Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How Much is Enough for S.N.A.P.?

In the winter of 1986 I suffered what is technically called an M.I. (myocardial infarction) or heart attack. For several months I underwent the slow, discouraging and sometimes painful routine called cardiac rehab. On one of the hottest and most humid days of that July, I was scheduled for one of my periodic stress tests in a clinic on Manhattan’s fashionable East side. It was so fashionable one of the Directors decided to close the facility because of the uncomfortable weather conditions. Alas for me, some one “forgot” to call me about the cancellation. I showed up, on time, after a wearying trek across town, sweaty, heart pounding and exhausted only to find posted on the front door a sign that was, to me, horrific. ‘Clinic closed today.”

The following day, with a huge sense of justified ire, I called the clinic on the telephone and chewed out the charge nurse. I ranted. I raved. I fumed. She listened to me somewhat impatiently, then replied with a jaded, bored tone: “What do you want me to do?” I was temporarily stumped for a reply. In my visceral self I knew that the error or misjudgment or irresponsibility was now historical. There was no way the past injustice to me could be replayed for correction. I had to accept the historical fact that I had been mistreated. I had been treated poorly. While it could not be honestly excused, my remonstrations and criticisms were useless. There was nothing I (or anyone else) could do to eliminate my inconvenience. I had to swallow hard, make another appointment and go on from there. It became apparent to me that my anger and fury were hurting no one but me. The methodology ultimately worked. In time, I found peace and forgiveness which benefited me.

To equate such an experience and its resolution with the sexual molestation of a teenager by a cleric who is probably homosexual, is, of course, absurd and sheer nonsense. Yet there are several common factors shared in both experiences which might be analyzed with some profit. One: in both instances, a person has a painful and negative experience. Two: there is difficulty healing from that painful experience. Again this is not equation but analogy. It is the principle and dynamic which presently are of primary interest to the writer. Healing is necessary in any event for all human beings who have been hurt on any level. The magnitude of the pain of molestation here is obviously different from a broken medical appointment---astronomically so but the dynamic for healing might be similar. It is patently clear that there can be no equality between the two “pains.” However, the intention of this paper is to analyze the principle of forgiveness and its consequence of inner peace.

Let us examine some background. Church records show that for over sixty years, certain Americans, mostly male and adolescent, have been shamefully misused by selfish, ego-centered, (usually homosexual) clerics[1] who exploit their own exalted status to sear and ravage young people. Recently, the New Oxford Review published an article describing the shameful and disgusting behavior of these unfaithful clerics. The article was indeed helpful for those trying to understand this clerical phenomenon. In the Catholic lay and clerical groups there were clearly feelings of shame and disbelief and anger. There were justified protests and demands that this type of behavior must be stopped. However there was a “tone” to the article which bothered me—as much as I agree with the expositions and outrage stemming from a disgrace which wounds all Catholics. This tone could in the long run actually hurt those wounded ones who are seeking the priceless gift of peace of mind—to say nothing of maintaining their Faith. The article, I thought, too facilely discounted what has been done to help the healing process and by so doing contributed to the pain of the victims.

To discount the strenuous efforts of the Church is to do a disservice to those who try to recover from a terrifying and perplexing experience. Their Faith should not be torn from them as well which is what a skewed focus could bring. It is important, for healing, to recognize and strengthen the efforts made to “clean it all up.” It is also important to recognize that the sinful behavior of those clerics was blatantly and totally at variance with their own Church’s teaching. In effect one must not throw out Christ’s Church but only the erring and unfaithful clerics. During his recent visit to the United Sates Pope Benedict XVI adverted to this terror at least five times, apologized for it, saw several of the victims personally and admonished Catholic leaders to “do the right thing.” Seminaries must be tightened up. Admission procedures must be strict. Bishops must be fatherly but insistent that priests be priestly. There are to be no “cover-ups.” There must be complete cooperation with criminal justice systems in this matter. Recruiters must be determined to reject practicing homosexuals[2] or those who are “gay-friendly” (which means accepting homosexual mores and looking the other way when there are Caution lights in abundance.)

However, is sometimes sad to see the results of the very strict Regulations presently in force. Even a single allegation can result in an innocent priest’s removal, “temporarily” but immediately, while an investigation is carried on. There were several instances of false charges wherein the priest was removed and later re-instated but with enormous difficulty since the rumors floated—“where there is smoke…….” The priest’s life was substantially destroyed. Dioceses made terrible mistakes trying to “buy off” accusers, giving out large sums of money hoping (foolishly) that maybe they will go away and the scandal will never come to light. Anyone dealing in law enforcement would smell the nasty aroma of Blackmail.

The NOR article blithely discounts the statistical fact that fewer and fewer charges are being made. Such a statistic is dismissed as “…simply because they are not reported.” It would be interesting to learn how the author of the article would disprove this negative. Speculation is not highly regarded in sociological or psychological research.

In fact, there has been enormous correction by the Church. In the cases of the unfortunate victims of molestation, there has been super extensive effort to help them heal. It is common knowledge that Dioceses in this country have gone almost bankrupt in giving great sums of money to victims. This has often resulted in major cutbacks in pastoral services for some people in desperate need. It is reasonable for Bill Donahue, of the Catholic League, to raise the legitimate Caveat about the possibility that some charges might be untrue. There are known lawyers who publicly state that there is much to be made off the Church in these terrible cases—even if the charge is false. We had had the scam-like behavior of those who falsely charged Cardinal Bernardin and Cardinal Egan of improper behavior while lesser known clerics have suffered the same indignity without the support of the larger public.. Unfortunately, there are some people who do make allegations, without substance, in the hope of the “quick buck.” There are people in society who plan the “deep pocket” possibility without shame.

