Pope Benedict's Moral Compass | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Pope Benedict's Moral Compass

In the Vatican's rush to scapegoat all gay priests for the clergy abuse scandal, it has not just disparaged many innocent men. It has also ignored the many female victims of abuse--roughly half the membership of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

picAlthough one study purported to find that more than 80 percent of clergy abuse victims are male, the gender makeup of SNAP should be enough to call the study's conclusion into question. But even if only 20 percent of clergy molestation victims are female (a point I'm not ready to concede), that would be more than enough reason to justify a comprehensive response--not a vague mandate to blame all gay men for the abuse. Eileen McNamara nails it:

Why would a church that claims to be intent on healing and reconciliation effectively erase the traumatic experiences of so many women and girls?

Kathleen M. Dwyer thinks she knows why. ''In order to be successful in blaming gays, the hierarchy knows that the sexual abuse of girls must be swept into invisibility and be internalized in the culture as a rare exception," said Dwyer, herself victimized by a priest.

If that's the plan, it seems to be working. Only two reporters, one for a subway giveaway, showed up at the chancery last week to hear Dwyer and four other women who were molested by priests denounce the Vatican's preoccupation with excluding homosexuals from ministry.

''I can only assume that women victims simply aren't newsworthy, regardless of what we have to say," concluded a dispirited Ann Hagan Webb, a psychologist who heads the New England chapter of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Fifty percent of the organization's members are women. ''The Vatican's decision to ban gay men from the priesthood is an insult to survivors of either gender. The vast number of girls and women abused by priests underscores the obvious, that banning gay priests will not solve the problem of sexual abuse in the church."

And let's not even get into the question of whether men who abuse boys are actually gay. Abuse of children is so beyond the pale of healthy sexuality that it makes no sense to place it anywhere on the homosexual-heterosexual spectrum, particularly when we already know that most sexual predators convicted of abusing boys are married to women.

Here's a novel idea, folks: Instead of announcing vague and unenforceable mandates directed against both innocent and guilty members of an entire class of people, why not exercise more diligence when there is reason to believe that a specific priest is a predator? Multiple studies have confirmed that the average child molester victimizes hundreds of children during his or her (nearly always his) lifetime, and 2003's scandal was rife with stories not just of priests who molested children, but also of bishops who looked the other way--and sometimes even enabled future abuse by repeatedly transferring offenders to a more accommodating parish whenever rumors started to fly.

I try to be charitable towards the Vatican because I have many dear Roman Catholic friends and colleagues, including some in holy orders, some of whom feel that my opinion of this Pope has been prejudiced by my negative assessment of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger--who, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was supposed to be the church's bulldog and was only doing his job. But I believe that Pope Benedict XVI has shown early signs that he is willing to neglect Roman Catholic doctrine, including objections to war, poverty, and the death penalty, in order to more fully participate in the conservative backlash against the sexual revolution. In this case, he has gone a step further by discriminating against innocent (and faithfully celibate) gay priests, ignoring the pleas of female clergy abuse victims, and letting bishops and cardinals off the hook entirely--deemphasizing urgent pastoral needs in order to better serve a broader, more political ideology. He has relegated himself to the status of a follower rather than a leader. If this is indicative of his overall papal agenda, then the cost to the Roman Catholic Church, and society at large, will be immeasurably high. I hope that I am only ignorant of this Pope's motivations. I hope that I have misjudged him. I would much rather be pleasantly surprised. I would much rather be wrong.

Previous Comments

ID
103893
Comment

It's not just the current Pope, but JP2's great failing was to ignore the scandal as it erupted. I was in Louisville when they became the first city to get a settlement with the RCC. There's a lot of people who did get abused, and the Churches silence on that topic then and now is deafening.

