Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shaken by Scandal, Sickened by Sin, Shocked by $1 billion price tag

My friend and editor Paul Thigpen asked me a few years ago to write an essay to help our non-Catholic friends deal with the priestly sexual abuse scandal which was at that time emerging. Now we are faced with new revelations in Ireland, Chicago and Europe. I don't know what perversions the new European investigations will dig up but I thought it was worth posting a portion of my response from 2003.

"To be angry is easy, but to be angry at the right men, at the right time, for the right reason is difficult." So Odysseus teaches his son, Telemachus, as they reclaim Odysseus’s home from the male parasites that have abused his wife and dishonored his memory during his long absence.  Our home and family has been abused and those responsible for keeping the wolves away from the sheep, for some reason, failed for a period of over a decade. Why? I await an anwer even as my stomach churns with disdain for those who couldn't see the child-abuser in their midst. But this is merely my outrage talking. On to better things.

Many non Catholics fail to bring it up out of respect for the many good works of the Catholic Church. Gilbert Meilander, the Lutheran philosopher, for instance, first mentioned to me the problems that his own tradition has in shifting divorced pastors from parish to parish. Evangelical leader, Chuck Colson gracefully acknowledged his lack of jurisdiction. “Failure to respond to this information has many Catholics, like my friend, Bill Bennett, calling for Cardinal Law’s resignation. As I’ve previously stated, as a Baptist, I leave that to my Roman Catholic friends to decide.”

They also know that men and women in their own tradition are vulnerable to the charge of sexual misconduct. The memory of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert hasn’t faded. And there are plenty of local examples. In Detroit, for instance, we had a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor convicted of a few bank robberies that he carried out to fuel his pornography habit. The  Candyman internet child porn sting included 8 clergymen only two of which were Catholic priests. What were the ecclesiastical affiliations of the others?

Our evangelical friends know the reality of human sin and the redemption that is available in Christ. Their leaders, generally, don’t take any delight in lampooning the leadership of the Catholic Church. They know that Jesus had his Judas and that you don’t judge a community by those who don’t live out the faith but by those who do.
  1. This is not a problem of non-Catholic misunderstanding.
  2. Nor is it first of all a problem of media misperception.
  3. Nor is it a problem of lay leadership.
This is a problem of failed ordained leadership. Faithful Catholics have a duty to respect for our bishops and that means telling them the truth. As Bishop Carl Mengeling, retired, of the diocese of Lansing, Michigan has said:
“We have to be aware of the horror of the betrayal of trust by some priests and bishops. That awareness of the crime and sin has to be burned into the minds of the leadership of the Church…I have been extremely personally disappointed in the great failure of the leadership of the Church…I am saddened and stressed by the immense harm this evil has done to young people and their families. There’s no excuse for the craziness that went on in Boston in the last five years.”

George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm, once wrote that he lived in an age when stating the obvious was the first duty of an intelligent man. To my non-Catholic friends, I must state the obvious because many American bishops originally failed to do so. Repent, believe the gospel and make restitution. There is no justification for these crimes, immoral acts or abuses of office. We want explanations and accountability. How did leadership come to tolerate or create an ecclesiastical culture in which a Shanley, Geoghan, Kos, Porter and Gauthe could operate for years? The answers are still forthcoming as John Jay College continues its studies of causes. May it be completed soon.

I have no interest in muting the moral outrage, but there are some important qualifying issues that will impact our discussion with non-Catholics.

1. Penn State University professor of History and Religious Studies, Philip Jenkins has authored Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis. In personal conversation and in public sessions Jenkins has over and over made the point: “There is no evidence that the rate of sexual abuse and misconduct among Catholic clergy is any higher than the rate among clergy of non-Catholic Christian denominations; or among clergy of non-Christian religions or for non-clergy professions involved with children, such as teachers and scoutmasters.”

The best study we have is of 2,200 Chicago priests. Approximately 1.8% had been involved with sexual misconduct with minors. Pedophiles, i.e., those who engaged in sex with pre-pubescent children, were a tiny fraction of 1%. This deviant percentage of priests has brought discredit on the vast number of faithful clergy who have made sacrificial commitments to follow Christ and serve others.

2. Between about 1950 and 1977, mainstream professional opinion did not regard child sexual molestation as especially damaging over the long haul. Concern over child sexual abuse becomes a preoccupation of feminist concern over “father-rape” and grows  as an issue from the mid 1970s. Jenkins reports that between 1976 and 1986, the number of reports of child abuse and neglect in the United States rose from 669,000 to more than 2,000,000. Our views on the criminality and treatability of these problems have changed over the years. This needs to be considered when indicting Church leadership for what often seems a too forgiving approach to the problem of erring clergy.

