Saturday, 10 April 2010

Notes on a Scandal

My reaction to the Abuse Scandals
Seven or eight years ago, as I was on my journey to the Catholic Church, reports of sex abuse scandals by priests suddenly became all the rage in the media. I don't know whether it was the first major time that the media really went after these stories, or just the first time I was conscious of it. But the interesting thing about it, was, the stories never really shook my faith or deterred my inquiry into the Catholic faith.

Some might think that odd. Some might call me naive.

But I realised a few things. First, I am a sinner; yet I am a Christian. Thus, Christians (at least one of them, anyway) must be sinners. Is it any great surprise that, given that, we would find some sinners in positions of leadership?

Second, despite sinners being in the Church, the Church still abhorred and condemned sin. It never changed its stand to accommodate sinners, even when its members perpetrated those sins.

Third, insofar as my reception of the graces available through the sacraments is dependent upon the priest, I need the priest. But the priest himself is not the sum total, nor the focus, of my faith. Jesus is. And it was Jesus I wanted, not the priest.

Fourth, according to the Catholic teaching of ex opere operato, the priest needn't be of any high moral calibre (though that admittedly helps). Simply his actions performing the sacrament is what makes the sacrament efficacious--through the ministry of Jesus.

In sum, Jesus was the reason I was joining the Catholic Church, and not some misguided notion that its members were all perfect saints. The fact is, were they all perfect at the outset, there would have been no room for me.

An Apologetic Apology
Now, this is all well and good; however, the abuses are real, and must be addressed. I think I would be negligent if I didn't offer something about them.

First off, as far as I represent the Catholic Church (which isn't really that far, mind you), I am truly sorry to all the victims about what those men I, and you, considered "fathers", did to you. Such horrible crimes are unimaginable to me, and my heart breaks for you.

However, we must keep in mind a few things about the Church and its dealings. I in no way intend to justify the crimes committed, but I do want to put them into perspective, to elucidate the truth, and make sure that we aren't accusing the Church of more crimes than it actually did commit.

Causes and Preventative Measures
In the first place, yes, a few priests in past decades committed horrible crimes of molestation. In the decades immediately following the Second Vatican Council, the seminaries were rather lax and confused in their entrance policies, as well as their spiritual formation. Unfortunately, this led to men who had no place becoming priests being admitted to the seminary, and to poorly trained priests leaving the seminary. Since the 1980's, though, seminary rules and policies have been tightened up, and entrants even require a sexual-psychological examination before they are admitted. This has, it seems, led to a significant drop in contemporary abuse cases. In fact, there are, as far as I know, no contemporary cases of abuse being reported. The ones that are, or have been, reported on in the media, are decades old.

Moreover, parishes are more proactive about accountability practices and encouraging the reporting of abuse. Pope Benedict himself, contrary to the New York Times' shoddy reporting, has worked tirelessly and decisively in the last 10 years to weed out the problem and make reparation.

It's Not Just the Catholic Church
Another point that I would like to make is the relatively low number of abusive priests, compared to other sectors of society. Considering that there are over one billion Catholics, it would be naive to expect that there wouldn't be some perverted persons in our ranks. Yet, according to studies, less than 5% of priests were accused of these crimes. Less than 3% were convicted. That's obviously five percent too many, but when we consider organisations like the Boy Scouts, school teachers, or other ministers of various denominations and religions (see here, too), 5% seems relatively low. In fact, according to a report on the Catholic sexual abuse scandal by the Russian newspaper, Pravda, the ratio of sexual abuse of minors in the public schools of America to the sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy, is 157 to 1! Think about that the next time you want to say that all priests are paedophiles. What then do you say of our teachers?

Now, neither I nor the Vatican, when it reminds the world that sexual abuse is just as, if not more rampant in other religions, am minimising the damage done by abusive priests. However, I do want to put it into perspective of the Church as a whole, and the rest of the world.

Pope Benedict's Culpability?
The New York Times reported that when Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) was prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he personally knew of and encouraged the covering-up of the sex abuse of various priests. This was the first bit of news that really affected me in terms of the sex abuse scandals. It's one thing to acknowledge that priests can be as evil as the rest of us. It's another thing to think that the person entrusted with the whole Church was once complicit in these crimes. In retrospect, I wonder whether that reaction was any more logical than thinking all priests are evil because of this scandal; nevertheless, I was troubled.

