Monday, May 31, 2010

The Meaning of the Attack on Pope Benedict XVI

How does one appraise a shy, brilliant, holy, transparent Pope in the face of innuendo, desperate attempts to link him with evil, half truths and skewed “journalism”? Especially, one might ask, when a national magazine, Time, features a six page article (with pictures) skillfully insinuating that Pope Benedict XVI was complicit in what he himself called “filth” when discussing the horrific behavior of unfaithful priests.

While the article is replete with vague inserts; e.g. “may” “appears” “seems” “some” and “seems to hedge”, it takes factual material and presents a view which could easily leave the impression that the molestations are current. There is little indication in the article that the terrible actions of some Catholic clerics occurred twenty, thirty or more years ago, that the victimizers have been dismissed (unfrocked), are dead, in nursing homes or living in perpetual atonement. There is little assurance that such behavior is highly improbable today[1] or that serious steps to prevent reoccurrences were put into place twenty years ago. Such vagueness would leave the Time reader with the false impression that such dangers lurk currently behind every clerical collar.

While the article does not accuse the Pope of any personal misbehavior, it clearly implies a possible lack of responsible leadership. The very cover of the issue (6/7/10) sets the tone. It blares out “Why being Pope means never having to say you’re sorry” with the inevitable secondary title “The sex abuse scandal and the limits of atonement.” The Pope is viewed from the rear where one’s eye is riveted to an enormous mitre obviously signifying the pressing need for this disclosure over other stories whose titles are scrunched into the top few inches of the Cover. The oil spill, worst in American history, the broken relationship between Obama and Bibi with the terrible consequences it could entail, the turbulent effect of the Tea Party are all considered less noteworthy than insinuations of possible Papal skullduggery. This juxtaposition insults much of Catholic intelligence but also surfaces the old dynamic. It is what Jenkins calls the “Last acceptable prejudice.”

The article is not satisfied that this Pope has not only publicly addressed the shame of the scandals but has met personally with victims, wept with them and apologized for their pain, suffering and disillusion. Never have to say you’re sorry? Have these writers heard Pope John Paul II? Or are they confusing theological Papal infallibility with human limitations? Or shading a word nuance to make a point? The article itself quotes Pope Benedict in his words to Irish Catholics …” I am truly sorry …I openly express the shame and remorse we all feel” The writers respond by saying “words may not be enough”

The strong correctives in formation, recruiting and supervision are never mentioned. While the terrible emotional scars can never be removed, reparations have been made to victims as much as is possible. I served for five years on a Board in a large Archdiocese handling priest/religious molestation charges and I have seen the extent to which the Church will go to try to atone for the vicious crimes of some priests [2] with counseling costs, educational tuitions, even automobiles. Today, scrupulous cooperation with civil authorities is a given in the Church. While such gestures can never be equal to the hurt, the intent is present in the Church to try to atone. However, I never got the impression that “knee jerk priorities were church and clergy, not the welfare of children.” There was tremendous concern for the suffering of innocent victims. False charges of opportunists, including some lawyers, with the allure of the “fast buck ”certainly surfaced but these are not my point. Blackmail, under any name, is blackmail and does not command my attention at this time.. But unfair attacks on good men and untruth do.

It is interesting that the highlighting of the abuse factor , in the article, is on children. It is difficult to fathom psychological ignorance in modern journalists. Is it possible that they don’t know that the majority of abuse cases (over a 60 year span) was not of pedophilia(pre-puberty) but of ephebophilia (adolescence)? Approximately 80% of all cases were male on male (homosexual) involving not children but persons ranging from 15 to 19 years of age. Was this unaware omission or intentional skewing of data for purposes of coloration of a point?

What do” they” really want? There is a hint when the writers note: “What is still missing, however, is any mention of the Holy Father’s alleged role in the scandal.” Is it some kind of public Papal groveling which is sought? Will that help the victims? Or is there a deeper agendum? The insistence that he enabled the “rot of clergy abuse that spread through the church in the past half century” is odd in the light of his forceful denunciations throughout his career of sexual abuses. He, personally, the article demands, must atone and admit his own sins not those of others. This is a weak long shot. Not even a nice try. It is beyond that.

The article describes a heart breaking story of Bernie McQuaid. Heart breaking and infuriating at the same time. It would make one want to throttle that priest and insist on some kind of appropriate punishment. The Church surely agrees and will continue to press (in all such cases) for stricter supervision and accountability. We are all agreed. But are we?