3. This is rarely about pedophilia, i.e., sex with pre-pubescent children. It is mostly about homosexual desire towards young men. The vast majority of recorded instances of clergy sexual misconduct involve an interest in teenagers of either gender, often boys of fifteen or sixteen. Just carefully read the reports, do the math on the ages and ask, “Why isn’t the press reporting this as a homosexual issue?” This is especially galling because homosexual novels, documentaries, first person testimonies are rife with rites of initiation and passage in which an older man seduces a younger man helping him to realize his true sexual self and homosexual inclination.

4. Just as God used the Assyrians and the Babylonians to judge Israel so too the media has been used to force the Catholic faithful to deal with this problem. We might want to commend the Boston Globe for their intrepid reporting but we must also remember that the secular press is no more a friend of God’s covenant people than were the Assyrians and the Babylonians.

The Catholic Church because of its institutional unity, its role as the largest non-governmental organization in America and the “mystique” of clerical celibacy is most commonly referenced in press accounts of clergy sexual misconducts and that lends a prominence to Catholic clergy dalliances that other Christian traditions escape. For instance, CBS News.com reported on March 19, 2002. “The FBI says it expects to arrest at least 50 more people by week’s end as it busts up an Internet child-pornography ring that allegedly included two Catholic priests, six other member of the clergy, a school bus driver and at least one police officer.” I am not interested in bringing discredit upon Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans or Episcopalians but why was it that among the eight clergy only Catholic priests were referenced? It was because the media is treating this as an institutional rather than an individual problem.

Among the important reporting that has occurred, there is also a feeding frenzy that fails to make crucial distinctions between the journalistic pieces of red meat that are thrown in the trough. Not all instances of misconduct are instances of sexual abuse! The recent resignation of Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee occurred amidst accusation of “sexual abuse”, “sexual assault.” The truth is that the person he had been involved with was 33 years old at the time. It was a consensual homosexual relationship. But in the current climate the press is not distinguishing between pedophilia, sexual misconduct with minors, heterosexual sex or homosexual sex. All is reduced to sexual abuse even when the story is really about abuse of office or violation of vows.

5. Among some non-Catholics I’ve talked to I’ve noticed a suspicion that celibacy is unnatural. It is not natural or unnatural. It is supernatural. It is a distinct gift given by God to certain individuals so they may more ardently serve the Kingdom of God. Both Jesus and St. Paul considered it a benefit not a liability (1 Cor 7:7-8, 28, 32-35). It is true that some priests of the last generation entered the seminary thinking that the discipline of celibacy would be changed. Others had a distorted understanding of their vow. I know of one priest who said: “I took a vow not to marry. I didn’t vow not to have sex.” It is difficult to understand how such a man could be ordained. But the issue of celibacy is ultimately a red herring. Who wants to abolish the vow of marital fidelity because some husbands and wives commit adultery? Does anybody really think that by allowing priests to marry women that we will keep them from seducing 14-year-old boys? Check out your own fantasies and temptations during times of chastity and I think you’ll see “this dog don’t hunt.”

6. Occasionally a non-Catholic friend will argue that a priest should turn over information gained in the sacrament of reconciliation to the authorities if that information will protect the lives of young children. It is important to think this through. Canon law explicitly forbids such a violation of confidentiality. The seal of the confessional is a recognition that the God to whom we confess our sins in the sacrament is supreme. He is our ultimate sanctuary, even for the criminal.

There are simply some places where Caesar is not Lord even if we believe in a highly centralized state. A priest may ask the penitent to confess to the civil authorities as a condition of receiving absolution. But I leave that to the pastoral discretion of the clergy. Information about criminal activity gained outside the confessional is a different story and the laws governing these kind of clergy conversations vary from state to state. The antidote to this objection is probably best found in watching Alfred Hitchcock’s, I Confess starring Montgomery Clift as the embattled priest in a murder trial.

7. The Catholic Church thinks in terms of centuries and it has centuries of experience behind it. We’ve been through this before. Perhaps the most scandalous pope in history, Alexander VI had nine children from six different concubines. Thankfully, he was so busy sinning that he never got around to doing much teaching. When Francis of Assisi was asked what he would do if he knew that a priest celebrating mass had concubines, he said: “When it came time for holy Communion, I would go to receive the sacred body of my Lord from the priest’s anointed hands.” The sacraments are not the work of man but God and so whether St. Augustine or a priest on death row for rape and murder consecrates the bread and wine, it is Christ himself who acts to give us his own body and blood. If the gates of hell won’t prevail against the Church a few perverse priests and negligent bishops certainly won’t (Mt 16:17-19).

