Religion, Faith and Sprituality

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Why Are Catholics Still Bankrolling Bishops Who Are Soft on Child Rape?

The March 13th a New York Times report concerning the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy's decision to menace two sex abuse advocacy groups is alarming. As a Catholic, I am appalled by these tactics. As a mother of children, I find unthinkable that a church hierarchy would use collection dollars to bankroll efforts to intimidate an agency which offers support to people who were raped as children.
According to the Times piece, lawyers representing priests accused of sexual abuse in two Missouri cases have subpoenaed SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) over thousands of pages of materials -- not all of it pertaining directly to the cases of their clients. These records very likely contain sensitive information relating to alleged incidents of child rape and the sexual abuse of minors. Marci A. Hamilton, a law professor at Yeshiva University and an advocate for victims of clergy-committed sex crimes, has said what anyone who has followed the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse crisis already knows: 
If there is one group that the higher-ups, the bishops, would like to see silenced... it definitely would be SNAP. And that's what they're going after. They're trying to find a way to silence SNAP.

Punishing Catholics for reporting incidences of clergy rape and abuse is nothing new. There is a long tradition in the Roman Catholic Church, of penalizing/re-traumatizing children who come forward with accounts of sexual abuse, but this has improved dramatically in the US and Europe in recent years. It is likely, however, that In the developing world, children raped by priests are not quite so lucky. Some church workers and priests inform me that the problem goes unchecked in regions of India and in African nations where the church has strong presence.
I was surprised, at the time of Timothy Dolan's (recent) incardination, to learn how few New York Catholics knew that Dolan, who was packaged and sold as a priest with a relatively clean record on clerical abuse, bankrolled a countersuit against a man who had come to him, in a troubled state, claimning to have been raped in childhood (in a home for troubled boys). According to court records, this priest (who sued his accuser with Dolan's help) denies having raped boys, but admits to having slept in his rooms with them.
Tim Dolan's willingness to smile for the cameras while playing hardball gave him a leading edge in his ascent to two very powerful positions: cardinal of New York and president of the United Conference for Catholic Bishops. If Ratzinger is God's Rottweiler, Timothy Dolan is God's "Beabull" -- a cross between a Bulldog and a Beagle. Dolan has a congenial countenance and turns in a fine performance as a man who cares, but Ratzinger would never have elevated a man with the appropriate degree of compassion for victims of sexual predation to the position of cardinal.
It is possible Ratzinger believes in earnest that insulating Mother Church from financial ruin is a far greater good than that of the more temporal good of healing victims of clergy rape and sexual assault. His argument might be that the foundations of church with its reliably unchanging doctrines and dogma (which change all the time and have evolved steadily over the course of 2000 years!) must be preserved at any cost for the good of humankind. Were the foundation of Mother Church to fall apart, the rationale goes, the instrument for doing Christ's work on earth would cease to exist; in its absence the world would experience more starvation, more rape, more violence, more warfare. Rape, brutality, child abuse would increase, and eternal salvation would elude all but the pious few. It's not the worst argument ever --
Ratzinger et al know that the rape of children is evil, but they view the collapse of the hierarchy as a greater evil. Thus, sacrificing victims raped by priests becomes morally justifiable, and the forsaken victims become holy martyrs in a church which happens to hold its martyrs in very high esteem, to say the least. Suffering brings people of faith closer to God. The bloody lamb is one of the many symbols of Christ. The raped altar boys are bloody lambs whom God will reward in the afterlife.
If this sounds twisted, it's because it's twisted.
On a more earthly plain, there is the fact that a priest doesn't give up his legal right to due process the day he dons a Roman collar. A falsely accused priest has a right to clear his name. As in all rape cases, the rights of the accused must be balanced against a rape victim's right not to be re-traumatized by invasions of his or her privacy. For those who treasure our nation's commitment to the rights of the accused, supporting a priest who seeks to clear his name in the aftermath of a false accusation is not necessarily an ethicallyincorrect way to proceed.
However, it flies in the face of everything we know about Jesus of the Gospels.
Another complication is The Vatican's lack of transparency. Whenever large groups of people are accused of crime, false accusations get made. The clerical sex abuse scandal has left a taint on all priests, and the Vatican's erstwhile and continuing fervor for hiding these crimes makes it difficult for those who are falsely accused to clear their "good names." The Vatican's unscrupulous handling of abuse cases has compromised any confidence Catholics might once have had in the hierarchy's capacity for policing itself. Because for so long we have been unable to trust the Roman Catholic hierarchs to identify predators, we (Catholic and otherwise) no longer trust them to clear priests are falsely accused. A liar will be dishonest in any direction. The Vatican has no credibility in the matter of clerical child rape. Hence, the need for priests who have been charged and cleared to resort to secular legal means for making their innocence known.
While I feel sorry for SNAP, an organization which, though, not perfect, has been healing the butchered souls of people for two decades on a limited budget, I feel a certain optimism the developments at hand. I think this crazy-time raid may prove to be a victory for SNAP and groups like it. Never have "the bishops" seemed more squirrelly.
The truth is that few Catholics on any point on the Roman Catholic degree-of-orthodoxy spectrum are soft on child rape. One would be hard-pressed to find a Catholic anywhere who would wish to see his or her child's medical, psychological and police records unsealed in in the aftermath of a rape. Fewer still would wish to see such intimidation made possible with help from their generous contributions.
And the clownish fringe group Catholics who make light of the rape of altar boys, in God's name, are not merely perverse. They're bad for business. Self-appointed papist clowns who pretend to speak for Catholics make it too easy for people inside and outside the church to forget that the church exists to embody (to whatever extent is humanly possible) the character and work of Jesus on earth.
Catholics are called in concrete, clear ways to love the imprisoned, to minister to the injured and to love their enemies. We all fall short sometimes, but the systematic punishment of people for the non-transgression of reporting criminal behavior is a grave sin. Especially when such intimidation is undertaken for economic gain.
Another (page 25) Catholic report appeared in the New York Times on March 13th, a piece on Dolan's meeting with governor. 
Dolan criticized a legislative proposal that would, for a year, drop the statute of limitations for filing civil claims for sexual offenses, allowing for lawsuits by people who say they were abused long ago. The cardinal said he was concerned that a flood of lawsuits over abuse by priests could drain the church of money it is using for charitable purposes.