I, myself, spent five years, as part of a committee to assess priestly misbehavior in a large Catholic archdiocese. Most of the cases presented to us were real cases of revolting sexual violence done by clerics and religious (occasionally female). In all legitimate cases, the victims were treated with gentleness and understanding. Counseling fees were paid. Academic tuitions were paid. Automobiles were purchased for them. All efforts were made to help them heal even if their experience was from long ago. Even to 20 or 30 years prior[3]. Many authentic victims do seem to get some kind of healing reaction by making their misuse known even if kept secret for years. Many were given large sums of money --lending credence to Donahue’s point of perceived “deep church pockets”. There were actual cases presented to us which were not credible but were spurious/ frivolous, relatively few, but nonetheless presented to the Board as if factual. If there is some cynicism in investigators, it probably stems from the knowledge that there are occasional fakers.

Some victims, in response to the question whether or not they want money, reply vaguely that all they want is that this doesn’t happen to others or that the cleric or religious get some help or how can you measure money with my pain, or the cost of living is high and the like. But, at the same time, goaded by their lawyers, they sometimes ask for enormous sums of money, millions, allegedly “for expenses.” One does begin to question, like Donohue, the authenticity of some cases.

However more relevantly, while the Church is doing everything possible to help the victimized, there are still shrill voices demanding more and more and more. How much is enough? I have counseled one legitimate victim (without fee of course) who was utterly insatiable regardless of large financial compensation and the emotional assistance and support given to him. Interestingly, he had a whole series of emotional disturbances which existed side by side with his true victimization. He was vulnerable. Predators have an uncanny sense of such vulnerability and vigorously prey upon the unsuspecting victim. The results can be disastrous, depending on the ego strength of the victim. Yet it is a factor rarely considered by those who denounce the Church so vehemently.

A group of Catholic psychologists testified at a professional seminar that if the person is relatively well put together (emotionally), a single pinch on his bottom will be sloughed off. The “prey” sees the perpetrator as a “nut.” But if he is already wounded by previous environmental experience (with which Church had nothing to do), he will be harmed. It is my opinion that, in most of the cases I have seen, the victim is already set up to be hurt. And, as is stated, the predator, cleric or not, will sense by a kind of instinct that he can “have his way” through some perceived emotional Achilles’ heel. Such perspective does not justify sin but it does broaden the picture.

What more does S.N.A.P. want? What more can the Church do? Is it the victimized ones which is their concern? Or is it something more? Is it really a case of a desire to share power using this unhappy era to be the stepping stone to a control position? Is it revenge they seek? Was it not written in the Word of God “Vengeance is mine……says the Lord”? Do they want money? What do the agitators want? I suggest if it is really the good of the victims we seek, we should laud the work of the Church to thwart such evil possibilities in the Church---by anyone----. We should support efforts to choke off all opportunities for predators in Christ’s own Church and get on with the basic business of the universal search for holiness and eternal salvation.

[1] Practically all major scientific studies report a significantly higher percentage of homosexual predators over non-homosexual ones. John Jay Report, USA Today, Rockville Centre diocese, among others, report a dominance of homosexual to non-homosexual up to 80-90%.
[2] One of the Paulist recruiters of the past was ordered by the then Superior General” “Keep the bu----ers out.” It looks like a prophetic view in the light of the unhappy history of molestation.
[3] It is most regrettable that some cleric did indeed commit one evil act, years before, in his career, truly repented, made atonement and performed marvelously well for 20/30 years but whose unhappy past behavior surfaces in the present. How much damage does this do to devout Catholics and how destroyed is this priest in his old age? One wonders about the psychological status of the accuser. This occurred in New York City recently and has caused nothing but pain for all.


Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Lloyd,

I thought your comments were excellent, but in one way frightfully incomplete. Yes, each "victim" should for his own good "get over" the abuse and should forgive rather than seek personal gain. However, your post seemed to de-emphasize a corollary point that needs to be made: While the victim should eventually say "enough" and move on from past hurts, the victimizer should remain perpetually humble and never think, "I've done enough to atone for my sin; the other guy now needs to shut up and get over it."

Your article asks whether the victimized seek "a stepping stone to a control position?" Well, I urge you to consider that while it is wrong for a victim to attack his victimizer in search of "control" -- so, too, is it wrong for the Church to seek to "maintain control" of situations. The Church is a servant, and its greatest leadership is shown when it suffers unjustly at the hands of persecutors, not when it presumes to take "control" of situations. There was more power in the Church in the catacombs than in any number of Borgia papacies.

Pope Benedict XVI has occasionally suggested that the Church may need to "downsize" radically in order to be restored to deeper holiness. Perhaps the sex abuse crisis is one tool God will use in this regard. If the Church becomes neither a "deep pocket" for lawyers and professional victims, nor a cosy source of power and ease and a meal ticket for men who don't want to face marriage or the workaday world, this smaller but more vibrant Church may actually find it has more power than the Church ever had in its past.

Rich said...

Hello Father Lloyd;

You spoke of the Church giving large sums of money to the victims of these crimes, but there was no mention that they did so kicking and screaming.

I can also remember quite vividly, watching the deposition of cardinal Bernard Law here in Boston.

I was taken back by what I perceived to as arrogance on his part. His whole demeanor was that of a hostile witness.

Yes the church here in Boston has made some amends, but was it done out of a sense of Love and duty, or because the Law finally forced their hand.