Let's begin with the obvious: no self-respecting Catholic of any stripe condones or excuses the abuse carried out by priests, and often covered up by bishops, that came to light in the early part of the 21st century. It is wrong. More than that, it is about people gaining positions of trust and then abusing those positions to fulfill deviant desires.
But what you will never hear in the media, or from those eager and willing to demonize Catholicism, is that this scandal has many more layers to it than they would have you believe.
I am going to get personal for a moment here because this is personal. It is the most personal, intimate issue pressing on me at the present moment. I converted to Catholicism in 2005, after stories of abuse and scandal broke out in the media, and did so inspite of detraction and criticisms of others. I converted before my marriage, but not because of my marriage; raised in a mixed-faith household (Catholic mother, Lutheran father), I was brought up Lutheran but attended Mass as a child for family occassions or with my moth. In high school I contemplated converting but did not want to hurt my father's feelings. In college I fell away from practicing anything resembling organized religion and didn't attend any services for a couple of years.
I did not wake up one day and become Catholic; the process took about a year and involved meeting one-on-one with my husband's parish priest while doing independent study before being formally received into the Church in May 2005. Having wandered through a spiritual desert, I made the commitment that - no matter how difficult - to believe that which I professed in my Confirmation. I asked questions, I read a lot of material, I perused some wonderful blogs. This was not a decision lightly made.
What drew me to the faith is the same thing that keeps me in the faith: it makes sense. Theologically, and logically, if I am going to profess myself a Christian I am going to do so as a Roman Catholic. This is not to say there aren't genuinely faithful, wonderful Christians of all denominations out there, it is merely a statement that I have found what I believe to be the truth.
So every time a story like this breaks, it cuts to the quick. It goes right to the heart of what I believe is the correct way to have a relationship with God, the path I believe will lead me to salvation. I could no sooner turn my back on it than I could abandon my young sons.
And this time, it's not only personal - it's local. Rev. Laurence Murphy was a Milwaukee-area priest accused of molesting some 200 deaf boys between 1950 and 1975. Murphy passed away in 1998 after appealing to then-Cardinal Ratzinger to halt the trial.
Just as my conversion required research and study, I found myself asking questions about this abuse scandal. Let me reiterate that it is wrong, horribly wrong, that priests used their vocations to commit sinful crimes against our youth. It is also wrong that higher officials in the Church or hid this abuse. But there are also some startling information you would never learn if you didn't look for it outside the traditional media.
First, there is the myth - long perpetuated and rarely questioned - that the sexual abuse scandal is caused by priestly celibacy and the all-male clergy. It's not. Public school teachers, law enforcement officers, swim coaches, and people from all walks of life engage in abuse - yet all of these professions are not made up only of celibate men. Philip Jenkins wrote "The Myth of the Pedophile Priest" to dispel the notion that abuse was confined to Catholic clergy but does, in fact, occur in all religions denominations:
The Catholic abuse scandal - while most widely discussed - is not the only religious denomination to have problems. Philip Jenkins (a non-Catholic) penned "The Myth of the Pedophile Priest" in which he writes:\Literally every denomination and faith tradition has its share of abuse cases, and some of the worst involve non-Catholics. Every mainline Protestant denomination has had scandals aplenty, as have Pentecostals, Mormons, Jehovah´s Witnesses, Jews, Buddhists, Hare Krishnas -- and the list goes on. One Canadian Anglican (Episcopal) diocese is currently on the verge of bankruptcy as a result of massive lawsuits caused by decades of systematic abuse, yet the Anglican church does not demand celibacy of its clergy.
We are then led to believe that priests are pedophiles (abusers attracted to minors) and not ephebophiles (abusers attracted to adolescents). Despite the politically incorrect nature of this statement, Jenkins' book points out that most of the abusers were men abusing adolescent boys.
There are also many issues regarding the timing of such instances and who is responsible for what. Former Milwaukee Archbishop Rembert Weakland is blaming Pope Benedict for failing to act on Father Murphy's case despite the fact local law enforcement did not prosecute, and with - as of the date of publication - any evidence indicated Weakland contacted local law enforcement. Murphy died only four months after his case was canceled. (By comparision, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, the Lockerbie Bomber, was set free on compassionate release in August 2009 after being told he had three months to live...Megrahi is still alive.)
What of the role of Pope Benedict? When he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he led important changes made in church law: the inclusion in canon law of internet offences against children, the extension of child abuse offences to include the sexual abuse of all under 18, the case by case waiving of the statue of limitation and the establishment of a fast-track dismissal from the clerical state for offenders. He is not an idle observer. His actions speak as well as his words."
It is frustrating that the Catholic Church will never, ever receive a fair deal in this scandal. I repeat - again - that the abuse was wrong and the abusers should be punished. However, aided and abetted by the media, just about every anti-Catholic in the world has condemned us en masse for the actions of a small minority of our members.
The attitude towards this scandal is simply this: since standards are impossible to live up to, it's best not to have any at all. The Catholic Church is inerrant only in her theology, of which the central principles have not changed for two millenia. They may be tweaked, adapted, clarified, or reiterated as the world thinks of new ways to sin, but never do they undergo so radical a change as to cast the faith in a fallible light.
Her members, however, from the most anonymous member of the laity to the Pope himself, are human beings susceptible to the foibles and errors of the human condition. These cases of abuse are that notion proved.
And one must pause for a moment and contemplate the outrage manifested toward the Church and the Holy Father in a world where some of the following are considered good and necessary (content warning):
- Condoms for 12-year-olds
- Bestiality as part of sexual education
- School-hour abortions for minors, without parental consent
- Tassel shirts for toddlers
- Explicit sexual content in educational materials (content warning)
- A high-ranking political advisor, and taxpayer funed abortion provider who cover up abuse and the same high-ranking political advisor says Harry Hay, who has close ties to NAMBLA, is his "inspiration"
The dichotomy is very glaring. Why are these things listed above encouraged and, in some circles, celebrated while the Catholic Church is demonized? Why are public schools often protected by statutes of limitation that are lifted when the Church is the body being sued?
Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison says it best:
In order to be responsible for something, one has to have the authority to do something about it. And the very people who want to make the Holy Father responsible for everything heinous in the sexual misconduct scandal are the least likely to accept the Pope’s authority in any matter. They are the most disobedient people, in general. Yet they want to lay all the responsibility at the Pope’s feet. That simply makes no sense and we should not be fooled.
This has less to do with the abuse than it does with attempting to remove from the Catholic Church every moral teaching that defines it. From the priesthood to contraception to abortion and marriage, this abuse is being used as a platform to undermine teachings because - time and again - it is these issues that are cited as "the cause" of the abuse.
It's not merely that people in positions of power misused that authority, not that people in positions of power everywhere can misuse that authority to abuse others in many ways, not that mistakes were made and need to be corrected - the fundamentals of a faith professed by billions of people the world over needs to be uprooted because of the actions of a small minority.
And this should be alarming as well.