Thursday, December 03, 2009

Suffer little Children

My (ex-Catholic) father is really not fond of the Catholic Church in Portland, near where he lives. His very-memorable explanation, "Well, all they care about is gays and abortions, and I don't really give a damn about gays and abortions." It's not entirely fair; they're also, one would imagine, concerned with pedophilia. Local News WMTM: "A lawyer has confirmed that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland made a $200,000 settlement on Nov. 5 with his client, who said she was molested by a priest in 1976 in the rectory of St. Michael's Church in South Berwick." You know the rest by now.

You know, at some point, you have to ask why this was such a problem for the Catholic Church. It's starting to seem like the problem of child molestation is somehow uniquely acute in the priesthood. This probably isn't true- I imagine that all other occupations that allow for close, unsupervised contact with children attract pedophiles. There do seem to be a lot of them in middle schools. What I think shocks most people about the Catholic scandal though isn't that there were pedophiles; it's the apparently standard response of keeping them in the priesthood, but moving them to different parishes once they got caught. Most of us, I imagine, would have called the cops.

From the outside, it looks like the mob taking care of its own. Corruption arises in all organizations; the problem with large, hierarchical organizations is that they tend to deal with corruption by circling the wagons and silencing discussion. I've read all sorts of statements and essays about this scandal from Catholics that amount to intellectually circling the wagons. Actually, what got me thinking about the topic was a particularly self-serving article by Mary Eberstadt in the us-versus-them genre. Read it and see just how close she comes to arguing that the "liberal elite" only respond negatively to the child molestation scandal because they hate Catholics. I notice that a lot of religious people get caught up in the mentality of permanent war with the "secular society". This time, the secular society was right- the priests should have gone to a secular jail.

On the other hand, there really are people who don't much care for Catholics. I know a few militant atheists who seem to see this scandal as totally unsurprising and in tautological terms. Priests are child molesters and become priests to molest children. Well, it's a shock to me. Of course, I'm an old Romantic: to me, the Catholic Church is incense and art, history and borderline-pagan rituals. It's more Oscar Wilde's Catholicism really. On occasion, I like to go to mass and sing songs with the old people in my neighborhood. And I frankly have a hard time thinking of "the Church" in terms larger than the one down the street. I like that church, and don't care much about the one in Rome.

Of course, I'm not a Catholic. But the Church down the street is full of rational, ethically-minded people; it's hard to imagine any of them covering up for a child molester. Still, that's cold comfort. I wish I had a better answer for how something like this could have happened. The best I can figure is that the Church sees all sins as absolvable through confession and repentance, not to mention grace. Therefore, maybe they didn't see it as a secular matter. Perhaps it's like someone confessing to a crime; generally, the priests don't call the cops. And maybe the bishops saw the priests as fallen members of a sacred brotherhood.

Still, if it was me, I'd have called the cops.

5 comments:

The Pagan Temple said...

I hope nobody misunderstands what I am going to say here, because I definitely believe this happened, and I also definitely believe the problem is systemic. At the same time, I have to wonder how much of this is a result of mass hysteria.

I knew a woman some years ago who was a big drunk. She would do anything for that next forty-ouncer, and she always managed to convince herself that the absolute cheapest brand on the market was the absolute best. If she had somebody to talk to so much the better. She would fill your glass so she could sit and go on and on about the same old shit.

She told me about being hit on by some priest that had recently come under the gun for this very thing, claiming that the priest had told her a long time ago that she was "fresh meat". And of course, she was a young underage girl at the time.

I didn't have any reason to disbelieve her at the time, in fact I figured, well that would explain why she's so fucked up.

But then the more I got to know her, it seemed as though if there was any infamous criminal type that had ever been in the immediate vicinity of Northern Kentucky, sure enough she had had some kind of close call with him.

One guy who had been accused of murdering some young girl had, with another person, taken her out, and had intended to kill her. She supposedly swam across the Ohio River to get away from them. They somehow tracked her to where they figured she would end up on the other side, so she sat quietly in the bushes staring at a snake until they passed on by.

Another guy tried to lure her in a closet by going in there and acting like he was comatose. Really bizarre stuff.

It's easy to see how some people might smell a payday out of this scandal, but at the same time, it's also easy to see how pedophiles would be attracted to the Catholic Church priesthood. Insisting their priests remain celibate was probably not the best idea the church ever came up with.

I look at it like it is probably an overall very small minority of priests (at least I hope it is), but that small minority can constitute a cult within a cult, and they will look out for each other to start out with, and in the larger picture, the church wanted to protect it's reputation, and ended up doing greater harm.

rufus said...

Yeah, I think they said that when they studied Ireland they found only about 5% of the priests were abusers, but about 2/3rds of the bishops were aware of those priests and involved in the cover up.

I don't think the celibacy helps much either. I understand the reason for it, but it would seem to require more isolation of some sort. Of course, the old norm (and still is in some more traditional countries) was for the priest to have a live-in assistant, who was really like an unacknowledged wife. I wonder if it will change anything allowing Anglicans to consider themselves Catholics- they have married priests.

The Pagan Temple said...

I didn't know that, about priests having live-in assistants. They need to rethink their policy, but they are kind of in a bind, because they need to be able to explain such a change in dogma without alienating their older parishioners, and the more traditional minded ones among the younger set, which there are more than you might imagine in places like South and Central America and Africa.

They could explain it much in the same vein that they offered apologies for the Inquisition and other similar policies against other religions, but there they were owning up to something that is entirely indefensible, while this is more of a murky area of dogma and tradition.

Rufus said...

Well, it's not generally official policy; just something that was often tolerated. The country pastor with a wife that nobody acknowledges is his wife used to be not uncommon. It's generally easier to do if you're assigned far from the bishops in a remote area.

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