Sickening and Unacceptable: But Why Are We Shocked? Revised
A report on the sexual abuse of minors by Irish clergy and religious has once again revealed some disturbing and disgusting facts concerning the manner in which the Church, the government and law enforcement in Ireland handled those who reported crimes against children and how the offending clerics and religious were handled.
In previous writings I have tried to place the inaction of bishops and superiors into the context of the times and yes the culture of the places where the abuse took place. My father who was of Scottish ancestry but born in Nova Scotia believed firmly that one's dirty laundry should never be aired in the open and the greatest thing to avoid was people finding out about scandalous behavior. He was opposed to the behavior, but having it found out leading to public humiliation was even worse.
I suspect this is a part of the Scottish/Irish culture especially as it concerns things sexual, both normal and abnormal. Scotland and Ireland inherited very Jansenist (puritanical) attitudes concerning sex which is not true of warmer Mediterranean cultures, like my Italian half.
It seems that in Boston, other dioceses in America as well as all of Ireland, at the time known abusers were abusing, keeping the laity who knew about it quiet about it was more important than dismissing abusers and reporting them to the authorities. In Ireland, the authorities if they knew of abuse sent it back to the bishops to deal with, but the bishops didn't for the most part.
Previous to the charter protecting children in this country and previous to the widespread knowledge that sexual abuse of children and teenagers occurs amongst a certain percentage of clergy and religious, what would make a bishop or another person in authority immune to the suffering endured by children and teenagers at the hands of pedophiles and ephebophiles?
That is the question that has not been answered but there are several opinions that I have:
1. These bishops and others didn't think sexual abuse was a big deal or they didn't believe those who made accusation. The disbelief about the abuse seems implausible to me since there were so many accusations made against several priests in Ireland. The only other option is those in authority did not care about the victims and did not see it as their role to care for them. If true, this would add to the shock and disgust.
2. Those in authority were incompetent or impotent to do anything against those who offended. It was a managerial crisis of mega proportions.
3. Protecting the privileged place of the clergy, even abusers, was more important than protecting children. This is shocking and disgusting too and betrays moral bankruptcy.
4. Bishops'common sense went out the window in dealing with offending personnel. Burn me once, shame on you; burn me twice, shame on me. Bishops cannot shift the blame to psychiatrists who gave them bad information or a lack of awareness about these sins and crimes. They must take complete responsibility. Outward appearances during this horrible time before the Charter in this country makes it look like that the bishop cared more for the priest under his charge than the children/teenagers that were or had the potential to be abused by these same priests.
5. Bishops as well as others may have believed that children and teenagers were complicit in their own abuse, that they wanted the sexual contact and may have liked it. Many Americans believe this about teenagers who have sex with older men or women, especially if it is heterosexual sex, so this is not implausible and may have been the mentality of the bishops that the ones injured by those in authority may have been cooperating with the evil perpetrated.
At any rate, now that the dirty secret about clergy who professed to be celibate but sexually abused children and teenagers is out in the open, perhaps now we can begin to understand the corruption of leadership that allowed this to happen, the cultural attitudes inherent in the Church that had no checks and balances when it comes to critique and evaluation and the inability to remove from the order of bishops and the order of priests those who committed crimes, covered them up and/or were incompetent to act properly.
Let us pray that out of all of this suffering of victims and their families, the loss of faith it has caused and the disgust that so many experience from the details of this abuse, that this will ensure history doesn't repeat itself. It's judgment day but what we are experiencing now in terms of humiliation will seem like a walk in the park at the personal judgment perpetrators and enablers will experience at death and the Church will experience at the final judgment.
But with this said, one of the things that has happened to the Church with all the pseudo euphoria that we've experienced since Vatican II was the decline in understanding what sin is in general and mortal sin in particular. There were even those who wanted to redefine Original Sin to make it less harsh sounding. Those who promote this pseudo theology would also find abhorrent that anyone's disposition to sin would be called "disordered," especially any aspect of their sexuality. We all know the outcry when Pope John Paul or Pope Benedict teach that homosexuality is "disordered."
Yet we are all disordered because of Original Sin and the actual sins this enables us to commit. There are aspects of our personality including our sexuality that are corrupt and disordered as well, whether we are heterosexual or homosexual. When clergy and laity turn a blind eye to our sexual attractions because we do not believe that any part of our sexuality is disordered, then we have the recipe for disaster that has gone off like an atomic bomb in our Church.
The antidote to the disorders of body, soul, mind and sexuality is the grace of God. If we don't think we need that grace we won't call upon God's grace. Sometimes God's grace leads the Church to remove from ministry those who are severely disordered. Sometimes God's grace leads the Church to excommunicate those who are obstinate in their refusal to act like a Catholic (here I'm thinking of politicians who are pro-choice). Is not the sin of abortion and the leading of others to procure abortions as egregious as the sin of sexual abuse of children and teenagers? Why is there not a similar outrage in our Church against bishops who seem to do nothing to Catholics who are pro-choice and publicly so?
But to close with a more positive spin on all of this: "O happy fault, or necessary sin of Adam (and of all of us) that gained for us so great a Savior." Where sin abounds God's grace is more abundant. God will save the Church and even the most despicable sinner amongst us will find God's mercy through repentance and sacramental confession. The penance may be you can't be a priest anymore and you might have to go to prison, but justice demands penance and mercy demands justice.