Thursday, August 16, 2018
Not just a moral or public relations crisis, but a criminal crisis
I didn't write more yesterday about the latest child sex abuse scandal - "scandal": what a pathetically inadequate word! - to hit the Catholic Church. The reality was too stomach-churning for me - or anyone in his or her right mind - to face. Nevertheless, I've returned to reading more of the Pennsylvania report, and other people's views and comments on it. I think there's an aspect of this situation that isn't being properly addressed.
The Catholic Church is already trying to "spin" this as a public relations crisis rather than anything more. Efforts are being made to minimize the damage by pointing out that the offenses concerned took place a long time ago; that things have improved since then; that new measures now in place would have resulted in a very different outcome had they been in operation when the sins/crimes/whatever actually happened; and so on and so forth, ad nauseam. This ignores the reality that at any time, the acts concerned were crimes. They were not merely moral offenses (although they certainly were that, in the most grievous possible way). They were offenses against the laws and standards of civilized society.
The Pennsylvania report describes, in horrific detail, how child rape was deliberately described as "crossing boundaries" or "inappropriate contact" rather than what it was. Bishops and administrators actively took steps to hide such crimes from police, and/or to subvert their investigation by dealing with compliant (dare one say co-conspirator?) agencies and individuals. Official "fixers" working for or with secular authorities connived with the Church to suppress reports, prevent or hinder investigations, and cover up settlements.
Such connivance has a legal name. It's called being an accessory to a crime. It may involve elements of criminal conspiracy and/or criminal facilitation. In the cases under discussion, these elements are arguably present before a crime when a Bishop or other church authority, knowing that a priest has already committed sexual offenses against a minor, reassigns him to a post where he can reoffend. They are arguably present after a crime when Church authorities seek to minimize, cover up, dismiss, or obstruct the investigation of the offense(s) concerned. Being an accessory to a crime means that one shares the guilt of the actual criminal, to a greater or lesser extent.
Much play has also been given to the fact that most of the criminals responsible for offenses enumerated in the Pennsylvania report can no longer be prosecuted, because the statute of limitations for such offenses has run out. Effectively, they've got away scot-free, with no fear of secular punishment for their crimes. The same applies to Church authorities who permitted, tolerated or enabled them to do so. That's absolutely sickening, monstrous beyond belief . . . but it's the reality of the situation.
I submit that the statute of limitations governing such offenses needs to be removed in its entirety. If the crime was committed, let it be prosecuted and punished. Let there be no "get out of jail free" card for the criminal(s) who perpetrated it. Let that apply also to all who were accessories before or after the fact of the crime. They, too, should face condign punishment. Anything less is a travesty of justice, and a moral obscenity besides.
The secular authorities can't demand that suspects undergo a polygraph examination. Even if they voluntarily do so, its results aren't admissible in court. However, I think the time has come for the Church to demand, in terms of their vows and/or promises of obedience, that all suspected of involvement in this crisis, from the highest-ranking to the lowest, should undergo polygraph examination by Church investigators. Any issues uncovered by it should be the subject of further, urgent investigation, and anything confirmed by such investigations should also be reported - in full, without redaction or attempts to mitigate its consequences for the institution - to the secular authorities.
Pious platitudes will no longer serve any purpose except that of the Devil. It's time to once again drive the wrongdoers out of the Temple, to bring "not peace, but a sword" to the structure and hierarchy of the Church. Anything less will allow this rottenness to continue to fester in her bosom, to her permanent and eternal detriment.
Those familiar with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement will recall a prophetic message delivered in Rome in 1975, in the presence of Pope Paul VI. It has resonated in and through that movement, with its particular spirituality, ever since. You can read about it here, if you're interested. Whether or not one is a member of that movement, if this present crisis isn't a dramatic affirmation of that message, I don't know what is or will be.
I know that at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of Catholics in the USA have either left the Church for another spiritual home, or ceased practicing their faith (in the public forum, at least). I've heard from more than a few of them over the years. I can only speculate how many may have done so in other countries. For all their (and my) acceptance of the teaching of the Church, her implementation of that teaching in her own structure and hierarchy, in the context of the clergy sex abuse crisis, has been so fundamentally flawed, so gravely sinful, so morally catastrophic, as to obscure every other element of her ministry. That factor alone has made it morally impossible for many formerly faithful Catholics to stand with her in her present human form, to cleave to her in unquestioning fidelity. Unless and until she takes the situation seriously, and accepts that many of her leaders have been criminally as well as morally guilty of the gravest possible offenses, that situation cannot and will not improve.
Some will reject what I've just said. They'll point to spiritual rather than temporal issues, and claim that one's duty to God must necessarily include fidelity to his Church. To them, I can only say that I think they've never experienced serious abuse as children. The reality of that abuse in the hearts and minds and souls of the victims is simply indescribable. I invite all of you to try to put yourselves in the shoes of a child as he or she (in the context of the Catholic crisis, usually he) is stripped naked, fondled, abused, raped . . . and then told, by the perpetrators - those he's been taught by his parents are spiritual authorities - that it's his fault, or that he mustn't talk about it, or that God will be angry if he doesn't allow future abuses. That reality is so ghastly, in the mind of a child, as to defy description. Is it any wonder that so many victims grow up permanently warped and twisted, psychologically and spiritually, by that experience? Is it any wonder that some of them have been so deeply, profoundly scarred by the experience that they've never been able to live normal lives with their spouses, and have handed down their trauma and damaged psyches to their children? Is it any wonder that some have taken their own lives, rather than live with the shattering effects of past abuse?
If anyone of faith can gloss over all that, and still insist that fidelity to the institution, in spite of its human conduct, is more important than holding it accountable for such monstrosities, demanding real, meaningful reform to prevent it ever happening again on such a scale or being connived at by Church authorities . . . I submit that their faith needs serious re-examination.
The Church proclaims herself to be the eternal Bride of Christ, but that reality appears to be no longer found in all those who lead her. If the Bishops are the successors to the Apostles, one can only speculate which Apostle some of them have chosen to follow. I can think of one in particular. His name wasn't Peter, but Judas.