Child Protection Right Under Abuser’s Noses

My erstwhile assistant, Christine Marino found this about an ad that displays two images, one for adults and another for children. Amazing.

Let’s pray today for all victims of abuse, so we might better offer protection for them and for forgiveness and healing so that all may live in peace. Amen.

Needed: The Fortitude to Stand Up Against Injustice

So Philadelphia’s Msgr. Lynn received nearly the maximum sentence for harboring at least one pedophile priest through reassignment. His lawyers maintain that Lynn is the “fall guy” for a systematic failure by the Archdiocese in which they routinely reassigned predator priests to unsuspecting parishes and agencies.

So is Lynn really as blameworthy as say, Cardinal Bevilacqua who once reportedly said during the height of the scandal in Boston that he had never met nor known anyone who had been abused by priests?

I’m of a split mind here. Surely, Msgr. Lynn knew what was going on with at least one priest (the statute of limitations has run out on several others) that they could have discussed in the case. Msgr. Lynn did nothing to protect children at least in that instance and clearly in several more.

The issue at play indeed is a systematic one, however, one in which there seemed to be a “standard operating procedure” with regards to these cases in Philadelphia’s archdiocese, of reassignment after a brief psychiatric evaluation. Even when recommended that an abuser-priest be kept away from children the advice seemed to be roundly ignored in favor of hoping, against better judgement, that this would not occur again. Moreover, there seemed to be a lack of knowledge about pedophilia at the highest levels of the Archdiocese, including Msgr. Lynn and Cardinal Bevilacqua that was ingrained in this standard procedure of reassignment.

And nobody was smart or brave enough to question that.

What responsibility do we have to buck an unjust system, even at great personal risk to ourselves? I would say simply, that doing the right thing is often, if not always, never easy. And that’s why so many people fail to do it. Fear of reprisal, ostracizing and perhaps even death may have been at the heart of this systematic failure. How many other areas of life do we see people unable to stand up for the most vulnerable in society because of a fear like this? It is the great anxiety of the world in many ways. We’ve allowed great harm to come to many because of our inability to stand up for the rights, needs, safety and even lives of others who are in harm’s way.

And that friends, is wrong.

I can understand the fear that goes along with it, but as said, doing the right thing is almost never easy. That’s just the way it goes. When we stand up for others, we put ourselves at risk and we need to be willing to do that. Perhaps we need to be “cunning as snakes” as Jesus said, in order to protect ourselves? Or perhaps we need more indifference in our lives knowing that indeed the truth will set us free regardless of what happens. We need the bravery to stand up for least of our people, as Jesus did so often. We also need to acknowledge that when we do that we will face much resistance from others. Living in this way will put us in solidarity with the vulnerable and while it might restore their dignity and safety, it also may very well put us in harm’s way ourselves.

I often recount the story of a former workplace of mine where I discovered a woman was not being hired because of her race. It took me three whole days to approach someone in management about it. Why didn’t I speak up sooner, if not immediately? I was afraid. What if I misheard this? What would the person who was at the heart of this do to me if they found out? What if management was angry with me for accusing someone of this and fired me? Finally, I placed all that fear aside and realized that if any of that occurred, I probably wouldn’t want to work there anyway because our values didn’t line up. It was an unjust system and I needed to say that to someone. Unfortunately, our tendency is often to say nothing at all, ignore the issue, and hope that injustice will just go away.

Msgr. Lynn’s failure was simply that. He was working in an unjust and horrifying system of Archdiocesan governance and he did nothing to question it. I shudder to think if there were, in fact, any other injustices in the Archdiocese that have yet to come to light.

So today, let’s pray for victims of abuse for all those who were put in harm’s way by an unjust system of authoritarian power gone awry.

But let’s also pray for our priests, lay people, women’s religious and all those who witness injustice in the world. May they have the strength to speak up when they see the horror of evil at play and may the Holy Spirit pour the gift of fortitude on them so that they might rest easy in doing the right thing, even when it is difficult.