"Christ and the good news of salvation in the squares of cities, towns, and villages. This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the time to preach it from the rooftops. Do not be afraid to break out of comfortable and routine modes of living in order to take up the challenge of making Christ known in the modern metropolis. It is you who must go out into the byroads (Mt 22:0) and invite everyone you meet to the banquet which God has prepared for his people. The Gospel must not be kept hidden because of fear or indifference" JPII, World Youth Day homily, Denver , CO August 15th 1993.
Whatever these forthcoming revelations contain, our calling to fidelity, fidelity, fidelity to our Lord and Redeemer Jesus Christ. "Though the earth be removed and the mountains fall away, yet I will trust you, for you are Savior a very present help in time of trouble."


  1. Mr. Kresta,

    A few points:

    "...mainstream professional opinion did not regard child sexual molestation as especially damaging over the long haul."

    Can you quote ANY primary sources for that assertion? They would have to be from peer-reviewed journals in Psychology or Psychiatry since they are the only professionals competent to address such a thing. Also, please remember Mr. Jenkins is, with all due respect, far outside his scope of competence in this area.

    How long has statutory rape been considered a crime? Additionally, can you or anyone else source a reputable voice within psychology that has put forth ANY treatment for pedophilia that proved itself worthy of any hope? That effectively annihilates the baseless excuse that "Our views on the criminality and treatability of these problems have changed over the years." The Catholic media has been dutifully repeating the USCCB's lie about “the best science of the time” for eight years. It's no more believable now than it was then. Aren’t you tired of it?

    Re: Rembert Weakland, the actual truth of the matter is that Mr. Weakland's lover reported that he had been abused/assaulted and the press reported it as such. There is absolutely no reason to deliberately imply, as you do, that this was a case of the media neglectfully or deliberately portraying a consensual relationship as one of exploitation or assault.


    Doug Sirman

  2. Doug,
    I am on the road but have already started preparing a response worthy of your questions. I think when we're done you'll find my comments pretty unremarkable. To give you one glimpse. Perhaps you were unaware that incest and adult-child sexual acts only began to be studied relatively recently.

    Dr. Kinsey and his colleague Wardell Promeroy published research based on their database, the largest number of incest cases from the population at large in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

    Even though the women in his studies said that their experiences of childhood sexual abuse was traumatic, "Kinsey cavalierly belittled these reports. He hastened to assure the public that children should not be upset by these experiences. If they were, this was the fault not of the sexual aggressor, but the prudish parents and teachers who caused the child to become 'hysterical' ... By contrast, this group (the Kinsey group) demonstrated a keen sensitivity toward the adult offender ...

    Ignoring issues of dominance and power, they took a position that amounted to little more than advocacy of greater sexual license for men ... The public, in the judgement of these men, was not ready to hear about incest." See Father - Daughter Incest. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1981, p. 16-18.

    Also see Kinsey and Pomeroy's 1953 Sexual Behavior in the Human Female write: , "It is time to admit that incest need not be a perversion or a symptom of mental illness. Incest between . . . children and adults ... can some- times be beneficial."

    The public, however, never came to accept incest as beneficial. It remained immoral, sick, usually criminal although families often didn't press charges against the dirty old man, Uncle Ralph, because Uncle Ralph had not yet been culturally transformed into the predator/pervert/perpetrator of later social attitudes.

    You dismiss Jenkins because he is not a clinical psychologist, but he is a social historian who has studied social attitudes toward child molestation and incest. See Philip Jenkins. 1998. Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    This is simply evidence from pioneering researchers that our post-Feminist attitudes were not shared a generation ago. this doesn't mean we celebrated sexual abuse but we treated it differently than we do today.

  3. One would think that priests and bishops would look to Christ, not Kinsey.

  4. Mauman,
    Indeed. But I am making the point to Doug that the social construction of taboos like incest influence our culture's treatment of them.

    I would like to think that by adherence to Christ, the clergy could escape being pressed into the world's mold but nobody reading St. Paul's 1st letter to Corinthians can doubt how easy it is for Christians to conformed to the world rather than to Christ.

    BTW, I double-checked the Crick quote and I had it right but I appreciate the heads up. Such mistakes can happen especially with the abundance of secondary literature to work with. Don't hesitate to call me on like matters in the future.