If Dolan is so worried about cash, why does he not object to the paying lawyers to work over agencies that minister to survivors? Are settlements for survivors of sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy not "charitable" expenditures?

"I think we bishops have been very contrite in admitting that the church did not handle this well at all in the past," he said. "But we bristle sometimes in that the church doesn't get the credit, now being in the vanguard of reform. It does bother us that the church continues to be a whipping boy."

How does one reconcile the crippling of SNAP with being into the "vanguard of reform"?
Ordination, at least in theory, increases the obligation of a person to be Christ-like. Priest are, (again) in theory, called to teach Catholics to be more like Jesus. Priests who do this -- priests who emulate Christ on a daily basis -- do exist. But they are very much under siege.
As children preparing for First Eucharist, we Catholics learn to envision Jesus as "the Prince of Peace," yet we have a hierarchy that is very much at war. Catholic priests who are not interested in making war live in a states of constant frustration and embarrassment over a hierarchy whose greed, bigotry, bellicosity and lust for power have gotten the best of them.
Obviously a Catholic man or women who falsely accuses a priest of having raped him or her in childhood is deeply troubled, yet it may be that even in those cases, a priest has an obligation to minister. This is not easy to do, but there can be no doubt that waging war against the weak -- against those who, in confusion, madness or torment, make false accusations -- flies in the face of Christ.
It was easy to see the harassment of SNAP coming. In New York, the bishops lost the equal marriage rights battle. Despite concessions from the president, the Roman Catholic hierarchy is losing the battle against contraception - not just in the courts, but in the pews. SNAP is helping the CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights) build a Human Rights case against the Vatican (CCR and SNAP have already filed.) in the International Criminal Courts. This case gets stronger with time, and when the lid comes off the clergy abuse crisis in Roman Catholic churches in the developing world, this case will become stronger still.
The Roman Catholic hierarchs are furious and jittery. They're on a tear. Catholic bishops have never taken crusading lightly.
It is currently Lent. Most active, practicing Catholics observe Lent in some way or another. Lent is a time to take inventory, a time to improve oneself, a time to increase one's own virtue, a time for almsgiving. How are the bishops commemorating the trials, tribulation and death of Christ on the cross? By using collection dollars to pay lawyers to muscle agencies that do Christ's work. Can we (Catholics) hold on to any shred of moral authority while paying attorneys to help us re-traumatize adults who report incidents of child rape? Yes, we can.
If we stop paying for it.
I recently heard a Catholic priest, a moral theologian, give a talk about the recent changes in the Roman Catholic Mass. Like most priests, the theologian didn't like the new translation, but his chief objection was not so much to the language itself, but to the way the changes were implemented. The theologian felt that the Vatican had failed to work collaboratively (in keeping with doctrine and canon law) with "the bishops" on the changes. In his view, the Vatican had big-footed his own bishops. I later described this wonderful thinker and speaker to a friend as a "prop theologian," because he held up a little brown basket at the conclusion of his talk.
"Stop putting your money here!" he said.
If you are Catholic, and you have no problem with underwriting the intimidation of groups that seek healing and justice in child rape cases, go ahead and drop that envelope in the basket at on Sunday.
The Vatican's shysters will be grateful. 
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