It goes without saying that it is a terrible challenge to one’s trust and to one’s faith to realize that priests, bishops, cardinals, and heads of religious orders and seminary rectors have been capable of cynically seducing children and young people who served Mass, were students at Catholic schools, were in vulnerable positions in orphanages and in homes without fathers, and were in seminaries studying to be priests. And the cover-ups, how in the world can a Catholic deal with the cover-ups?
I have been trying to deal with my own disgust and horror about clerical perversion and tolerance of it by higher-ups ever since I read Fr. Andrew Greeley’s writings in the 1980s about a ring of abusers well-known and tolerated up to the highest levels of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Greeley wrote that one of the most notorious abusers in the ring lived in the archbishop’s residence and was a close friend.
When priests are immoral and false to their calling, it is a great evil and a great shame. And Christ is grieved that little ones have been molested by priests who are supposed to be acting in His name. There is something much worse than a millstone around the neck waiting for priests like that.
But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Mt 18:6)1
But there are some endemic root causes I have observed, which do not excuse but may at least partially shed light on how these abuses and cover-ups came about.
After Vatican II a lot of people mistakenly believed that because some disciplines changed (such as abstinence from meat on Friday and the form of the Mass), that all doctrines and moral teachings passed down from the Apostles were up for grabs. They were encouraged by some priests and religious in that simplistic point of view. They were not properly taught that, while disciplines can be changed, doctrine and morals cannot be changed. Those kinds of misapprehensions are still disturbingly pervasive.
When a professor from a major Catholic university at an institute sponsored by the Diocese of San Jose told a class of adults, who were Catholics in training for leadership in the Church, about how he lived with his fiancée without any rush for marriage and asserted that “morality must change,” no one else in the class but me objected, and everyone else nodded their heads. When people believe that any type of doctrine of the Church “must” change, of course people are going to extrapolate that all other doctrines must change, too.
This is just one example of what I’ve seen many times since I returned to the Church in the mid-1970s, after lapsing in the early 1960s: many Catholics now think that the changes after Vatican II meant that the Church should conform to the world’s ideas of what is right and wrong.
One behind that idea is, as it says in the Bible, the devil, who is the prince of this world.
I’ve also noticed that many priests seem to have a naive faith in psychological theories, and I’m sure the abusers bought into the idea that “sexual repression” is going to make you sick, and that acting out your impulses is good for you. That attitude has been around since Freud’s now-pretty-much-debunked theories of sex being the primary motivator for all human activity swept up the world at the beginning of the twentieth century. For centuries, since the time of Christ, it had been generally believed inside the Church that the Church held the keys to perfecting human behavior in Christ, but suddenly, after Freud, Catholics were turning for advice to psychologist pundits who adhered to a theory of human motivation based on sublimated sexual impulses, a theory that was concocted by atheists.
For one example of how wrong psychiatrists and psychologists can be about things relevant to the current crisis, about 20 years ago I was acquainted with a 40-ish-year-old woman getting a PhD in psychology at the University of Minnesota. She quoted to me an article in a psychology journal that echoed sexologist Kinsey’s position: that sex between adults and children can be good for the child. She didn’t practice it herself, but she respected their opinion because they were so-called experts. At that time a lot of counselors were having sex with their clients because they claimed it was beneficial — for the clients, by freeing them from “inhibitions.” My acquaintance was a dupe of a psychologist who practiced his sessions with her that way.
And are you aware that Kinsey, who was highly respected for years, did most of his research on pederasty by interviewing two pederasts, one a Nazi who had abused hundreds and hundreds of children? You can google “Kinsey Institute” and read for yourself the literature of his organization, which still survives, their faith in their founder unshaken. Kinsey was able to create tables for his books showing how early a helpless baby is capable of orgasm, and of how many, because his fiendish pederast sources took notes! And think about this: the fact that Kinsey didn’t turn in the abusers has never been seen as a cover-up. After all, people thought, as a psychologist and a scientist, he had to protect the men’s privacy and couldn’t reveal his sources. Besides, he had faith that all sexual inhibition was wrong and all sexual practices were right.
Kinsey and others have also promoted the atrocious lie that a child who has been molested will not be traumatized unless his parents make a fuss.
I would bet that many priests and bishops, even those who were pure themselves, have swallowed those servings of poisonous baloney from the Freudian psychologist prophets.
Most of my acquaintances from the late 1960s also believed that sexual repression of any sort is wrong and that children should be encouraged to explore sexuality without any limits. For example, I hung out with Alan Ginsberg and his lover Peter Orlovsky for a while, and one night after Ginsberg did a poetry reading at Harvard, I was made uncomfortable when they talked fondly about how Peter walked around naked in one family’s house and how cute it was that a toddler came up and touched Peter’s genitals, and how good for the child it was that he was learning to be free from repression at such a young age. I found out before Ginsberg died that he was a member of the Man Boy Love Association (MBLA). A woman I also knew during the late 1960s calmly told me over herbal tea one day that the husband of one of her friends practiced oral sex on all of their children, and laughed about how hard it was for her friend to keep one daughter from acting out sexually in public because of what was happening to her at home, because it was embarrassing her in front of the unknowing “straights” on the subway.