And let’s pray for Msgr. Lynn as well. May we somehow be able to forgive him for his failures and may we realize that it would be unjust for him to be abused by others while he serves his punishment regardless of whatever he enabled others to do to children. Revenge does not equal justice. So let us pray that he is able to see his actions as remorseful ones and that he can make peace with God and himself and that although he was unable to offer a harbor of safety to children, may he be kept safe from harm–as he pays his debt to society.

May God who is infinitely merciful grant us salvation for all of our failures as a people. And may peace and justice one day reign for us all. Amen.

Dutch Church and Sexual Abuse

The Dutch Bishops apologized for failing to adequately deal with the sexual abuse of over 20,000 children in institutions since 1945.

But anecdotal evidence in the report concerning two Catholic orders — the Brothers of Charity and the Salesians of Don Bosco — suggested “that the Catholic situation was worse than in other denominations.”

In the report, for instance, the commission found that “there is evidence that sexually inappropriate behavior towards members of the order” among the Salesians of Don Bosco “may perhaps have been part of the internal monastic culture.”

The Dutch commission, which described itself as independent, was established at the behest of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands in 2010 to investigate accusations of abuse since 1945. Its creation followed incidents at one cloister that inspired a series of accusations of abuse by priests at other institutions.

Its findings showed what some analysts said was one of the highest levels of abuse on a continent that has been forced to confront a steady stream of public disclosures about the behavior of priests and church workers toward minors.

I wonder if anybody has researched this: Do religious orders that have a particular charism towards youth have any disproportionate number of abusers in their order as opposed to others? It would seem to me to be obvious that they’d have more access and therefore it would just be sheer numbers. Regardless, it’s shameful and it continues to get worse. I pray that the Dutch bishops can take care of this swiftly.

Penn State Students Are Out of Control

There’s no way that this game can happen on Saturday. If I’m Nebraska, I go nowhere near Un-Happy Valley.

And while Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier were removed yesterday here’s a bit of irony from Sports Illustrated:

Penn State interim head coach Tom Bradley said today in a press conference that assistant coach Mike McQueary will be with the team this Saturday in the Nittany Lions’ game against Nebraska.

McQueary, now a full-time coach, was the graduate assistant who allegedly witnessed Jerry Sandusky showering with a young boy in 2002. McQueary has come under fire for not pursuing police action, as have all other involved parties in the Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. As of now, McQueary has not faced any legal charges.

So the guy who witnessed the sodomy is on the sidelines, while Paterno isn’t? That makes no sense. Neither one belongs on the sidelines anymore.

Don’t play this game folks. It’s got nothing but trouble written all over it.

This Should Have Happened a Month Ago in Ireland

After visiting abuse victims in Malta Pope Benedict made an rare public statement–which the NY Times reports

Pope Benedict XVI pledged Wednesday that the Catholic Church would take action to deal with the widening scandal over sexual abuse by priests, making a rare, direct public comment on the crisis.

During his weekly audience here, Benedict told pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter’s Square that he had met with abuse victims during a recent trip to Malta and had “assured them of church action.”

“I shared their suffering and emotionally prayed with them,” the pope said, describing his visit on Sunday with eight Maltese men who claim to have been molested by priests as youths.

After that meeting, the Vatican issued a statement saying that the pope had told the men that the church would investigate the allegations and bring to justice those responsible for the abuse. It would also “implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people in the future,” the statement said.

The pope’s words on Wednesday offered his most forceful promise that the church would confront accusations that it covered up abuse and failed to take criminal action to punish pedophile priests.

Now while this is way too late in the game, suffice it to say that the Vatican Press Corps is getting wiser. Or perhaps the Pope himself went out on a limb and did this on his own–which is what I suspect actually. The Vatican press corps is content with press releases that confine themselves to antiseptic statements, while the Pope himself seemed visibly moved as he spoke of the event in Malta.

We’ll see what his next move is, but methinks the Pope isn’t allowing himself to be “handled” anymore.

Despite the Sex Scandal, I Remain Catholic

A friend recently asked me to talk to him about how I’m able to stay Catholic despite the sexual abuse scandal that has reared it’s ugly head in Ireland and soon in Germany.