The attack on the Pope is actually a stepping stone for “something else” by some who arch far beyond the present data. The allegation against the Pope is absurd in itself in that the case in question happened years ago in the United States. It was handled, probably badly, by American officials (the infamous Archbishop Rembrant Weakland was rumored to be involved in the handling). Not by Ratzinger who knew nothing of it. In the nineties when the fallen cleric was dying, he petitioned for a priest’s burial. Were one to grant the request, would that mean “cover up”? When Dismas petitioned Jesus on the Cross for forgiveness, was it a “cover up” that a thief stole Paradise? When “Dutch” Shultz, the notorious Mobster, sought reconciliation on his death bed, was it a “cover up” to grant that request? Whether Ratzinger did or did not grant that favor is unknown to me. The allegation, based on that issue, however, seems to me to be frivolous. The real story is what lies behind the turbulence the Time article is making?

The article, quoting Alberto Melloni, rejects the Standard operational Psychological Procedures of the 70’s : “To say he didn’t know is not a defense; it’s the problem.” I, personally, practiced psychology in that period and worked with several clerics who were molesters. To say that we depended on the protocols of the profession is to state a given. We treated patients in the light of the knowledge of that period. It was not considered to be poor practice to recommend to religious Superiors that the patient be admitted to a rehabilitation facility for an indefinite period. When the secular experts, the professionals, after what they considered adequate time and treatment, made the recommendations for re-turn to limited ministry, superiors usually followed such guidance.

The article states firmly that modern thinkers do not accept such practice. Neither do I—in the light of what we know today. 30 years of experience and research later. Again the secular experts of today tell us that pedophilia is largely incurable. We did not know that in 1970. We accept their protocols today as we did 30 years ago. It is juvenile to make assessment of the past in terms of the knowledge of 2010.

The presentation of the Church as a blunderbuss trampling all who flaunt her own self concept is likewise unfair and irritating. A biblical text in which Christ beautifully and compassionately grants, to His Church the power of forgiveness of sins, is paraphrased in the article as “---in rough terms the church’s ability to open the gates of heaven to you or damn you to hell because it will always be holier than thou.” We begin to get more than a hint of the agenda when we hear a “victim” say that this is the people’s church and “we have to take it back(?)”

On the final page of this article (in the very last column) we read: “….the crisis over sex abuse is a chance to argue old questions of dogma and discipline once again: for example to address the necessity of celibacy [3] and the church’s view of sex, to expand the role of women and to define the status of Catholic homosexuals… the authority of the bishops—and the pope—must now be shared with the faithful…” Perhaps, while surely granting the horror and the pain and shame we all feel and the need for atonement and prevention in the future, at least some of the unparalleled negative energy stems from nonverbalized desires to change the Church into something she isn’t. Perhaps now we see “something” which was carefully hidden. The “Church” these people seek does exist. It is called the Unitarian or Universalist Church where two beautiful and only two doctrines are required: a) Fatherhood of God and b) brotherhood of man. The Catholic Church is unique and will remain so regardless of magazine articles and demonstrations.

Time itself gives the answer in its article. Cardinal Consalvi instructed Napoleon (who wished to destroy the Church) thusly. “He will not succeed. We have not managed to do it ourselves.” The reason is simple. Jesus Who is God founded the Catholic Church Himself, in person. He promised it would endure until the end of time. Even the gates of Hell cannot prevail against it.
That includes Time magazine.

[1] It is clearly understood today that any priest deacon or religious who “acts out” would commit clerical/religious suicide.

[2] It is remarkable that the results of the studies on this sad topic are not more widely known. John Jay, USA Today, Rockville centre report and others report that the victimizers since 1960 account for 2-4% of the total priest population. One is too many and the actual number is appalling. Yet, The percentage is far less than secular groups and some other religious institutions. The New York city Board of Ed is reportedly many times higher in molestation than the Archdiocese of New York. It receives relatively less publicity. T here is a reason for this. But to equate failed priests with the general priest population is not only unfair and dishonest but bespeaks terrible statistical incompetence.

[3] This becomes, in the light of the crisis, academic since most of the priest victimizers are homosexual and have no interest in marryng. Celibacy has been a convenient cover for them. Lifting the ban on celibacy would do little to stem the male on male behavior

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Father, I have just reread your book - and enjoyed it this time as much as the first time. It serves as a wonderful endorsement of everything I have come to believe and hope and love as a Catholic. I have lived in Australia for 37 years now, emigrating from South Africa. I do believe that I might have attended one of your "missions" in SA and in fact in one of your articles (would love to find it again) you mentioned a Father Clifford and I recall my father telling me about him too
Margaret O'Hagan (nee Mc Namee)