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I wrote this for the victim of Fr. Fugee, whoever he is. Because his pain will last a lifetime longer than the headlines, and people need to be reminded of that.

Touch

Touch creates communion
through a language all its own.

A mother’s strokes and caresses
tell her newborn he is wanted and loved,
her eyes tell him he is, he exists.
A father’s arms firm and strong
tell him he is safe and protected.

Being bathed and changed
tells him his body deserves care;
being made clean is being loved.

Caring hands pick him up
when he cries,
when he’s hungry,
when he’s tired.

Arms around him rocking
against a safe warm body.
The world is a warm and gentle place.

A Father blesses his forehead
anoints with oil.
He is named,
he belongs.

His child arms exploring his body
knowing, learning
this is me, this is mine.

Feet touching the floor
hands held then let go
he is strong and stronger now.

He feels the air on his skin
the rain on his tongue.
Holding a bat, wearing a glove
throwing a ball
casting line
skinning fish.

High fives
hugs.
You’re never too old for hugs
his mother says
mussing his hair.
His father pats his shoulder.

Life is good
his body is his ally
he is safe
he is loved.

Then a Father’s hand on his shoulder
like his dad’s touch
but with different eyes
looking where they don’t belong,
hands following the eyes.

Let’s wrestle, the Father says
and then the touch.

His body’s momentary
unbidden response;
betrayed by his own skin.

Feeling sick, afraid,
dirty, shamed.

He is helpless and alone
with his hate
for his body,
his pleasure,
himself.

One touch
and everything changes
from safe to lost
happiness to despair.

He lives with strangers now
his parents
who think his frame
is solid
but he is empty.

Who he was
has gone forever,
all he wants is
to peel away
the skin
that makes him vulnerable
to the cruelty of touch.

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Meaning # 1
A 2010 movie starring Sylvester Stallone and other over-the-hill hit men.

Meaning # 2
Children.
In different ways all over the world children are the Expendables:
They work in sweat shops.
They are sold as sex slaves.
They star in porn movies.
The are used as bartering chips in divorce proceedings.
They are an investment for a larger government handout.
They are collateral damage in the Catholic abuse scandal, where the priorities are institutional image, the brotherhood of the priests, the good old boy network of the bishops, the protection of assets.

According to an article on JSpace.com about children of the holocaust who were abused by those who hid them from the Nazis, “the pain of sexual abuse often impacts childhood survivors far greater than other losses and traumas endured during the Holocaust.”

This is the kind of information that Catholics need to hear: from the parents of victims who refuse to believe their children; to those who think they should just get over it; to the bishops and priests who continue to shield their friends and deny the abusers’ guilt and their own culpability and continue to minimize the criminal nature of child abuse.

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According to Tom Reese SJ, on the America Magazine Blog, at the installation the new Cardinals will take an oath of fidelity and obedience to the pope and his successors. Text below: 

I [name and surname], Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, promise and swear to be faithful henceforth and forever, while I live, to Christ and his Gospel, being constantly obedient to the Holy Roman Apostolic Church, to Blessed Peter in the person of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, and of his canonically elected Successors; to maintain communion with the Catholic Church always, in word and deed; not to reveal to anyone what is confided to me in secret, nor to divulge what may bring harm or dishonor to Holy Church; to carry out with great diligence and faithfulness those tasks to which I am called by my service to the Church, in accord with the norms of the law. So help me Almighty God. [Translation by Zenit.]

One comment on the blog already raises the question about the appropriateness of such an oath given the fact of the scandal regarding abusive priests. Surely a greater scandal was caused by the secrecy regarding the protection of molesters and rapists and their multiple re-assignments which led in so many documented cases to multiple new victims. As a victim myself I have often reflected on the fact that my abuse, even the abuse of my siblings, was not enough to rob me of my faith in the Church, it was the scandal that came to light regarding the official policies of the ecclesial authorities that caused the greatest damage:

  • the systemic and documented policies of support for the perpetrators
  • avoidance of the truth (!) when asked about the personal histories and personnel files of individual priests
  • protection of the perpetrators from criminal charges
  • imposition of silence on the victims under threat of excommunication or removal of support
  • funding of aggressive lobbying against the removal of statutes of limitations

There are, as so many commentators have pointed out, sex abusers in every religious and social organisation and in many families. Finding evidence of abusers in the Catholic Church was not surprising, finding evidence of organized sanctioned cover-up was devastating. 

I am in mourning for my faith in my Church.