So I did some digging, and, shock and awe, the Times doesn't actually know what it's talking about! I'd detail the facts, but Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin has done so, and more thoroughly and clearly than I would be able. As such, I'll simply direct you to his articles:

Cardinal Ratzinger: An Evil Monster?
Evil Monster Update: The Inside Story

I hope Mr. Akin helps to set the record straight in your minds. The second article actually quotes Fr. Thomas Brundage, who was the Judiciary Vicar, or, basically, the judge, in the case of Fr. Lawrence Murphy, about whom the Times was reporting. Fr. Brundage's own comments can be found here.

Our Response
So what do we do now? How do we move forward? First of all, we must keep the faith. We must understand that the Catholic Church is more than its failures. It's more than sinful you and sinful me, and more than sinful priests and cowardly bishops. The Church is the indefectable bastion of truth that it always was, since its founding by Jesus Christ (Matt 16:18; 1 Tim 3:15).

Second, we must pray. Pray for our priests, our bishops, and our Pope. Pope Benedict, upon his election, said, "Pray for me, lest I flee for fear of the wolves." The wolves are out, and salivating. Let us bear in mind his prophetic injunction and bear him up in our prayers. But pray most of all for the victims, that they might find healing, peace, and reconciliation with the Church, and, if necessary, with Jesus Himself.

Third, we must learn the facts. The mainstream media has a hate-on for the Catholic Church, and seems none to concerned about letting the facts stand in the way of a good story. But there are places where we can learn the truth. And we must be diligent in our searching for it.

Finally, I'll leave you with one more link, to Canadian singer and evangelist, Mark Mallett's blog, and his own comments on The Scandal.

God bless.


Kane Augustus said...

Umm, no.

Gregory said...

Umm, yes.

The fact is, that at the time of Keisle's request to be defrocked, then-Cardinal Ratzinger had no idea about the sexual abuse scandal the priest had perpetrated. In 1981, The CDF was not in fact responsible for cases of sex abuse. He delayed the laicisation of Fr. Keisle because at the time, as far as Ratzinger knew, this was a young priest (38 years old) who was having doubts about his calling. It happens, and when it does, the church always advocates a length of time before granting a laicisation, if at all, to give the priest time to weigh his decision. Had Ratzinger known that the reasons were because of child abuse, Keisle would have been defrocked after due process. However, since that question wouldn't even have been on the future-Pope's radar, there's no way to find him culpable in this case.

But thanks for playing, anyway.

Kane Augustus said...

Letter to Ratzinger.

Ratzinger is as guilty as Lady MacBeth. Ratzinger has been covering-up these cases.

Here's a decent appraisal of the Kiesle and Murphy cases, respectively. There are a few extras thrown in, too.

Gregory said...

Kane, Ratzinger did not cover up anything. Nothing in the documents on the Murphy case support that conclusion (and I read them carefully). In fact, despite the weakness of Weakland, Fr. Thomas Brundage had not yet received the notice that Weakland wanted to suspend Fr. Murphy's trial, and so, at the time of Murphy's death, the trial was still ongoing.

Ratzinger's treatment of the Keisle case had nothing to do with sex abuse, since he was not alerted of this being the reason Fr. Keisle was requesting laicisation. The CDF did not take jurisdiction of abuse cases until 2001, a full 20 years after Keisle's letter to then-Cardinal Ratzinger. As such, Ratzinger would not have known about the abuse case, as nothing regarding it was ever forwarded to him. As far as he knew, a young priest wanted to leave the priesthood, and Ratzinger advised a waiting period to make sure the young priest wasn't just having a momentary time of doubt. He had no idea about hte "tender ages" of the victims, since he had no idea that there were victims to begin with.

Hitchens has about as much understanding of Canon Law and procedure in this case as you do. So I trust you'll forgive me if I find his "appraisal" anything but "decent".

Kane Augustus said...

Well, it would seem to me that the rest of the plain-speaking world must be hopelessly illiterate, Gregory. All the lawyers, advocates, victims, and high-profile figures lining up to take Ratzinger to the docket must not have any understanding of what has transpired and who is involved.

