Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Catholic Church's troubles continue

Regular readers will recall my four-part series on the clergy sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, which I published back in April. (Links to the articles are in the sidebar, or you can click here for Part 1 - links to the other parts are provided there.)

To my very real distress, it seems things aren't improving. Two recent news reports have me alternately seething and sorrowful.

First, the National Catholic Reporter claims that accused priests who've been exonerated, or against whom no case has been proven, are languishing in limbo, their status still unresolved.

The Catholic church has been castigated in recent months for moving slowly to remove abusers from the priesthood.

. . .

But the Vatican moves just as slowly, if not slower, to return innocent clergy to ministry, according to priests and canon lawyers. Meanwhile, priests ... live for years in a state of limbo, evicted from parishes and rectories, prohibited from presenting themselves as priests or administering sacraments, and branded all but guilty in the public eye.

As many as 300 American priests claim innocence and are waiting for the Vatican to restore them to duty, according to Fr. Michael Sullivan, a Minnesota priest and member of Justice for Priests and Deacons, an independent group of canon lawyers who defend Catholic clergy.

. . .

Many priests say they recognize the difficulty of the Vatican's task -- most allegations concern decades-old events, making it hard to determine guilt or innocence, and the Vatican has relatively few employees to process the thousands of accusations that surfaced after the sex abuse scandal exploded in 2002. Meanwhile, no bishop wants a priest to abuse children on his watch.

But some priests say the get-tough rules approved by U.S. bishops in 2002 swing the pendulum too far in the other direction, trampling their rights to due process and good reputations. Where once abuse victims were silenced and sacrificed for the sake of the church, they say, now innocent priests are overlooked casualties of the crisis.

"The way the bishops once treated victims, that's the way they treat priests now," said Fr. Michael Maginot, an Indiana priest and canon lawyer who is representing Selvaraj. "They are willing to throw any priest under the bus."

At the height of the crisis in 2002, U.S. bishops vowed to act quickly on "credible" accusations of abuse of a minor by immediately removing the priest from his parish and informing the public and local authorities of the charge.

Priests say an announcement that a priest has been suspended is often tantamount to a guilty verdict in the public and the pews.

There's more at the link.

I can attest to the truth of the NCR report, having known several priests who were accused of sexual misconduct, but who were either exonerated or against whom no charges could be proved. Uniformly, they report great difficulty in being readmitted to their ministry, and some have chosen to retire rather than try to overcome the enormous damage to their reputations caused by unproven charges. I can't blame them - such stigma is almost impossible to erase.

What bugs me is that bishops, who should be as eager to defend and protect the innocent as they are to expose and punish the guilty, are instead dragging their feet, unwilling to 'stand up and be counted' for fear of future complications. I guess they're terrified lest one of the exonerated priests be charged with an offense in the future. They don't want to take responsibility for putting him back in a position where he might offend once more. That's all very well . . . but it makes the lives of those priests a living hell.

The second report exposes what appears to be a concerted effort to exclude those of homosexual orientation from the training and formation process leading to priestly ordination. The Daily Mail reports:

Trainee priests are being grilled about their sexual experiences under tough procedures designed to stamp out child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

They are being confronted with a list of shockingly intimate questions from psychologists paid by Church officials in the U.S. to try to weed out men who they think could go on to commit sexual assaults.

The questions include: 'When did you last have sex?', 'What kind of sexual experiences have you had?', 'Do you like pornography?', 'Do you like children?' and 'Do you like children more than you like people your own age?'

The process has led to accusations of 'scapegoating' and 'witch-hunts' by gay rights groups.

Men training to be priests are also asked detailed questions about their sexual fantasies, the reasons why any earlier romantic relationships failed and the nature of their relationships with their parents.

They are being routinely tested for HIV/Aids and made to sit exams to test such conditions as depression, paranoia and 'gender confusion' in an attempt to search for clues about possible deficiencies in their character.