Author
Ironghost
Date
2005-12-15T11:08:58-06:00
ID
103894
Comment

I always liked JP2 and wish I could say this all happened only after age and Parkinson's had taken its toll and his leadership was marginalized, but truth is that this was such a long-term problem that he would have almost had to have known about it and tacitly approved. I don't know what to make of that. It's not congruent with my understanding of the man. All I can figure is that RCC leaders have paternal feelings about their priests because of the sacrifices priests have to make--no sexual relationships, no family, perpetual outsider status--and that this leads them to protect the priests under their care, under the "loving eyes can never see" principle. I figure parents probably do this for their adult kids all the time, or all those molesters who still live with their folks wouldn't be able to get away with it for as long as they do. Doesn't even come close to excusing it, but it beats the more obvious explanation: Money and status. Boston's Cardinal O'Malley got big props for selling his episcopal mansion. For this Beliefnet named him the Most Inspiring Person of 2003. But he also blamed victims' groups, implying that the church itself was responsible for the investigations into child abuse allegations, and that victims' advocacy groups served no purpose whatsoever in the process. I think the RCC is full of good priests, but the occasional offender shows that people often rise in clergy rank the same way they often rise in secular rank: By selling their souls. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-12-15T13:51:57-06:00
ID
103895
Comment

"but the occasional offender" --> "but the hierarchical non-reaction to the occasional offender"

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-12-15T13:52:31-06:00
ID
103896
Comment

"he also blamed victims' groups, implying" --> "he also blamed victims' groups for the scandal, implying" (bah!)

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-12-15T13:53:11-06:00
ID
103897
Comment

Hey Tom! This is a very moving post. I think the largest reason they refuse to admit the numerous women who have been molested is that information like this could refute the entire "anti-gay" movement the church has started. It is one of the situations where you only consider or report what is useful to your ideas; you ignore any arguments are facts that would make you reconsider your position or rethink your statements.

Author
Alice
Date
2005-12-15T21:26:58-06:00
ID
103898
Comment

Agreed 100%; thanks for this. And the phrase "anti-gay movement" really hits the nail on the head; I can remember when the Roman Catholic theology of sexuality described homosexual behavior as "intrinsically disordered" but also condemned discrimination against gays and lesbians, and even identified the struggles of celibate gays and lesbians with the sacrifice on the Cross. Good on them to do that, because in Roman Catholic theology, celibacy is essentially the only moral option left to gays and lesbians--and it only makes sense to honor the sacrifice gays and lesbians have to make to live into current Catholic theology. The subtle message of the current policy against gay priests is that homosexuality is not intrinsic, that it's all behavior, and it gives no respect or dignity to the idea of gays and lesbians living into this very difficult celibate lifestyle. That's a right-wing Protestant approach to homosexuality. It's not congruent with what the Catechism has taught for the past several decades, and it's certainly not congruent with the testimony of science. It represents part of a broad political agenda that has nothing to do with theology. BTW- Are you the same charming theater-major Alice I've crossed paths with in person, by any chance...? Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-12-16T02:31:12-06:00
ID
103899
Comment

yes it is the same Alice. I told you I'd come visit your blog, and I have been. This is just the first one where I had an opinion that I wanted to express. Thanks for networking me with your friends.... =)

Author
Alice
Date
2005-12-16T10:31:48-06:00
ID
103900
Comment

You are always so welcome! Please let me know how it goes. And thanks for posting to my blog. Welcome to the JFP community! :o) Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-12-16T17:47:27-06:00
ID
103901
Comment

