Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Accused Priest: Victimizer or Victim?

Of all the groups in public life, accusations against the Catholic priest get heavier media attention, wider public discussion and immediate rush to judgment of guilt, than any comparable group in the United States. Public school teachers who are accused ten times more often of sexual molestation than, for example, priests of the Archdiocese of New York, politicians who abet crime, commit adultery and dip into the public till, “celebrities of the entertainment world who flaunt basic indecencies, almost trade in illicit drugs, all, for the most part, are excused with benign, bemused, understanding slaps on the wrist. The big liberal newspapers and television outlets do note these indiscretions but situate them in a relatively obscure spot in the dissemination of the “news.” Non-priest negatives are allowed to dissipate while priests’ failings, actual or otherwise, are quickly, almost gleefully, fuelled.

One can wonder whether or not the eagerness to destroy a priest is really an intent to destroy the Catholic Church. The most pivotal point of the Catholic Church is the priesthood and hence can become the target area for non-objective and agenda driven reporting. One notes that clergymen of other denominations who, though married, have proportionally equal sexual failure rates, are not highlighted the way Catholic priests are. Why is this? Is it that these priests, as special and public articulators of God’s holiness, should be held to a higher moral standard than politicians, teachers, rock singers and even other clergymen? Perhaps, so! But is that the whole story?

Is all this true? Is this some kind of paranoia on the part of Catholics? Is this mere hypersensitivity? Dr. Philip Jenkins of Penn State University wrote a formidable book THE NEW ANTI-CATHOLICISM, The last Acceptable Prejudice, exposing the reality of the powerful prejudice behind the movement to discredit Catholicism. Tammy Bruce, a fair-minded, lesbian author and media personality, exposes much of the force in back of what we are calling unfairness in her unsettling book, The Death of Right and Wrong. Why is this? Why is there such a volcanic reaction to alleged misconduct of a priest? There are surely many possible motivational dynamics in back of the attacks on priests. Some have more cogency and truth than others but all should be examined.

First of all, the allegations might be true. If this is so, then, we congratulate the media. It is crucial that not only our children but our youth be protected from vicious destructive adults of any and all professions. We enthuse that a wayward priest is immediately dismissed and punished like any other criminal. The Church benefits from such a move as do all Catholic members and most especially do the male teen age members who will then be protected from that priest with his (statistically probable) same sex compulsions.[1] It is alleged that “All the Media is doing is to contribute to a healthier and more honest society…” While this sounds plausible (and probably is, in the case of unfaithful priests), the implied universal judgment of guilt and suspicion applied to all priests is clearly unfair and untrue. It simply isn’t so. All studies rate the sexual failure rate in the priesthood, as an average around 3%. Over 60 years this becomes devastating but it must be seen in perspective. (cf Applewhite; below).

Unless one wears intellectual blinders of ignorance or prejudice, there is clear and authenticated evidence of anti-Catholic animus. Bluntly stated, sheer prejudice and dislike of the Catholic Church may be driving editors, publishers, journalists, anchor persons and educators to such unmitigated slanted reporting. Clearly, there is always the possibility that these “driven” zealots might be (only) unconsciously bigoted. They, when challenged, indignantly insist that they are only telling the public what the public needs[2] to know with all the frills one learns in the liberal Columbia School of J. However, we have witnessed somewhat startling revelations from courageous reporters who tell the truth about the Media from the inside. Bernie Goldberg, a long time reporter from CBS wrote two shocking books about what really happens in Newsrooms. In his #1 New York Times bestseller, Bias, he created a national firestorm when he exposed the biases of the mainstream media. His second book, Arrogance, tells of the assumptions of Media which lead to biased reporting and slanted news. Objective news reporting seems far away from today’s reality. One must consider the agenda which begin to become obvious.

The article in America (Sept.25, 2006) by Monica Applewhite of Praesidium, Inc. called “Putting Abuse in Context” gives an interesting perspective. The problem of sexual abuse occurs in a much wider context than one can glean from the standard press reports. It occurs far more frequently than the homosexual Catholic priest scandal. She presents tested data through which guidelines for dealing with sexual offenders have been clearly articulated. However, these guidelines are presented for every situation—not only the Catholic Church. Boy Scouts, Big Brothers, YMCA, the Episcopal Church among others have all acted appropriately in incorporating guidelines into their structures. Percentage wise, there is not a great deal of difference relative to failure rates. However, all should be treated equally and there ought to be a level playing field here! Why accent one over any other?

One possibility for the “agenda” focusing on Catholic priests might stem from the contemporary insistence on what is called “sexual rights.” This insistence usually means that the modern wishes to separate sexual activity from the possibility of procreating a child. This position is fairly obvious when one dialogues with that segment of our society jocosely called “the Second Avenue bar crowd” where boy meets girl after a hard day’s work with implication of “fun and games.”. The Witness of Chastity in Catholic priests and religious is largely maintained as advertised but does evoke criticism from the “moderns” who loudly proclaim that chastity (or celibacy as they see it) is impossible to achieve. Therefore those who live allegedly chaste lives are either lying or are very sick.[3] So when an accusation against a priest is made, shouts of triumph and exaltation make the headlines. It is as if sexual weakness in the homosexual priest validates the free life style of the critics. This point simply suggests that the chastity of priests is a rebuke to the champions of the New Way of Life!