The questions form part of a gruelling screening process introduced by the U.S. bishops following revelations in 2002 that hundreds of priests have abused thousands of young people over the past 40 years.

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, a Church psychologist, said that the screening was 'very intrusive', but he added: 'We are looking for two basic qualities - the absence of pathology and the presence of health.'

The screening procedures were drawn up following an instruction from the Vatican in 2008 which warned the bishops that they had to go further than to simply establish that the candidate was capable of living a chaste life.

The Vatican insisted that the sexual orientation of the candidate must be determined as well - a demand which was interpreted as a witch-hunt for trainees who were homosexuals.

Critics said the orders - which apply solely to American dioceses and have been revealed in the New York Times - disqualify gay men from entering the priesthood even if they are celibate.

. . .

The Vatican ordered a review of the U.S. seminaries after an analysis of abuse statistics concerning the U.S. Church revealed that more than 80 per cent of offences were of a homosexual character, rather than paedophilia, and involved young men and teenage boys rather than children.

There's more at the link.

This troubles me for two reasons. First, it seems to portray an attitude of 'you're guilty until you're proven innocent' on the part of Church authorities. It seems the testing procedures are designed to sniff out and expel those who may potentially offend in future (never mind whether or not they've actually offended in the past) against Christian sexual morality. This is very worrying. The fact that one may have a particular sexual orientation doesn't mean that one will automatically and/or inevitably act upon it. That's the essence of regular clergy celibacy, after all: one's natural, normal human sexuality is not denied, but sublimated in and through one's service to God and His people. To me, it seems irrelevant whether one's sexuality is hetero- or homosexual in orientation, provided it remains unexpressed.

Secondly, one's sexual orientation is often not completely formed as a young man. I can think of several friends who didn't fully 'work out' their sexuality until they were in their late twenties or early thirties. Many of those who study for the priesthood begin doing so in their late teens. They may not have had many relationships with potential partners, and their studies (once they begin) will naturally preclude most, if not all, such relationships. How can they honestly answer such an inquisition? They don't know enough about themselves, or about sexuality, to be able to answer properly. Indeed, such an in-depth intrusion into their most private selves might cause more harm than good.

In both of the articles cited above, it seems to me that the institution-mindedness of the Church is as bad as ever, and may even be getting worse. "Defend the institution at all costs" seems to be the battle-cry . . . and never mind the damage done to exonerated priests, or seminarians who are not guilty of any crime or sin now, but in the eyes of the institution may become so in future. What happened to compassion? What happened to the bishop's purported role of 'shepherd of the shepherds', a brother to his priests, their servant in Christ as well as their superior? Is it any wonder that to this day, I hear from priests that they don't trust their bishops, that they feel alienated from them, and that they believe the Church regards all priests as potential offenders and sinners, to be monitored closely and treated - disciplined - like disobedient children?

It's a sad, sorry state of affairs . . . and the hierarchy of the Church appears to be doing all it can to keep it that way.



Diamond Mair said...

Y'know, I always figured if a man was homosexual, and entered the priesthood, and remained chaste, that he received MORE kudos from God than a straight priest - by virtue of the temptation being there ALL THE TIME {at least straight priests can isolate themselves from women} - same goes for nuns ..................

Semper Fi'

HeroHog said...

I am still wondering why not do away with the chastity and allow happily married people into the priesthood? Wouldn't that at least sharply reduce some of these issues???

Anonymous said...

"This troubles me for two reasons. First, it seems to portray an attitude of 'you're guilty until you're proven innocent' on the part of Church authorities."

And if the Church were an American institution you'd be right to complain. But isn't the basic premise of Christianity that people are born into sin, and that it takes deliberate measures to come to a state of grace? What surprises me is that this grilling has NOT been a part of the priestly process.

I have no doubt that the R.C. Church will overcome these problems. Why, didn't they just exonerate Galileo, after a mere five centuries ?