). He did not abuse a pre-pubescent child. In 1998, Marcoux attempted to extort $1 million from Weakland in exchange for a love note the archbishop had written years earlier. He also accused Weakland of date rape in 1979 - a charge that, to this day, Weakland denies. Nevertheless, Weakland paid $450,000 in archdiocesan funds to Marcoux, and when this payment came to light, he resigned.

Soon after Weakland’s resignation in 2002, Margaret Spillane and Bruce Shapiro wrote an exposé on Paul Marcoux for Their concluding paragraph is helpful in putting the Weakland/Marcoux affair into perspective.

What emerges [in the story of Paul Marcoux] is not the tale of a victim but the story of a sponge. . . . Weakland, who had already submitted to a planned mandatory retirement, decided to step aside and apologize – not for his relationship with Marcoux, but for eventually settling his personal affairs at the expense of the archdiocese. Weakland says he will not breach the settlement’s confidentiality agreement. So whatever happened in private between Weakland and Marcoux, the public outcome is clear. The country and the Catholic Church have lost a consistently dignified and passionate activist for women’s equality within the church and for economic equality in the nation. What Marcoux may have gained is a matter of speculation. But the public reality is that Archbishop Weakland was blackmailed, and ultimately punished, for being gay.

What’s clear is that the meticulous reporting of sexual abuse by the Boston Globe -- swinging a wrecking ball through a wall of silence behind which the cries of the innocent were smothered lest they interfere with business as usual – is in danger of giving way to sweeping persecution of gay priests.

Again, note that a clear distinction has been recognized and made between homosexuality and clergy sexual abuse. They are not synonymous. Yet it is clear from reading Terry Nelson’s blog that for those who, for whatever reason, harbor homo-negative feelings, it is difficult not to try and blame homosexuality for the clergy abuse scandal.

Some argue, for instance, that because more boys were abused within the Catholic context than girls, it must be all about male homosexuality. Yet what they forget is that due to the church’s sexist structure and theology, more often than not it is boys rather than girls who are involved in church-related activities and thus accessible to pedophile priests. And let’s not forget that a pedophile, by definition, is attracted to pre-pubescent children – regardless of gender.

Of course there have been and are psycho-sexually stunted gay men in the priesthood - men who are accordingly attracted to teenage boys who are close to their stunted psycho-sexual age. But, contrary to what the Vatican insists, the problem isn’t that these men are gay but that they’re stunted in their growth. And sadly, the church’s sexual theology is, in large part, responsible for this. As you can see, we need to disentangle the various issues at play here.

One final point: the connection we should be focusing on isn’t pedophilia and homosexuality, but rather pedophilia and homophobia.

Dr. Simon Rosser, a leading researcher in human sexuality, makes the following point:

[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.

I find it interesting that Weakland’s recent attempts to come clean about his shortcomings regarding the clergy abuse scandal coincide with a greater honesty about his sexual orientation. In other words, by coming out he has definitely distanced himself from the homophobia of the church (and conquered his own internalized homophobia). He is thus less willing to avoid discussing or to cover-up his role in the clergy sex abuse scandal.

Perhaps more of our bishops and priests should come out as, in doing so, it seems clear to me that we’d have a more honest and healthier church.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Weakland and Cutié: Making the Connections
Spiritual Paternity
More on “Spiritual Paternity”
Homosexuality and the Priesthood
A Lost Opportunity and Still Much Unfinished Work
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal and Reform

Recommended Off-site Links:
Ex-Archbishop Speaks About Catholic Church and Homosexuality - Laurie Goodstein (New York Times, May 14, 2009).
DignityUSA Releases “Talking Points” on Archbishop Weakland’s Coming Out - Progressive Catholic Voice (May 15, 2009).
The Fall and Grace of Archbishop Rembert Weakland - Nihil Obstat (May 21, 2009).
Catholic Church Shamed by Irish Abuse Report - Shawn Pogatchnik (Associated Press, May 20, 2009).


Tc said...

Excellent analysis, Michael.

Anonymous said...

Paraphilia is often the consequence of sexual repression and suppression, and an environment in which human sexuality is taught to be "naughty, nasty, filthy," and similar appellations.

The official teaching of the Church is guilty of precisely these charges. It regards the "only licit" sexuality is opposite-sex and penile-vaginal. Even oral sexuality is a grave moral evil, because, in the Church's teaching, it "spills the seed" outside natural law theory's final end, procreation. Ergo, contraception is illicit, and so is masturbation and homophilia, because each form of sexuality prevents the one and only final end of sperm and ovum's conjugation, and according to the Natural Law, predicated on the Divine Law, the only moral use of our sexual anatomy.

Let me also NOT confuse abortion with ANY of the foregoing.

And these teachings all arose from celibate men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit -- from Abraham to Benedict XVI. And so, when these same pontiffs encounter their celibate priests sexually molesting children, they cannot see that act as materially different from any of the other "prohibited" acts. Likewise, rape, bondage and discipline, and other forms of "violence as sex."