And a man I was once close to in college, who later decided he is a homosexual, moved to Amsterdam because of the tolerance he sought for his sexual practices, and his drug use. When he was back in Newton, MA, visiting his parents one time, long after we’d last seen each other, he called me at my home in Minneapolis and mused about how he would like to get a chance to get ahold of my children and to free them from the sexually repressive teaching he was sure I was foisting on them while raising them Catholic.
When you secretly or not-so-secretly believe there is no harm in adult–child sex, then you definitely won’t put up too big of a fight against your inclinations. And if you are a prelate who is maybe even chaste himself, you may disapprove of what an abuser is doing but might not think it’s all that bad for the child because the “experts” told you so.
At the same time period when I knew the PhD student quoting experts about the beneficial nature of children having sex with adults, my daughter was a student at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis. When a scandal came out about the school’s director John Clarke Donohue molesting male students and sharing them with his MBLA friends at parties, many parents rallied to Donahue’s defense!
TV news interviewed a very modern little girl who confidently spoke into the microphone: “It takes two, you know.” Can’t you just hear through her what was being said around her at home? I’d heard the same thought expressed in my own family when they discussed child sexual abuse during my childhood. The child must have wanted it, they opined, the dirty little thing.
It just crossed my mind that we don’t say that the theater industry is evil either because of people like Donohue, do we? And we don’t brand all psychologists as evil because some of them sexually abuse their clients or because some of them promoted rot such as the benefits of sexual relations with their clients, which I mentioned earlier.
To go back to what the cynical little girl told the TV reporter: Even when a child has been seduced into participated willingly, the act of an adult taking advantage of a child is not only a sin, it’s a crime; it’s statutory rape.
What also stinks to high heaven is that abused children were often coerced into silence using psychological tactics, including being made to believe the abuse happened because there is something wrong about them. Or they or their families were threatened with harm if they resisted. Or they were told that the filthy acts they were coerced into participating in were “holy” and “God’s will” for them. If victims worked up courage to tell their parents, they often received beatings for saying such “filthy things,” were blamed and shamed for having participated, or were ignored or told they misunderstood. When parents believed their children and told the priest’s bishop, cardinal, or religious superior, they were often accused of lying, disparaged in any of a number of ways, threatened with expensive lawsuits, and told they were not good Catholics if they would make these things public.
Good Bishop, Bad Bishop
I cry about what is happening. There is more to cry about than the sexual abuse of young people, horrible as that is. I pray to God to purge the Church of unworthy shepherds who do not care for the sheep that God has entrusted to them.
Here are some more factors I believe are behind the cover-ups. Some prelates who reviewed reports about abusing priests were guilty themselves of acts that violated their vows, and those prelates did not take action against abusers for fear of being outed themselves in retribution.
And this is important to remember: those of the good prelates who haven’t capitulated to modern mores probably put too much stock in the hope that they could trust a repentant priest to be able to stay away from sin.
I’ll call them the “good bishops.” The good bishops, being maybe more virtuous than many of us, probably did not understand how hard it is to break the hold of habitual sin. So they might not realize that turning away from sin is not just a matter of deciding to not do something wrong again. They don’t know that sin can be infernally addictive, and that even if a priest is truly repentant he might not be able to turn away from the behavior just by wanting to or getting counseling. So, good bishops saw it as their duty to offer forgiveness.
And I know the priests that were only outwardly repentant got a lot of mileage out of their superiors’ belief that they had to forgive and rehabilitate sinning priests. Society has come to recognize that it is almost impossible to rehabilitate sexual criminals, and the Church needs to realize that, too.
I am personally affronted by the fact that some bishops who may have been chaste themselves really didn’t seem to realize that these activities weren’t just (oh well) a result of our sinful fallen human nature. And that they didn’t seem to be concerned appropriately with how harmful, not to mention sacrilegious, it was that children were being used for sex by priests in sacristies and rectories and schools and vacation homes. And I’m appalled that the priests who were abusers could bring themselves to do those terrible things.
That notion of turning the sinning priests over to the secular authorities probably never occurred to any of the bishops.
The “good bishops” felt bound to try to avoid scandal. If they made it public that nice Father Shanley was doing unspeakable things with the altar boys, they would cause a lot of people to lose heart and maybe to lose faith and give ammunition to the enemies of the Church. As is happening right now.
How they could have reassigned these wolves to other parishes and not forced them to leave ministry — even I cannot come up with an explanation for that. How they could promise parents to deal with an offender, and then allow him to keep offending? I don’t know the answer to that either. Even though it’s hard to imagine any other motive than callous indifference or a misplaced desire to protect the Church, maybe they were too busy like the rest of us, finding it hard to put things in the proper priority. Maybe they just let proper action slide out of avoidance for distasteful tasks.
Read more at Homiletic and Pastoral Review