There is always the possibility that the critics were offended by some arrogant Pastor of their childhood and they have never gotten over it! But who of us was not slighted or pushed around or belted by a parochial school teacher? Is destroying a religious life by calumny[4] justified?[5] It is for no small reason that the eighth Commandment FROM GOD states “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” In effect, this is what the Church labels a mortal sin objectively greasing the slide into an eternal Hell.

A case in point is a recent situation where an elderly priest, suffering from cancer, has been accused by “some one” that this priest molested him[6] almost 50 years ago. The priest was notified that he cannot function as a priest publicly unless and until the charge is fully examined. The priest was given no further information. The priest, totally stunned, thought this was a “practical joke.” He asked when did this allegedly happen? The reply” “We are not sure.” He asked where did this allegedly happen? The reply: “We are not sure.” He asked how often did this allegedly happen? The reply” “We are not sure.” He asked what was the nature of the alleged offense? The reply: “We are not sure.” Who is the accuser? Reply: Some one.

In effect, without any proof, authorities acted completely on the word of someone, who suddenly surfaces to defame a priest with an honorable career in the priesthood. The priest, well known by many colleagues (including this writer for 50 years), has no inclination or interest in homosexual matters, has clear devotion to the Lord and Our Lady and has been rightfully trusted by anyone who has crossed his priestly path. One must ask again the hard questions. Why would anyone engage in such despicable, unrighteous behavior?

For the streetwise, of course, the first thought is money. In my own experience of serving for five years on a Diocesan committee for reviewing clerical sexual misconduct, I have seen several flimsy allegations from money seeking people. Unwisely, sometimes Church authorities tried to buy off” accusers with what really amounted to Hush Money. The obvious occurred. The accuser asked for (or pleaded for) more money in the light of the rising cost of living (or “unanticipated expenses”). Interestingly, in the initial stage of accusation, the accuser would often pointedly state that “I am not interested in money—only in justice and protection of others from this priest…” However, in a surprisingly short period of time, somehow, the matter of money crept into the investigation. Subtly, quietly, suddenly we are talking about significant sums of money.

One lawyer, interested in this sphere of practice, noted during the height of the scandal that a “lot money can be made off the Church.” Another, in the state of New Jersey, who specializes in suing the Catholic Church notes that he needs only one or two such cases per year to live very comfortably. One person who was molested by both a priest and a public school teacher said that he would sue the priest over the teacher because there was more money to be made from the Church than the Board of Ed. One cannot easily dismiss this factor in probing for the truth of this whole problem. However, it is not the only or even dominant factor involved.

It is also most interesting that when an American Bishop announced that his Diocese would not “dole” out large cash palliatives to persons allegedly molested by priests. Henceforth, he said that all accusations will go to trial. No concessions. No settlements. Court trials only! How does one then explain the sudden plummeting and decline of accusations--- after his announcement. Is it cynical or realistic to note that Dollar signs are flashing in greedy eyes?

The infamous Tiwana Brawley case of some years ago was a glaring example of calumny and its heart breaking consequences for so many persons falsely accused. Broken marriages, bankruptcies, emotional breakdowns, came on the heels of an absurd charge which was encouraged and supported by prominent persons. At present (Jan. 2007) there is possibly another glaring case of false accusation in the Duke University lacrosse situation wherein several young men have been accused of sexual molestation. These young men may be innocent but have suffered enormous losses of time, money and reputation. These are not examples of persecuting the Catholic Church but they do illustrate the evil of false accusations.

In the Catholic experience there is the notorious case of Cardinal Bernadin of Chicago in which a homosexual man claimed through the dubious mode of dream recall[7] that he was molested by Bernadin years before. The man recanted his claim and the Cardinal was totally exonerated. His Eminence, however, did publicly reveal the suffering he endured from this falsehood as he was dying from cancer. Was this man’s accusation for the hope of money? Was it to embarrass the Catholics for the Church’s stance on the evil of homosexual behavior? Was he encouraged by activist Gay groups in their campaign to break down basic morals, as has been suggested?

Is it possible that the accuser mis-identifies? Is he a psychotic ranting against some demon in his fantasy-life which torments his psyche? Is he just hopping on the Catholic bashing band wagon? Any of these possibilities is preferable to the sheer evil of a deliberate false accusation. Whatever the reality, the innocent priest is a Victim. The guilty priest is obviously another story. Telling the Truth wherever it may lead is still the “way to go.” The Scriptures clearly teach that the Truth does make one free. However, Lies and calumnies have a way of catching up. Beware, ye ones who wish evil on innocents!
[1] The priest scandal largely involved homosexual behaviors, not pederastic ones. The media continues to refer to the problem as if it were about pre-pubescent children,. It was largely about teen aged males, not females and not children of either sex. Homosexual priests were responsible for approximately 4 out of every 5 cases of molestation reported over a period of 60 years. This, in itself is non-objective reporting.
[2] “needs” are defined by the superior intelligence of Media.
[3] There are certain radical groups within the Catholic Church, including some “with it” priests and religious who, finding chaste celibacy too difficult, lobby for sexual “rights”
[4] calumny means outright lies about another human being thereby ruining that person’s good name and possibly career.
[5] Obviously, this is in reference to FALSE charges. Homosexual (or otherwise) priests who molest others are liable themselves before God.
[6] One can use the masculine gender in al most every case since there have been, up to now Zero allegations of priests molesting, for example, altar girls who are now serving at the altar for about 12 years. The clear inference is that priest molesters are usually not interested in females.
[7] Dream recall is highly criticized for its unscientific and unreliable procedure. Cf APA position on this matter.

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