  5. Mr. Kresta,

    Thank you for the courtesy of your reply. I appreciate your observation that societal views regarding child sexual abuse may have changed over time, and I would not argue this. It is, however, beside the point I was making. Furthermore, I fail to see what that has to do with your claim regarding professional opinion.

    Again, I would encourage you to examine and if possible, substantiate the claim, that "...mainstream professional opinion did not regard child sexual molestation as especially damaging over the long haul." This is somewhat related to the baseless claim made by many diocesan spokespersons about "the best science of the time." Remember, it was not the best “societal view” of the time, but the best science. We have been hearing this known falsehood for eight years and yet every single catholic journalist who has repeated it has refused to even try and substantiate it.

    Again, if we're talking about mainstream professional opinions, if when we say "science" we actually MEAN science, then we have to look to the field of psychology. Furthermore, if we're interested in verifiable findings based on actual research rather than, God help us, "societal views" as reported by the mass media then we must look to the peer-reviewed literature. I invite you to do your homework and see if the claims made by bishops and repeated by catholic journalists and self-appointed spokespersons are based on fact or wishful-thinking.

    Regarding Alfred Kinsey: he was neither a psychologist nor psychiatrist. He had no training in either field and betrayed no knowledge of even the most basic principles of scientific research. Kinsey was a zoologist whose focus was gall wasps. Every single peer-reviewed journal to which he submitted his sexuality “research” for publication rejected it because of its gross sample-selection bias and its completely unsupported conclusions. At the time he self-published his pseudo-science, it was regarded by the psychological community as worthless and beneath contempt. That opinion has not changed. His name may be useful for raising money, but his research was known as garbage then and it is today. Relying on his work is foolish at best.

    Finally, thank you for your show. It was one of the many elements involved in my conversion.


    Doug Sirman

  6. Dear Mr. Kresta,

    Thank you for giving attention to this grave matter of the priest pedophile scandal. I converted to Catholicism 17 years ago and I am fully committed to the traditional teachings of the Church. But I am deeply, deeply troubled by the tepid and befuddled response by our Church leadership to these awful crimes against children. Why can they not be open and honest with us? Too many of our shepherds are failing their flocks.

    First, we have yet to hear a serious discussion of how so many pederasts found their way into the priesthood, and why they were tolerated once exposed. Has our hierarchy succumbed to political correctness to the point we cannot speak plainly that the large majority of these crimes have been committed by homosexual priests? It appears that about 80% of the victims were boys. How did so many homosexuals come to be in the priesthood, and why were such an alarmingly large number of them pedophiles and pederasts? Did the pre-Vatican II priesthood draw too many young men who were pushed into holy orders by their families, and were not genuinely called by God? Was the celibate priesthood seen as an all-male refuge for too many young men confused by their sexual inclinations? And once in the priesthood, why is there a powerful homosexual sub-culture that encourages the seduction of young teenage boys by grown men? When will we ever have honesty from the hierarchy?

    Second, how did far too many of our bishops, who are sworn before God to be our servants, put the protection of their priests over the protection of the children of their flock? What were their moral values that the cover-up of these crimes was the most important thing? What kind of closed and insular culture caused them to shelter their own rather than report these crimes to the police? What kind of shepherds are these to allow wolves in sheep’s clothing among us?

    Our Church needs to open its doors and raise its windows and allow the Holy Spirit to blow the smoke of Satan out of the sanctuary. For that indeed is what has happened - evil has invaded the inner-most reaches of our Church. Let us return to the sacraments, and the creed and the traditions of the apostles. Let our leaders adopt the simplicity of St. Francis, the honesty of St. Augustine and the humility of Mother Teresa. We need our Church to be strong against sin, not in league with it; let it save souls, not lose them. The time has come and we are at the gates of hell, and we call upon our Church to remember Christ's commission and to lead us to victory.
    - James in Seattle

  7. Al,
    Do you mean the Chesterton quote? And what do you mean you had it right? Chesterton didn't say it. It's a misquotation. I gave you a link to Dale Ahlquist's website and his Quotemeister's explanation.

    I'm glad Chesterton didn't say it, because it's idiotic. How can one believe in anything, when it's premised on not believing in something, i.e. God?

