Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Catholic scandal that just won't die

In the end, the sex abuse scandal has been an embarrassment to the Catholic Church.  There's no denying it.  And it's not because priests were raping babies, or even the more balanced reality that priests were abusing all age groups of minors within their care.  Most fair minded individuals know that the pandemic of sex abuse and pedophilia goes well beyond the borders of the Catholic Church. The stats are clear, the facts obvious, and only those with anti-Catholic bigotry in their agendas will try to suggest that the abuse of children is somehow unique to the Catholic Church.   

But anyway, we needn't argue that sexual abuse is not a result of anything uniquely Catholic.  That's not what bothers most fair minded people.  What bothers said people is the systemic, almost institutionalized cover up by the hierarchy.  While many are trying to put faces and names on that cover up (as in, Pope Benedict), even without a clear link to the Pontiff, it's clear that cover ups happened, and that it was more than just a few renegade bishops.  That is what sets the Church abuse apart.  Not that cover ups don't happen in smaller environments, such as a Protestant congregation, a local school, or a university.  But this is where that single attribute of Catholicism - the single, bureaucratic hierarchy that links a global faith with over a billion adherents - comes back around to haunt the Church.  Because each and every time a bishop or a priest did do something, the entire Church stands guilty.

And since it appears that  there was more than just a few renegade bishops, that there were ongoing attempts, if not to cover up, then at least to cover the rear ends of 'The Priesthood', it plays to the old notions of a giant, corrupt, self-serving religious spectacle.  And that alone is bad.

In this story, victims rights groups are accusing a bishop - Bishop David Zubik of Green Bay - of destroying the psychological records of priests, ostensibly as part of the cover up.  The Bishop is saying it never happened, that destroying any records was simply a matter of policy, and records of any priest under litigation were never to be destroyed. 

But here's what caught my eye. The following paragraph in which the bishop outlines the practices and procedures of his diocese:

"[I]t had been diocesan practice in Green Bay not to destroy documents in priest files -- even after a priest had died -- if there was litigation involving that priest or any pending claims. I reinforced that practice by having it formally written into the diocesan records retention policy in 2007."
Two things.  First, a reminder to the non-Catholic universe.  As much as the Catholic Church can give the appearance of a giant business where the Pope is CEO and President of Catholicism, Inc, it really doesn't work that way.  Truth be told, the Bishops are still the driving force of the Church, and contrary to popular belief, they have much leeway when it comes to how they administer their charges.  Oh, there are standards to be sure.  But the Church does not micromanage everything.  Just look at the key words in the sentence: 'It had been diocesan practice in Green Bay not to destroy...'  Practice in Green Bay.  Doesn't that mean it's different in other diocesan practice? 
Also, the very fact that they had procedures in place to handle priests accused of this or that suggests what?  That priests have been accused of things for many, many years.  And this is what folks need to remember.  The biggest problem with the Catholic Church is the same problem any organization has: people.  We used to say in my Protestant days that if you find a perfect church, then stay away.  Because as soon as you walk through the doors it will stop being perfect.  Same with the Catholic Church.  The Church, filled with tens upon tens of thousands of priests, bishops, and other leaders both lay and ordained, has its hands full.  Especially with the scrutiny brought on by the abuse scandal.  All it takes is one single case to be exposed, and suddenly the press winds up the story of the Catholic Sex Abuse Crisis all over again.  Even one.  Out of tens of thousands and hundreds of millions of faithful.  It only takes one.
So try to keep things in perspective.  Obviously the Church, being filled with people, has been aware for many ages that priests can sometimes do wrong, and has policies for dealing with those problems.  Those policies give testimony to the Church's admission of its own frailties.  Likewise, remember that just because one priest or one bishop did something, it doesn't mean the 2000 year history of the Catholic Faith is guilty.  As we are so forgiving of modern Islam despite the bloodshed and violence, so should we be forgiving of the Church.

This isn't to say the Church hasn't dropped the ball.  As I said, many of its actions and reactions have angered people, especially when it appears that the first priority of the hierarchy was CYA.  That will usually be a mark against the best of them.  But keep it all in perspective.  Ignore the obvious anti-Catholic bigotry, and look to what really happened, and what really didn't.  The best way to solve a problem is to be honest about just what the problem was int he first place.


  1. That was almost a publishable post. But I've noticed that when your posts are longer, there is sometimes a sense of wandering. As if you know what you want to say, you just can't quite find the way to say it. Not that what you say is wrong, or written badly. Just that you seem as if you have so much to say, you don't know how to put it all into one post. I understand what you are saying here. You are correct on every point.

    Perhaps that is the problem. You have several points you are trying to make, and instead of devoting a single post to each point, you have taken a story and attempted to write on several subjects. I know you've said you are not a professional, and I don't want you to get upset with my comments. I find your insights to be interesting. You often catch things I see others completely miss who have more experience and professional credentials. You have a rather meandering way, however, and I sometimes think some of your more profound insights might fall through the cracks. Perhaps write it up, then come back later. Or if you know someone who can look things over and give a quick edit. Anything.

    I've said it before, take my opinions for what they are worth. You have a very interesting blog that touches on so many things. Not just because you have a vague 'everything is cool' reason, but because you seem genuinely interested in a great many topics. Working on your delivery could only help accomplish what I think you are trying to do.

  2. Great insight. I found the post to have a logical flow with an easy read nature about it.

    This abuse scandal stuff needs to be handled better by the Church. I feel like saying why bother living faithfully if those in leadership get away with not, but then I realize that we all make mistakes and that we should all be reconciled to God for that which we do wrong.

    More and more people live with anger and hate everyday. It is no wonder that so many people die of heart problems from all the stress that is put on their bodies.

  3. DS,

    I didn't say it didn't have a logical flow. I said it appeared to be wandering about, like Dave has more to say on the subject but can't seem to rein it all in. I think if he spent a little extra time on the longer posts. Many bloggers are authors or journalists whose primary occupation is writing and editing. If he could find someone to help flush out his thoughts, I think he has much to say. And he says it well. I merely get the idea that he has more to say than sometimes shows, and these larger posts are what give me that feeling.


Let me know your thoughts