I just find the whole Roman Catholic "situation" to be a strange, twisted buffet of institutionalized mental illness. It's why the Irish are leaving the Catholic Church in droves, and have been, and why many nuns I know on "both sides of the pond" are seeking enriching spiritual experiences outside the fold of the traditional church. The big hub-bub about priests molesting children goes back a hundred years earlier than when it took a foothold in the States. They had whole orphanages that were sex dens for the RCC priests. I know elderly Irish women who are still living with that psychic legacy today. From the perspective of the Irish people I know, they view the whole institution as a total abberation of authentic Christian tenets....and the whole phenomenon of priests raping children as severely oppressed people (the Irish priests themselves) turning their feelings of powerlessness onto the closest vulnerable and powerless person they could get their hands on (children)-----though some make the argument that it manifests because of the unrealistic expectation that priests become divorced from any reality below the beltline. I don't so much buy the latter view because the existence of sexual violence is virtually non-existent in other celibate priest/monk traditions, such as those versions of the Greek, Russian, and Eastern Orthodox Church that adhere to celibacy (though some are not required and do not), as well as Buddhist priests (though there are some unfortunate examples of poor sexual boundaries with a few Buddhist priests once they came to America). Some of this vehemence among the Irish, however, is influenced by even more than these contemporary scandals. For the Irish it goes back to a kind of root-source scandal...namely the Synod of Whidby in 664 in Northumbria, when the Celtic Church (which allowed priests and nuns to marry) was forced by the Roman Church to come under its sway. Everything changed then, including the Irish tonsure (druidic), the date of the observance of Easter, and the acceptance of priests and nuns marrying. The primal or original Irish Christian Church had its roots in the older Egyptian Desert tradition, as transmitted by John Cassian, as transmitted by the Essenes, rather than the abberant expressions of Roman law. When the arm of the Roman Empire, with all its violence and oppression arrived on the Irish doorstep wearing Christian clothing, it makes since it was only a matter of time before the Celtic Church would be pushed down. However, banished serpents return as dragons. The Irish are leaving the RCC and many are returning to the even older Celtic Church. Some of the Irish who have left the RCC are becoming extremely outspoken about "Father O' Fiddles With Kids" and I think they're just getting started. One has to wonder what kind of reality would be characteristic of the contemporary Catholic Church if the RCC's stance were replaced with the more body-honoring, sensuality-honoring, feminine-honoring, earth-revering Celtic Christian ethos.

Author
whateveryouwant
Date
2005-12-17T01:22:17-06:00
ID
103902
Comment

Good post. I suspect the reason so many priests molest children has mainly to do with the kinds of people--the kinds of men, especially--who are drawn to a sexless life. While celibacy in and of itself almost certainly isn't the problem, I think we need to bear in mind that people who shave their faces aren't usually especially fond of their beards. Back when I hung around online listservs populated mainly by non-religious celibates (I fell into the non-religious abstinence minority), I was amazed at how many folks on the lists described themselves as "damaged goods." Victims of rape, child molestation, and other forms of sexual violence. So I wonder: What would it take for a man in his twenties to give up sex for the rest of his life? The same sort of things, I suspect, that might draw a man in his forties to children in an unhealthy way. We also need to bear in mind the whole issue of access. Celibate monastics do not generally have unsupervised access to children; celibate priests generally do, and especially to male children. We also need to bear in mind the massive amount of trust invested in clerics, especially in the Roman Catholic tradition, where they are literally taking on the liturgical role of Jesus Christ himself, and often involved in social justice ministries. (Sad truth: Many of the worst child molesters were great at taking care of the homeless and, as has been pointed out before, Cardinal Law was a giant of the civil rights movement.) Wouldn't you trust sweet old Fr. O'Diddle to watch after your kids at his cabin over the weekend? Probably not now, and especially if his name was actually Fr. O'Diddle, but you know what I mean. So with the Roman Catholic priesthood you combine a dangerous chemical cocktail: 1. Men who are disproportionately likely to have such a negative view of their own sexuality that they are willing to commit to a lifetime of celibacy. 2. Unsupervised access to children, over a period of decades. 3. Trust. My feelings on Celtic Christianity are mixed. I like much of what I've seen of the tradition, but it's hard to tell where real Celtic Christianity ends and where modern revivals of the tradition begin. I'm relatively certain that ancient Celtic Christianity was not gender egalitarian, or affirming of gay and lesbian relationships, or even panentheistic in any sense that we'd recognize today. But if we can believe that it represented some form of syncretism involving Christianity and druidism, I think that's something the world can really use now. An Episcopal priest, Fr. Bill Melnyk (known in druid circles as Oakwyse), wrote some Christian/druid services that I thought were sometimes a little hokey but at other times really inspiring. I've corresponded with Fr. Melnyk many times, and although political pressure from conservatives in the church burned him out on the ministry and ultimately led him to give up his collar, I think that he and people like him have a lot to offer us. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-12-17T02:30:56-06:00
ID
103903
Comment