    As to your observation that priests and bishops are shaped by shifting cultural standards -- yes. But don't you see that you're dancing very close to the precipice of relativism? Paul scolded his fellow Christians in Corinth for allowing one in their midst to live with his stepmother; pride had prevented them from taking the right course of action, i.e. expulsion from the community. Today's Catholic Church did not heed Paul's advice. Instead, the Church may have read too much into what Paul said next: that minor disputes between one another should be resolved within the community (the holy ones) rather than taken to unjust, unbelieving outsiders. Child molestation is not a minor dispute. It is a crime, and the resolution of crimes belongs in the realm of Caesar.

    Priests are not just average Christians. The Sacrament of Holy Orders places a priest in a unique relationship with Christ. As John Paul II said, "priests are a sacramental representation of Jesus Christ." Here's a passage from John Paul II's encyclical Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Will Give You Shepherds), Fr. Mitch Pacwa's latest encyclical teaching on his show The Threshold Of Hope:

    "It is within the Church's mystery, as a mystery of Trinitarian communion in missionary tension, that every Christian identity is revealed, and likewise the specific identity of the priest and his ministry. Indeed, the priest, by virtue of the consecration which he receives in the Sacrament of Orders, is sent forth by the Father through the mediatorship of Jesus Christ, to whom he is configured in a special way as Head and Shepherd of his people, in order to live and work by the power of the Holy Spirit in service of the Church and for the salvation of the world. In this way the fundamentally 'relational' dimension of priestly identity can be understood."

    Doug and Al,
    I don't have any idea who is right in this argument. Certainly Philip Jenkins, in his book Moral Panic, must have had more to go on than just those Kinsey studies. Doug, can you back up your claims with something? For example, what was the civil law back in the 40s and 50s concerning child molestation? I'm sure it must have been a crime back then, but to what extent was it punished?

  8. Mauman (?),

    I have no quarrel with Mr. Jenkins as long as he is not asserting that societal views = scientific views. With regard to the law (and I must assume you mean criminal, rather than "civil" law) during the 40s and 50s, each state has its own criminal code which is only superseded by federal laws. Each state prosecuted crimes of molestation against children/adolescents with their own laws such as rape, child endangerment, acts of indecency, sodomy, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, etc.

    A Priest here in the area made the foolish assertion that because there were no laws specifically against Child Sexual Abuse in a state, then the crime itself was never prosecuted. He stated this as a fallacious way to support the notion that child molestation was tolerated and wasn’t recognized as being that bad. The assertion is false however, because perps were charged and convicted for breaking laws that were on the books which were seen as applying to the situation such as the aforementioned child endangerment, contributing, etc..

    Thank you,

    Doug Sirman

  9. Doug,

    Yes, I should have said criminal law. Thanks for the correction.

    I looked up Jenkins's book on Amazon.com. The product description says this:

    "It is commonly acknowledged that sexual abuse of children is a grave and pervasive problem and that child molesters are predators who compulsively repeat their crimes and have little hope of cure. Yet as recently as twenty years ago many experts viewed the problem far less seriously, declaring that molestation was a very rare offense and that molesters were merely confused individuals unlikely to repeat their offenses. Over the past century, opinion has fluctuated between these radically different perspectives."

    Notice the "many experts." I don't know what that means. I do know that social scientists should always strive to be as objective as possible.

  10. Re: The Francis Crick Quotation

    Shortly after posting my comment up above, I realized I should go back and check your March 1 posting about Francis Crick. Sure enough, I questioned one of the quotations and asked for the source.

    I would still like to know the source if you don't mind. Again, here's that part of your Kresta Comments - What Drives the Modern Atheist Scientist (transcribing the best I could).

    Al Kresta: "Crick, for example, said his scientific enterprise was in fact governed -- and he said this -- governed by a basic religious stance. And he recognized that the stance he took was anti-religious. So, yet at the same time, it is a religious attitude 'because it is concerned with religious problems.'"

    You gave me the impression that Crick himself had said: "My scientific enterprise is governed by a basic religious stance." But I don't think he actually said that. I think someone else said that about him. I'd like to know who it was. Could it be Francis Schaeffer?

    But I am thinking that the inside quotation might be Crick's: "It is a religious attitude because it is concerned with religious problems."

    I would like to know the full context. Could you help me out?

    I had forgotten about the Crick business. That's why I mistakenly thought you were talking about that bogus Chesterton quotation. I apologize for the confusion.

  11. Dear Al,

    "I am on the road but have already started preparing a response worthy of your questions."

    I continue to look forward to hearing this. As was previously pointed out, defaulting to Kinsey is a testimony to a lack of even basic knowledge regarding the subject matter.


    Doug Sirman

  12. Doug,
    I posted above.

    Mau-man. No, I'm refering to the Crick quote. I think the dogs die quote was Chesterton.