April 5, 2010

Defending Ourselves

I have to admit that I'm getting a little uncomfortable with this business of defending ourselves against the "attacks" of the New York Times and others in the secular press. I love Benedict XVI, and an examination of his ministry shows that he has done an immense amount of work--especially at the CDF--against the legacy of negligence with regard to the child abuse and other sexual misconduct of the clergy. But we can't give the world the idea that we feel we are being attacked in complete unfairness.

Yes, we should calmly point out when matters of fact are distorted. Yes, we should try to show how we have made our ministries and institutions safe for children. But we have to admit that crimes have been committed, and the negligence of bishops and superiors have allowed them. Bishops too have to admit that there the roots of their own failures go deep. The homosocial world of seminaries and presbyterates in which they themselves grew up sometimes had a power structure of the patron and client culture, a culture that can sometimes edge into crypto-erotic and even the genital. Behavior which is an abuse of power and a crime against the developmental flourishing of a child might have been more or less normalized for them by their own upbringing in the church, which is not to say that they were comfortable with it. There are culturally embedded confusions at the root of this crisis which are not reducible to incomplete blamings of homosexuality or celibacy. Add to this The Church's persistent sin of "desiring to restore confidence rather than to restore souls," (Philip F. Lawler, The Faithful Departed, 156) and the failures of leadership are set up.

Jesus warned us that the world would hate us, and indeed it does. The world hates us because our belief and celebration of the humility of Christ in the manger and on the cross undoes all of the world's pride and addictions to violence and power. So we should not be surprised if an organ of the world like the New York Times hates us. We can't act like all of a sudden the world is going to look at us with a hermeneutic of appreciation. This is not a reason to imagine, however, that the secular media is only out to discredit and smear the Church, though they are happy to be able to do so. They all also report on facts, the sins of the church among them.

So let's use this historical moment not to get up and defend ourselves in the stance of the courageous victim, but let every cleric kneel down like the publican and express his desire to be converted from any root of these negligences and abuses that he allows to live in his heart.


Kevin F said...

Another great post on a real nasty topic. I had some time to think over this some more during the Easter Weekend and I find myself coming in very close to where you are.

I think it is very important to point out where some of the press coverage seems to be incorrect (in terms of understanding dates and responsibilites); However, when leaders in Rome (or high profile lay organizations) make statements that are defensive or sometimes silly (the comparision to anti-semetism seems to have no connection to reality; whatever was said, it was a soundbite gone terribly wrong. Some other comments have come across as blaming the survivors of abuse).

That said: I think the news coverage (in terms of its intensity and presuppositions) bears some resemblance to anti-Catholic myths that floated around in the nineteenth century. Some of the reporting seems all too "Maria Monk" for my comfort. Yes there is an abuse crisis, but we need to focus on what the problem really is and not what journalists tell us it is. I think the temptation for Catholics is to swing too far either way: The press is totally right/the press is totally wrong.

I also don't think we should treat this issue as just a clergy problem. If we look at the problem of the sexual exploitation of children and young adults it is hardly isolated to the clergy. I definietly think that there are members of the clergy who have bought into a culture of abuse, but the culture of abuse is ingrained into our society(ies) and needs to be addressed at its systemic roots which I think are based on dynamics of power that ALL Christians need to be willing to challenge.

Thom Curnutte, S.F.O. said...


Tina aka Snupnjake said...

Wow. I think this is one of the few pieces I have read to posit that it is the culture itself that can seemingly normalize the behavior. Very Interesting and thought-provoking..

Brother Charles said...

Thanks, Kevin, for correctives.

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles, yet another hard-hitting and accurate reference from you on this subject. All I can say is everything you wrote about the atmosphere in question is right on the money, and I too beleive this is one of the primary reasons which created the explosion of such cases (that and the relaxation/elimination of rules and spiritual exercises that I mentioned earlier). I'm not going to feed into gossip here, but just let me say from personal experience the Marianists and Jesuits were some of the worst offenders here. IF they are indicitave of a wider policy, then I guess I'm surprised even worse has not happened.

But as you allude, we really need to divorce the guilty from the innocent. It is very easy to say "the bishops" or "the priests", which is EXACTLY the tactic such rags as the NYT have taken. This blurs the line of who is actually guilty until it becomes guilt by association. As I have stated on other sites, our blessed Pope Benedict (may God bless him and grant him 100 years) has shown by his track record that he was the one CALLING for an overhaul of the seminaries and STREAMLINING of the abuse investigation process. In other words, he is not only an orthodox priest, a scholar and theologian, but he is also by all accounts a very good man who cares about the faithful. It would be extremely contrary to his past experience AND his personality to cover-up any abuse. And this is why the forces that be are resorting to digging up decades-old cases to nebulously and intangibly associate him to them.

Hang the guilty, protect the innocent.

Brother Charles said...

Unlike New Hampshire and Washington (state), (If I remember rightly), this blog does not condone hanging.

ben in denver said...

I beleive that things are different in Europe than they are in America. They live with a more active memory of things like the priest-block at Dachau, especially, I would think our German Pope.

There is also the memory of the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War. I've have little doubt that many of the Europeans in the Curia personally knew people or had relatives who died in some of these persecutions.

An we must never forget the Vendee, the first genocidal campaign of the modern era, which was waged by the forces of "liberal enlightened republicanism" against the simple faith of the people.

We have never had mass executions of Catholics here, but I have no doubt that it could happen.

Brother Charles said...

Ben, thanks too for correctives. You are right about these differences. From the other angle, I see it in the European anticlericalism that my father sometimes expresses.

I don't doubt that the days could be coming here. Once personhood becomes relative to convenience and faith becomes one more consumer item, where on our way to the persecution of people who actually stand up for God.

Qualis Rex said...

Father Charles - I understand. Yet Our Lord was pretty specific about what should be done to those who would cause the least of his children into sin. And it wasn't "send them to therapy". It was in fact, the only case in the bible where Our Lord condones capital punishment. So, I personally stand by that one.