1 Dec 2010

Is the Catholic church in state of denial over clergy abuse, or is it honest and transparent?

New York Times - April 7, 2010

The Church’s Judas Moment

By MAUREEN DOWD | Op-Ed Columnist


I’m a Catholic woman who makes a living being adversarial. We have a pope who has instructed Catholic women not to be adversarial.

It’s a conundrum.

I’ve been wondering, given the vitriolic reaction of the New York archbishop to my column defending nuns and the dismissive reaction of the Vatican to my column denouncing the church’s response to the pedophilia scandal, if they are able to take a woman’s voice seriously. Some, like Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, seem to think women are trying to undermine the church because of abortion and women’s ordination.

I thought they might respond better to a male Dowd.

My brother Kevin is conservative and devout — his hobby is collecting crèches — and has raised three good Catholic sons. When I asked him to share his thoughts on the scandal, I learned, shockingly, that we agreed on some things. He wrote the following:

“In pedophilia, the church has unleashed upon itself a plague that threatens its very future, and yet it remains in a curious state of denial. The church I grew up in was black and white, no grays. That’s why my father, an Irish immigrant, liked it so much. The chaplain of the Police and Fire departments told me once ‘Your father was a fierce Catholic, very fierce.’

My brothers and I were sleepily at his side for the monthly 8 a.m. Holy Name Mass and the guarding of the Eucharist in the middle of the night during the 40-hour ritual at Easter. Once during a record snowstorm in 1958, we were marched single-file to church for Mass only to find out the priests next door couldn’t get out of the rectory.

The priest was always a revered figure, the embodiment of Christ changing water into wine. (Older parishioners took it literally.) The altar boys would drink the dregs.

When I was in the 7th grade, one of the new priests took four of us to the drive-in restaurant and suggested a game of ‘pink belly’ on the way back; we pulled up a boy’s shirt and slapped his belly until it was pink. When the new priest joined in, it seemed like more groping than slapping. But we thought it was inadvertent. And my parents never would have believed a priest did anything inappropriate anyway. A boy in my class told me much later that the same priest climbed into bed with him in 1958 at a rectory sleepover, but my friend threw him to the floor. The priest protested he was sleepwalking. Three days later, the archbishop sent the priest to a rehab place in New Mexico; he ended up as a Notre Dame professor.

Vatican II made me wince. The church declared casual Friday. All the once-rigid rules left to the whim of the flock. The Mass was said in English (rendering useless my carefully learned Latin prayers). Holy days of obligation were optional. There were laypeople on the heretofore sacred ground of the altar — performing the sacraments and worse, handling the Host. The powerful symbolism of the priest turning the Host into the body of Christ cracked like an egg.

In his book, ‘Goodbye! Good Men,’ author Michael Rose writes that the liberalized rules set up a takeover of seminaries by homosexuals.

Vatican II liberalized rules but left the most outdated one: celibacy. That vow was put in place originally because the church did not want heirs making claims on money and land. But it ended up shrinking the priest pool and producing the wrong kind of candidates — drawing men confused about their sexuality who put our children in harm’s way.

The church is dying from a thousand cuts. Its cover-up has cost a fortune and been a betrayal worthy of Judas. The money spent came from social programs, Catholic schools and the poor. This should be a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance. I asked a friend of mine recently what he would do if his child was molested after the church knew. ‘I would probably kill someone,’ he replied.

We must reassess. Married priests and laypeople giving the sacraments are not going to destroy the church. Based on what we have seen the last 10 years, they would be a bargain. It is time to go back to the disciplines that the church was founded on and remind our seminaries and universities what they are. (Georgetown University agreeing to cover religious symbols on stage to get President Obama to speak was not exactly fierce.)

The storm within the church strikes at what every Catholic fears most. We take our religion on faith. How can we maintain that faith when our leaders are unworthy of it?”

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Washington Post - April 7, 2010

On sexual abuse scandal, the pope gets a bad rap

By Michael Gerson | Op-Ed Columnist

By any human standard, Pope Benedict XVI and the American Catholic Church are getting a bad rap in the current outbreak of outrage over clerical sexual abuse.

Far from being indifferent or complicit, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was among the first in Rome to take the scandal seriously. During much of his service as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the future pope had no responsibility for investigating most cases of sexual abuse. Local bishops were in charge -- and some failed spectacularly in their moral duties. It was not until 2001 that Pope John Paul II charged Ratzinger with reviewing every credible case of sexual abuse. While poring through these documents, Ratzinger's eyes were opened. The church became more active in removing abusive priests -- whom Ratzinger described rightly as "filth" -- both through canonical trials and administrative action.

"Benedict," says the Rev. Thomas Reese of Georgetown University, "grew in his understanding of the crisis. Like many other bishops at the beginning, he didn't understand it. . . . But he grew in his understanding because he listened to what the U.S. bishops had to say. He in fact got it quicker than other people in the Vatican."

And the American Catholic Church -- once in destructive denial -- has confronted the problem directly. It is difficult to contend that justice was done in the cases of some prominent offenders and the bishops who protected and reassigned them. But it is also difficult to deny that the church has made progress with a zero-tolerance policy. The vast majority of abuse cases took place decades ago. In 2009, six credible allegations of abuse concerning people who are minors were reported to the U.S. bishops -- in a church with 65 million members.

Some will allow none of these facts to get in the way of a good clerical scandal. Editorial cartoons engage in gleeful anti-clericalism. The implicit charge is that the Catholic Church is somehow discredited by the existence of human sinfulness -- a doctrine it has taught for more than two millennia.

Many of the current accusations, as I said, are not fair by human standards. But the Christian church, in its varied expressions, is accountable to not merely human standards because it is supposed to be more than a human institution. Apart from the mental, emotional and spiritual harm done to children, this has been the most disturbing aspect of the initial Catholic reaction to the abuse scandal over the past few decades: the reduction of the church to one more self-interested organization. In case after case, church leaders have attempted (and failed) to protect the church from scandal -- like a White House trying to contain a bad news story or an oil company avoiding responsibility for a spill.

From one perspective, this is understandable. A church exists in a real world of donor relations and legal exposure. But the normal process of crisis management can involve a theological error -- often repeated in the history of the religion.

It is the consistent temptation of faith leaders -- Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or Hindu -- to practice the religion of the tribe. The goal is to seek public recognition of their own theological convictions and the health of their own religious institutions. For many centuries of Western history, the Christian church vied and jostled for influence along with other interests, pursuing a tribal agenda at the expense of Jews, heretics, "infidels" and ambitious princes. The mind-set can still be detected, in milder forms, whenever Christian leaders talk of "taking back America for Christ" or pay hush money to avoid scandal for the church. The tribe must be defended.

But the religion of the tribe is inherently exclusive, sorting "us" from "them." So it undermines a foundational teaching of Christianity -- a radical human equality in need and in grace.

The story of modern Christian history has been the partial, hopeful movement away from the religion of the tribe and toward a religion of humanity -- a theology that defends a universal ideal of human rights and dignity, whose triumph benefits everyone. And the Catholic Church has led this transition. Once a reactionary opponent of individualism and modernity, it is now one of the leading global advocates for universal human rights and dignity.

The Catholic Church's initial reaction to the abuse scandal was often indefensible. Now, through its honesty and transparency, it can demonstrate a commitment to universal dignity -- which includes every victim of abuse.

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