On a different note, what does Canon Law matter when it comes to inhumanity? Ratzinger, the bishops that helped cover thing up, and the priests that diddled kids are not protected from secular jurisdiction simply because there is an inter-ecclesial book of law. The Pharisees could still be prosecuted by the Romans. And in this case, the Romans can and should be prosecuted by the international courts.

Gregory said...

Kane, illiteracy, it seems, is precisely the problem. I'm not saying that lawyers, journalists, etc., can't read, per se, but they evidently cannot read the "lingo" of Canon Law, and interpret it correctly, according to the intention of the authors. It's no different than if I talk to my mechanic about my car. He'll tell me what's wrong with it in English--but there will be significant portions of what he says that I will not understand, simply because I am hopelessly lacking in knowledge of all things car-related. Similarly, it seems that you, and Hitchens, Dawkins, the Times, etc., are rather lacking in knowledge concerning Canon Law policies and documents, and the meaning of various terms and instructions therein, and how they are put into place. The simple fact is, those lining up to take Ratzinger to the docket really don't know who was involved--at least, they don't seem to realise that he wasn't involved.

As for trying priests according to civil law for their perpetration of such crimes, the Church is wholeheartedly for that procedure. That bishops in the past have indeed covered up cases such as this is horrible. I did address that in the body of my article. And if the Pope had played a part in the cover-ups, then I wholeheartedly assert that he should be held accountable for it. Problem is, he wasn't in any way culpable. At least, so far no evidence has been shown sufficient to even charge him, let alone convict. And there's that whole pesky "innocent until proven guilty" thing. Although the way the secular media has responded, one would think that justice operated under an "innocent until proven Catholic" motto.

So unless you're under the delusion that the Pope, before he was pope, is somehow responsible for every action committed by every priest in the world, ipso facto, I fail to see how he is in any way culpable for the Murphy and Keisle cases. The very evidence you have put forward have actually exonerated him, so unless you've got something further to contribute by way of evidence, or, simply a "You're right. I'm sorry for my gullibility and prejudice," I'm not overly inclined to continue publishing your comments.

Kane Augustus said...

That's fine, Gregory. You're welcome to block my comments. I just think it would be insincere of you to do so when you come under a little pressure from dissenting points of view.

Still, I will read on, and continue to enjoy your blog.

Gregory said...

Alright, let's be clear. First, I have always reserved the right to moderate comments. That's why I enabled comment moderation. Second, I've thus far published every comment on this blog--and every comment at Barque of Peter (except for the pornographic ones). Third, it's not "pressure" that makes me want to cease discussing the issue with you, it's the utter asininity of your comments. You've not offered anything by way of evidence to support your claims that Cardinal Ratzinger covered up the sex abuse of priests. The articles you put forth have been demonstrably inaccurate, and were for the most part addressed in the initial article on which you commented. The primary sources you offered were themselves linked to in one of the articles I link to above.

As such, thus far you've contributed exactly nothing to the conversation except parroting disinformation and slander--excuse me, this is in "print"--I should say libel. That, and utterly misapplied equations with Shakespeare characters--for which I don't think my wife will ever forgive you (being, as she was, a student of Shakespearean literature in University).

So, no, "pressure" is not my concern. My only motive for not wanting to publish further comments from you in regard to this issue is that, since you're not actually furthering the conversation, it's simply a waste of my time, and I have much too much to do to sit here and tell you why your comments are asinine, your sources are erroneous, and your information is false.

I made it clear above that I would publish your comments if you actually had something to offer. Namely, demonstrating that the then-Cardinal Ratzinger covered up a case of sex abuse perpetrated after he received the jurisdiction to deal with Sex Abuse Cases in 2001. Saying he's culpable for things before then is ludicrous, since he had no authority over those matters until 2001. So, I'm waiting...

Hidden One said...

Gregory, it's Kiesle, not Keisle.

Gregory said...

Thanks, H1. My apologies.

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work Gregory!

Gregory said...

Thanks Anonymous. In the future, please leave a name in keeping with the posting Rules.

I'll be "keep[ing] up the good work" starting this coming week, with some more "Sean Asks..." posts.