I thought it was a good question and I’m sure it’s one that many have pondered, especially during lent when more attention seems to be on the Catholic Church.

So here’s my response:

I stay Catholic because well…first of all, I am Catholic. I can’t really change that about myself just as I can’t change my DNA. It’s part of who I am and has contributed to much of my own worldview, moral development and personal prayerlife.

Now that being said, there’s a lot that I find troubling about the church too. I find just as many troubling things about fundamentalism (a lot more here actually), mormonism, Judaism, Buddhism, etc. All religions are man-made developments of what they think God is about and being less than God they are inherently flawed. We just need to admit and deal with that.

Tip O’Neill once said “all politics is local” and the same is said about the church in many ways. Part of my life as a Catholic has been being able to find parish communities that give me life, feed me spiritually and allow me to use my own gifts and talents to serve others. More importantly, I’m able to find those communities or help build them when they don’t exist. Sometimes they change and sometimes I feel the need to move on.

I’m not a mere consumer though. I tend to think beyond the parochial and believe strongly that God is saddened by the sins that are committed by local bishops and priests. But isn’t God just as sad at the sins that I commit as well? So while I’m not a child abuser, I’m sure I have my own failings and so I try to remind myself that I often don’t think I deserve God’s forgiveness but it’s offered to me anyway.

Secondly, we need to remember that human beings are sinful and that includes priests and bishops. Perhaps we’ve placed our expectations of them way too high and when they disappoint us even in small ways (as well as in horrifying ways) we quickly throw the entire church to the wind for a small faction of people who did a lot of bad things.

When it comes to those who enabled the abusers, I tend to put myself in the bishops shoes and realize that the systemic problem is that nobody has trained them in administration. Priests simply get promoted to pastor and bishop and very few know how to do the job and fewer have the gifts for it. That’s a stupid way to run a billion dollar organization, even one that is spiritually based. And it is something that is slowly changing. It’s up to the lay folk to call for greater lay participation in the more temporal affairs of the church.

Secondly, some have scapegoated gay priests when it’s actually the closeted straight priests that have caused the major issue. Pedophillia really isn’t the issue. It’s ephebophilia, which means the following:

There are priests who haven’t integrated their sexuality in a healthy way. Some didn’t deal with the fact that they have same sex attraction (probably during their teen-age years) and thus, they have stunted their sexual development at that level. Which psychologically speaking, means that they remain attracted to that age group and can’t get past that point in their lives. Their sexual development stopped at that age, if you will. It’s a serious problem and while most of the abusers have sought out young boys to act out with, they also for the most part, claimed to be straight men while doing that. There are many good priests with a homosexual orientation who are integrated in a healthy way and remain true to their vow of celibacy. And just as sure as there are married men who cheat on their wives there are also priests, straight and gay, who fail at remaining celibate. We far more forgiving of married men, however, than we are of priests who “cheat.” (not in reference to child abuse here of course, which is indeed different).

I refuse to let people hijack my faith, scapegoat others, or simply stop serving the needs of the poor and the spiritual needs of parishioners.

We are the church…together. And that means that things are often messy. I know I’ve made a bunch of mistakes that I wouldn’t want the Ny times to know about too. So I do my part and hope it’s enough.

I stay because I am part of a family. And at the Thanksgiving meal that happens each week that we call Eucharist, we are sure to find disagreement, horror stories and dysfunction. It’s who we are, warts and all.

And somehow God loves us anyway. Perhaps, it’s too hard for all of us to stay. That’s understandable when it comes to those that have been abused. But it’s not going to help anyone spiritually to simply close the door and turn our backs for good. We need each other and it’s time for all of us to reach beyond our pain, our anger, our disappointment and instead reach out to heal, to welcome, to reconcile and most of all to pray together around the altar where God gives us all of his pain, disappointment and anger and still remains with us…

Even though we hung God from a tree.

Today let us pray for the abused and let us pray for the abusers. Let us pray for our bishops and for our communities of faith. Most of all, let us pray that we notice God in our lives and that we can bring the healing that God offers to us into the lives of others.

Photo credit: Sr Jeremy Midura