This grave error permeates the Church's episcopal college, regarding the HARMS done by non-consensual children as not materially different from the ?HARMS? done by consenting adults. The violation is "essentially" the same, they surmise, since most of them "have to hide their own sexual peccadillos away from the light of day." The parish pastor and the woman and child he keeps on the parish dole.

The Church has long been the greatest impediment to human knowledge, responsible freedom, and sexual liberty, because mentally-constipated celibates "think up this stuff" in choir. The obsessive-compulsive disorders are rampant among those who have been taught their bodies should not "feel good to them." So, as far as the Church is concerned, the "material" aspect of the sin is the SAME, even though most of us would beg to differ that consenting adults is significantly distinguished from authority/adult and child exploitation. But, then that requires knowledge, discussion, education, and critical thinking skills -- none of which the Catholic Church -- or Christianity -- possess in abundance.

Oh, and everyone knew Weakland was gay, as are many Benedictine monks. If he could not be "out" and "honest," do you think his underling pedophiles did not take advantage of that "inconvenient truth?"

kevin57 said...

There is no doubt that priests have been thrown under the bus by their bishops. They have borne the full brunt of retribution, both canonical and legal, for pedophile acts...and all-too-often, even utterly unsubstantiated whisperings about illicit conduct. Whereas, the bishops have not been removed from ministry, have not had their faculties revoked, etc. for many times egregious failures to protect the tiniest of the flock.

That acknowledged, Weakland is correct...and, dare I be politically incorrect, it's what most of society thought of sexual abuse of children. Let's be honest...up until very recently, and even today very frequently, families do not deal with their "Uncle Arthurs" who take advantage of nieces or nephews.

colkoch said...

Great analysis Michael. The real culprit is the clerical culture and it's need to appear pure.

Kevin, the uncle Arthurs of the world are also being turned in far more frequently. Usually because a professional of some sort has reported the abuse under mandatory reporting laws. In many respects the 'all in the family' mentality is as hard to penetrate as the Catholic clerical culture, but mandatoty reporting has helped innumerable children.

Mark Andrews said...

If the so-called clerical culture of secrecy and power was a demonstrable cause of pedophilia I'd be the first to scrap it. However,

* Not all Catholics are pedophiles
* Not all pedophiles are Catholics
* Not all clerics are pedophiles
* Not all pedophiles are clerics

I am keenly interested in why this hideous, criminal abuse of children exists in the first place, and how it is "transmitted" (for lack of a better word) - perhaps in something I'll call a "family system?" I know just enough about family systems theory to be dangerous, so thanks in advance for a pointer to literature.

Without making any excuses for abuse of any kind or criminal behavior, we can't hold pedophile priests at arms length, much as we'd like to and much as they deserve it.

A question behind the gutless behavior of our bishops (what good is authority if it isn't used when necessary) is this: Where did these guys (pedophile priests) come from? Catholic families.

Abusive behavior has its roots (I'm speculating) in the early family life of the oldest known perpetrator, now long dead. But that suggests a start date in the late 19th century. While our awareness of this evil is new, it is an old problem. So why aren't we looking at where this comes from, in and out of the Church?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Who is saying that the clerical culture of power and secrecy was a "demonstrable cause of pedophilia"?

I think what's clear, however, is that Roman Catholicism's clerical culture exacerbates and greatly enables the all kinds of abusive attitudes and practices.

In a previous Wild Reed post I shared the thoughts of Paul Collins and Diarmuid Ó Murchú on the "diseased system" of clericalism.

Following is an excerpt:

[Clericalism is] a system, writes Collins, “which has developed a kind of moral immunity over the centuries. While it existed before the time of Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), it was he who imposed celibacy universally on the clergy of the Western Catholic Church, and the development of a distinct clerical caste can be roughly dated back to then. Over the centuries, clerics have gradually gained a kind of extraterritoriality by which some of them see themselves as exempt from the usual constraints that govern human behavior.”

“What happens”, says Collins, himself a former priest, “is that everyone who works in the system, no matter how generous, saintly, and virtuous they are, has to struggle to avoid being inexorably caught up in a clericalism that misuses power and that is essentially deceitful and corrupt.”

Collins is quick to point out that he doesn’t believe that priests themselves are necessarily corrupt. Many, he notes, are “men of considerable integrity”. Nevertheless, “they work in a diseased system and it is very difficult for them to avoid the consequences of clericalism.”

Ó Murchú offers a similar analysis, observing that, “Innate to clericalism is a patriarchal, subconscious driving force which is much more about power in the name of religion, rather than about service in the name of spirituality.”



crystal said...

it was not necessary to worry about the effects on the youngsters: either they would not remember or they would ‘grow out of it.’I was abused as a kid by my stepfather and at least in my case, the damage continues even now.

There have been a few discussions here and there in blogdom about blaming the pedophile priest problem on homosexuality. That's unfair and non-factual, and all the psych stuff I've read on the subject makes it clear that there is no connection between same-sex attraction and pedophilia.