Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sex & Power

It seems as though Crusty Old Dean can't get his mind out of the gutter, at least when it comes to the titles of his postings. The reality is COD figures he can score higher in Google algorithms if he includes "sex" in his posting titles. Then I can finally figure out what the "monetize" button means on my Blogger editing template. COD is a D, after all, and wouldn't be in the business I'm in if I could monetize.

COD had just finished a faculty meeting (see, I am a Dean!) last Friday when my phone buzzed. COD assumed it was CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife) wondering when I would be home. Instead it was a notification from NY on COD's iPhone. I took one look at it, raised my eyebrow, and said softly, "It finally happened."

COD's colleague, who overheard, asked, "What happened?"

COD replied, "Someone is finally being held accountable."

The Bishop of Kansas City was indicted on Friday for failing to notify police of credible allegations that one of his priests possessed child pornography: This is the first bishop to be so indicted on criminal charges, though extensive civil limitation continues. In the archdiocese of Philadelphia, priests were suspended from the ministry only after a grand jury report linked them to possible sexual abuse cases. Monsignor William Lynn, who was in charge of clergy assignments from 1992-2004 at the archdiocese, was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, but Cardinal Rigali has not been charged and submitted his resignation in the summer of 2011.

A couple of preces before going further:

When this incarnation of the clergy abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church broke in 2002 (emphasis on "this incarnation". It did not begin then: the Porter case had garnered headlines in Massachusetts in the late 80s and early 1990s, and records now show concerns were raised within the church itself at various times about certain persons), COD has noted the tendency to accuse people of being "anti-Catholic" for criticizing the Catholic Church. The Vatican's response in 2010 was to attack the New York Times. In the early 2000s, the The Boston Globe bore this accusation for its series of articles in 2002. Others have often been accused of schadenfreude, of disagreeing in general with certain stands of the Roman Catholic Church and using this to pile on, and so on.

Crusty Old Dean does not think these charges are applicable to him. In the first place,. I schadenfreude (verbing weird language, as Calvin once remarked to Hobbes) EVERYONE. Plus, I have been as hard on my own denomination as I have on the Catholic Church, as repulsed by coverups in the Episcopal Church as in the Roman Catholic Church. Besides, going on the offensive is part of the stock reply. The Vatican did, after all, turn Holy Week 2010 into a pep rally for the Pope, including comparing their sufferings and persecutions to that of Jews (as Raniero Cantalamessa did in his homily on Good Friday in 2010), demonstrating they are either completely out of touch or...well, not sure if there is another option. And, frankly, COD doesn't care if he is called anti-Catholic for drawing attention to the repugnant actions of those who defend and protect child abusers. They deserve every bit of criticism that can be imagined.

Back to the matter in question: in December of 2010 a computer technician reported to the Bishop of Kansas City that pornographic photos of children had been found on a priest's computer. The bishop waited until May of 2011 before reporting the incident to police. The diocese's own internal report stated that proper procedures were not followed, and that actions by the diocese "could have jeopardized children."

Finally, someone is being held criminally accountable for decades of lies, subterfuge, and coverup. This is an important step because COD has often thought that the media has had things wrong. Yes, the scandal in the Roman Catholic Church is about sex. But not only about sex.

The sad reality is that there are sexual predators in the ministry, both heterosexual and with same sex attractions. There are sexual predators among teachers, doctors, lawyers, and all walks of life. COD was once chatting with a priest who had been a police officer for thirty years, took retirement, got ordained, and served as chaplain to the police department in his retirement. I asked him what the biggest change he had seen since his rookie year on the force in 1969. Without hesitation, he replied, "Sexual abuse crimes. In 1969, when I first joined the force, we literally thought these people were creeps in trench coats hiding in bushes preying on strangers. The reality is they are everybody, and could be anywhere, and overwhelmingly prey on people that they know." He paused, looked at me, then said, "For all I know, you could be an abuser."

The scandal is not that there were incidences of sexual misconduct and abuse within the clergy. That is an unfortunate and sad reality, and one which is shared with other professions. The scandal is about abuse of power, something which is not focused on nearly enough in discussions of this issue.

Sexual predators abuse the power they have in relationship to those on whom they prey. They are in positions of authority which grants them access. They use that authority often to convince those on whom they prey not to tell, or that others will not believe them. They use that position of authority to avoid detection. Parish councils are purely advisory in the Roman Catholic Church, so no lay persons have authority over the parish priest. Lay employees or religious sisters can be fired at will; COD knows a sister who was principal of a school who told the priest she was on to him, and was summarily fired.

It is this abuse of power which is common among both opposite sex and same sex sexual predators. Yet the Catholic Church has made this all about one form of predatory behavior; their response to the issues which emerged from the 2002 crisis was to blame homosexuals who were let into the priesthood, drawing a line that links homosexuality and predatory behavior. This canard was repeated, for instance, by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, in 2010. Since the overwhelming number of men who prey on women are heterosexual, COD assumed a similar condemnation of heterosexuality as being linked with predatory behavior would be forthcoming. (And, in general, the arguably more pervasive issue of sexual misconduct by heterosexuals is oft overlooked; here is just one example of a serial heterosexual predator protected by his religious order:

Unsurprisingly, no such condemnation of heterosexual orientation and predatory behavior was made. The Vatican either ignorantly or purposely perpetuates this lie that homosexuality is linked with predatory behavior in order to shift blame in the crisis.

Because to do otherwise would focus on the second area of abuse of power: the abuse of power from those in the hierarchy, not just bishops but diocesan chancellors who have more oversight of day-to-day aspects of the disciplinary process in many places. There are also sexual predators who are members of religious orders, not diocesan priests, and thus answerable the the disciplinary systems within their religious orders, something which has perhaps even less transparency than diocesan priests., Abuse of power by failure to discipline clergy, failure to be accountable to the laity in their dioceses, failure, in the case of the Bishop of Kansas City, to comply with the law for mandatory reporting. And the Kansas City and Philadelphia situations show that this is not just something confined to accusations from the distant past. Despite all that has gone on, despite all the promises, there is still the refusal in some places to take the necessary steps to do something as obvious and simple as investigate someone who was found with child pornography. Think on that again: it took the bishop six months to report someone to the police who was found with child pornography.

When looked at from the perspective solely as a crisis of sexual abuse, this seems inconceivable. But looking at the issue of power, and abuse of power, helps cast it in a different light. Accountability cannot be permitted because the system which allowed this abuse to happen would crack. So many people are now tainted by this scandal, the abuse of power has been so laid bare, that accountability would result in a tidal wave. Cardinal Law resigned and was whisked off to the Vatican. But his right-hand administrator during the years in question, John McCormack, who had been made a diocesan bishop in another diocese, continued to serve as Bishop of Manchester until reached the resignation age in 2010.

Issues of abuse of power necessarily ask questions about power in the church: and this is something which will not be addressed, as events in Philadelphia, Kansas City, and who knows what other as yet unknown places have and will continue to demonstrate.

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