“The Catholic church preaches sexual morality to the world, so to say that the rate of sexual abuse by priests is no worse than other institutions is a bit like saying the number of arsonists in the Fire Department is no greater than in the general public. Most people will not find that terribly reassuring.”
National Catholic Reporter (ncronline.org), Sep. 19, 2010, 
John L. Allen Jr.

John Allen’s comparison is brilliant! Asking why Belgium didn’t see their recent sex abuse scandal coming and defuse the crisis before it exploded, Allen provides two answers:  firstly, bishops often believe the Catholic church is being unfairly smeared by the media because other institutions and religions have similar statistics of abusive leaders and so are disinclined to mount their own investigation unless specific scandals emerge; and secondly the Catholic church is not prepared to handle a global crisis and has to rely on the local bishops to handle their own dioceses, and some dioceses are internally dysfunctional and incapable of an effective response that will contain the damage.

These may both be very valid reasons for the lack of pro-action in Catholic dioceses even after so many national scandals, and his response to the first is spot on. Arsonist fire-department officers indeed! The second reason is not very reassuring but also, it seems, accurate:  there is no system of oversight among the bishops themselves, and only the pope can censure individual bishops.

It is time for a specific Vatican policy of handing over to independent authorities all personnel information on any member of the Catholic clergy – not just priests – against whom accusations have been made. And I mean any accusations, not just those whom church officials have deemed “credible.”  Is there any other institution that is allowed to decide what criminal accusations are to be handed over to the legal authorities? Maybe the military. But they have their own system of punishment and they don’t give convicted officers a new assignment and hide their criminal offenses from the public, or retire guilty officers to a villa in Spain and hand them a pension.

In order for this policy of handing over all accusations to be enforced, national conferences of bishops need to be given more authority over and more responsibility for their own bishops, and for the implementation of policy in individual dioceses.  The Catholic Church needs a sort of Internal Affairs organization in each national conference, made up of clergy, but we also need non-catholic legal professionals to keep the clergy honest and to avoid any appearance of moral or spiritual blackmail. Bishops need to be fired if they are not doing a good job of implementing policy, or of “policing” their own personnel. And they need to be punished — sent to inner city schools as a chaplain, or sent to a rural diocese with little to no income. I also believe that any false accusations should be processed in criminal court using established criminal precedent.

For those found guilty, I think there should be excommunication as well as prison terms, because these are men (and women) who have used their position of authority in the church, and the trust of their community, to gain access to the most vulnerable — our children – in order to manipulate, abuse and intimidate, molest, rape and sodomize.  Excommunication is reversible but it should be a hard earned grace.  And there should be real prison time not some special mental institution/retreat center for the spiritually corrupt.

But wait! All of this presumes that we have the legal power to proceed against these criminals and in most cases that are coming to light – typically decades after the childhood abuse, when the child now adult has found the courage and support to come forward – we don’t. That is why all of this discussion is moot, it has no metal, unless we remove the statute of limitations from sex crimes against children. There is no statute of limitation for murder; there should be no statute of limitations for the murder of a child’s innocence, hope, joy, religious faith, and trust in an all-loving God.

Will innocent people get accused? Probably so, but the onus in a court of law is on proving guilt not innocence, so the passage of time will work in favor of the accused not the accuser. And if we have penalties for false accusations, which courts of law do have, then justice can be served.

Bottom line, then: No policy will be sufficient, no apology will be heartfelt enough, without the legal ability to prosecute the offenders.  Challenge your legislators now. Get a Representative with the metal appendages necessary to sponsor legislation to remove or at least extend the statute of limitation in your state.  Press for a window of opportunity for the presentation of accusations that are currently outside the legal statute.  

The removal of statutes of limitation was successful in Florida. Check out http://www.sol-reform.com/index.html  for all current legislative efforts.

The Associated Press is running a story today which reveals an obvious flaw in canon law that required a priest to willingly request removal from the priesthood following accusations or criminal prosecution. But it also highlights a more profound problem: the callous disregard of bishops for our children.  A few examples: 

  • Bishop Mattiehsen of Amarillo hired a priest who was on parole for abuse of two boys.
  • Bishop Hoffman of Toledo appointed a convicted child molester, upon his release from jail, as a pastor to one of his parishes.
  • Bishop (now Cardinal) Theodore McCarrick of New Jersey appointed a convicted rapist to a parish with an elementary school.
  • Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis retained a priest who had pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a child during the Sacrament of Confession.
  • Bishop John McCormack of New Hampshire lied about his knowledge of the sexual misconduct of now infamous accused multiple rapists Fr. Shanley, a public supporter of man-boy sex.

