October 15, 2011

Sexual Abuse

Everything going on in my life these days has meant a lot of walks. I've always been someone who thinks and processes experience in the solitude of walking. Everywhere I live I fall into habitual routes.

On my walk yesterday I was thinking about the big news of the indictment of bishop Finn. From there I got to remembering another priest, whom I met very early on in my religious life. He had that perfect mixture of sincere devotion and don't-take-it-all-too-seriously bemusement that seems to be the charm of us Franciscans. He was fun and full of quotes from the saints. He seemed self-confident in his love of the vocation. I looked up to him, and hoped that one day I would be like him.

Today he's in prison.

When I think about this it reminds me of how sexual abuse in the Church is still an issue. Now I'm not putting down all the programs and checks that are in place for the protection of children; I have great respect for the folks who work hard at implementing and administrating these things, and I have no doubt that they have been a great help. But I am saying that I don't think we have yet taken seriously the larger problems of the use of power and endemic emotional immaturity of which the sexual abuse of children by priests is just the horrific, criminal edge.

It gives me pause to remember that a friar who seemed in every way to fit in, and was even someone to look up to in his apparent happy adjustment to our life, and to whom I myself looked up in my first steps as a religious, is in prison as I write this post. But the betrayal I feel as I think back on myself innocently looking up to a friar who seemed so successful and cool is but the tiniest taste of the injuries of those who have been abused by priests.

But maybe God wills that tiny taste to be an invitation.

A couple of years back there was a spell when it would often come up in my prayer that I should accept some particular penance or work of reparation for the sexual abuse committed by my brother priests. I don't think I ever decided on anything. Maybe it's time to seek such a thing again in my prayer.


Sarah said...

Thanks for this - your thoughts help me remember that the sexual abuse committed by priests doesn't just hurt the individuals involved, but it deeply wounds the whole Church - we are all the body of Christ. Padre Pio used to weep for his brother priests whom he had heard committed grave sin, and would be downright harsh for those who judged those priests. My mom has taken on prayer and sacrifice for the clerics who abuse children - so any prayer or sacrifice you can spare for them will not be wasted!

Tom said...

I once chose to offer up about a year of intense intestinal pain for a particular priest, his lifestyle, and his victims. Doubled over in pain, I would share those moments with Christ's calvary journey.
Frankly, it gave a purpose to the pain. I've never been in contact with that priest to find out his state in life now, but I suspect I may one day know how Christ used my sacrifices.

Barb, sfo said...

Before you wrote this, I had never thought to take part in prayer or sacrifice for those who abuse innocent children. Thank you for telling the story of your fellow friar and planting the idea of praying & sacrificing as a way of reparation. And thank you for being willing to take that on yourself.

As a Catholic-school volunteer, I have had to go through the rigamarole of fingerprinting and the "protection from abuse" classes. I admit that I did not do so with a good attitude, as I considered them a waste of my time--but now each week as I put on the ID tag that shows I passed inspection, I will remember to pray for those who have abused their power.

Greg said...

The wounds inflicted by such priests rend the body of Christ, and we all suffer.

I, too, know of one, a friar, who fits all-too-perfectly the description you write, except he is not in jail, but rather remains unchastened, unrepentent, and deviously active, refusing help and administrative control.

At the same time there are a few who remain on the loose, there are those, like the Bishop, who do not deserve the punishment they are receiving on behalf of those crafty demons that have entered our midst in an effort to bring down the Church.

I spent the past week at the National Canon Law Society meeting, with those who seek to better the drafting and implementing of church law... a fine group of intellects driven by devoted hearts to help us protect the innocent and punish the guilty.

The event inspired me to design a system that I believe will prevent the frivolous and malicious attacks of those, like SNAP, who desire to destroy the Church and at the same time help us catch the smiling psychopaths before they wreak their damage.

Would love the benefit of your wisdom when I am close to a draft. Perhaps such help would serve as penance...

Lee Gilbert said...

"When I think about this it reminds me of how sexual abuse in the Church is still an issue."

A younger brother of mine died in 1993 of AIDS, something that never would have happened if he hadn't gone to the seminary and been abused, and lured into the the marvelous "lifestyle." The remaining six siblings have all lost their faith as a result of that and the ongoing scandal of the past ten years. So, of course the question of sexual abuse within the Church is very much a live issue for me.

Still, I do think our approach to this whole problem has been very short-sighted, and to a very great extent self-centered. The entire society is suffering from hyper-sexualization. The entire society, in practically every career line that deals with young children has a problem with pandemic sexual abuse. I am not at all pointing this out as an opportunity for self-exoneration on the part of the Church, as in "You think we're bad-just look at public school teachers, etc."

No, an ongoing theme lately has been that in our preaching we don't want to be constantly harping on the commandments. So we absolutely will not preach the gospel in its moral dimensions, not to effect.

Oh, everyone knows that we are against abortion, against contraception, against fornication- as they should. Yet, inspite of the sexual meltdown, there has hardly bneen a peep about the hypersexualization of the society, about the pornography that comes into our homes through the mass media, destroys the purity of our young people and eventuates in fornication, contraception and abortion, and sexual abuse.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, has drawn a line in the sand. There is an ineffectual peep from time to time, but as far as the Church assuming leadership for getting pornography out of the Catholic home, or the American home, for that matter, silence. Or staying away from impure movies, or impure dancing. That is not the way of the New Evangelization.

What I want to know is when is someone going to take on the ferocious and effective de-evangelization that is taking place all around us through the hypersexualization of our young people, of the fathers of families, of priests? Are we blind?

Greg said...

Lee, your post touched on some key areas to be considered.

I recently wrote a series of blog posts in response to articles on the battle to preserve marriage. My hypothesis is that our most fundamental failure is in the area of spiritual formation.

We are in need of a Franciscan revival in which spiritual direction is revitalized.

Here's a link to the first in the three part series.