In none of these cases were the parishioners made aware of the convicted offenders who were ministering to their children. These and many other cases were listed in an article in the Dallas Morning News, June 12, 2002 and are available on the Bishop Accountability web site if you search “Catholic Bishops and sex abuse.” 

This is the most offensive aspect of the abuse scandal: the behavior of our bishops. And it is becoming clear that such behavior was sanctioned, even encouraged, by the Vatican authorities. Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who served for 16 years from 1990 to 2006 as the Vatican Secretary of State (like a Prime Minister) was recently accused by Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna of having a documented track record of covering up and covering for abusive priests

However, one could view this accusation as Schönborn’s attempt to ride the crest of public outrage into the position of next pope, which would make it simply a political maneuver and “government as usual” Vatican style. I want to believe it is more altruistic, I do.  But?

A few weeks ago, as I sat in a Catholic church waiting to read for my niece’s wedding, I was troubled by many questions: Should I receive communion? Should I join in the prayers? What does all this mean to me any more? I found myself automatically joining in the responses even while the debate continued in my head. I remembered to edit the Creed, “for us … and for our salvation …,” and to use “God” instead of “He” whenever possible — personal standards of theological authenticity. But, today, on the “Lord’s Day,” I cannot ignore the debate any longer, especially if I want to get a better night’s sleep tonight.

Family members, friends, and more recently ex-students, have asked me the questions I now ask myself. My response used to be that my abuse by Catholic priests as a child was a personal horror that actually led me to the study of theology, where I met my husband, and to a career in religious education that provided immense personal satisfaction for nearly thirty years. In other words, it was a personal experience of the evil that humans are capable of, but the Catholic Church was not responsible for it. And in fact Catholicism had been a spiritual and intellectual saving grace in my life. The bad people in my childhood were Catholic priests, but all the good people in my life have been Catholics, too.

But didn’t my abusers represent the Church? No, not to me. They represented their own perverted sexual desires and addictions to alcohol, and their personal rejection of Catholic values. They were the antithesis of Catholicism, like dark matter is to matter.

I didn’t understand the irony of that analogy until recently.

Although dark matter remains a theory, many astronomers now believe that it makes up over 20% of our universe and that something called dark energy more than 70%. That would mean that the universe is dominated by dark matter and dark energy. That is how I currently feel about the Catholic Church. From the pope down to local bishops, from official documents to internal memoranda, the evidence is that darkness is at the heart of the Catholic Church sexual abuse crisis.

In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness Marlow knowingly lies to Kurtz’s fiancé when he tells her that Kurtz’s last words were of her. Marlow’s motive was kindness. He didn’t want her to know the truth of the darkness in the soul of her beloved. And today, in the midst of this Catholic horror, I wonder what has been the motive behind the behavior of Catholic officials? Has it been the protection of property, which some also argue is the main reason for denying the option of marriage to Catholic priests? Were they callously and knowingly putting the Church’s reputation before the protection of children? Or were they protecting the innocent and naive faith of the Catholic community? Was it kindness or calumny?

How is history going to judge our leaders for their failure to hold their own actions up to the standards of morality so readily imposed by them on the members of the Church community: honesty, integrity, atonement for wrong-doing, advocacy of the suffering, especially children? Will the last words on this debacle echo Kurtz’s own cry “that was no more than a breath – ‘The horror! The horror!’ ” Or will we look back at this dark moment and realise it was the turning point in the life of the modern Catholic Church?

This week in Commonweal is a one page opinion piece, written by a funeral director, that contains the most succinct criticism of Catholic bishops that I  have read to date. The egregious behavior of the bishops of Dublin is contrasted to the religious ministers from various faith traditions with whom he has worked, who ” bring a brave and sacred narrative to bear on the existential questions” raised when a loved one dies. The best part, though, is the opener…

Preaching to bishops,” a long-dead churchman told me years ago, “is like farting at skunks. You’ll win some battles, but lose the war.” All the more so, no doubt, the higher you go. His Holiness, Their Eminences and Excellencies—“Don’t cross ’em,” the curate cautioned; “those boyos aren’t to be tampered with.”

Catholicism doesn’t bring much humor into my life, so I am extraordinarily grateful for the laugh Thomas Lynch gave me, and I am happy to share it. But don’t stop here, check out the whole piece.

Preaching to Bishops, Commonweal Magazine, January 15, 2010.

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