And there's another, somewhat more disturbing issue involved here in the question of priests vs. monastics: Until the past few decades, child molestation was not really a concept that we recognized in this country. It's hard to believe this, but in the supposed golden age of the 1950s that conservatives like to talk about, men molested children pretty much whenever they wanted, and stood very little chance of ever getting prosecuted for it. So we need to consider the very real possibility that monastics who have unsupervised access to children may in fact be guilty of molestation just as often as priests are. And a caveat to the post above: When I talk about the kinds of men who are drawn to celibacy, I'm drawing a very large umbrella, from men who are wounded sexually but would never harm anyone (certainly not a child), to men who are wounded sexually and don't plan on harming anyone coming in (but become more dangerous as they get older), to men who plan to prey on children when they come in, to men who see sex as too dirty to get involved in, to men who have abnormally low sex drives, to men who have a completely healthy attitude towards sexuality but are prepared to offer it up on the altar as a sacrifice. So there's a pretty wide spectrum there, and I would hazard a guess that most priests are far less dangerous to children than any random folks from the general population. But I think we need to bear in mind that people who are wounded or frightened by sexuality are more likely to pursue a celibate lifestyle, and I think that's probably at the root of the current crisis. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-12-17T02:36:50-06:00
ID
103904
Comment

Yep. Heard of Oakwyse. Your sentiments are generally what I feel regarding most "quasi-Celtic-neopaganism," which often seems to me like a SCA gathering gone awry, most of which the rural Irish, Scots, and Welsh find rather bizarre. But, I also know there are well-intentioned folks in any group. As far as Celtic Christianity, you're right to be suspicious. There are some authentic expressions of the old stream, just as there are authentic expressions of the even older pagan stream, in Ireland for instance, etc. But, naturally, there are also modern attempts at "reconstruction" that have some strange leanings. Not sure that I have anything to add re: the RCC-abuse scandal, other than...such crimes should not be swept under the rug as I sense that they are, despite the fall-guy here and there.

Author
whateveryouwant
Date
2005-12-18T18:00:30-06:00
ID
103905
Comment

chronos, agreed 100%. For me, the real cause of the priest abuse crisis was not the abuse itself, horrible though it was; it was the behavior of the bishops and cardinals in allowing the abuse to continue unimpeded. They failed not only as religious leaders, but as mere employers. Wal-Mart takes better care of its child customers than many Catholic bishops did of the child parishioners under their care. And the situation has not changed. Cardinal O'Malley of Boston is seen as such a great figure because he sold his mansion, but his attitude towards victims' groups tells me that he is probably not a significant improvement over Cardinal Law. The priest abuse scandal is that there will be more priest abuse scandals, and if Benedict is going to respond to them only by further persecuting gays and lesbians, he will wound his church deeply. I love the "SCA gathering gone awry" line! I do half expect some of the flakier liturgies, involving healing crystals and astral projection and whatnot, to begin with a saving throw vs. spells... I think the hardcore new age movement is valid but no more credible from a modernist perspective than fundamentalist Christianity, and the effects it has had on some communities of nature-centered pagans have often been undesirable. Fortunately, for every AD&D character in training, there's a humble and authentic Wiccan who sets a really good example for the rest of us on how to reconstruct a religion. I'd be very interested sometime in hearing what some of your favorite books are on the topics of Celtic Christianity and Celtic paganism. I know you've written about this yourself, so I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject. I'm definitely a novice in these areas. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-12-19T17:48:22-06:00
ID
103906
Comment

Yo Tom, I always hesitate to make statements like the one I am about to make, because more often than not they get misinterpreted or twisted to start a fight. I am making this statement to you because I know you have studied Christian history and am curious to get your opinion. I know what mine is. Now, if that was enough pomp and circumstance... I believe, based upon a knowledge of Christian history, that the Catholic church was, is and likely always will be, one of the most corrupt institutions ever know to man. I DO NOT indict Catholics individually into this very strong condemnation, just the hierarchy/government/institution itself. I believe the problem lies with the 1% who are in charge, not the 99% who are good, honest, spiritual, concerned people who are seeking meaning, purpose and directive in life. Catholics are not corrupt people, but the "church" is (IMO). Since its inception, or more accurately, evolution (in the centuries following the death of the apostles), it has been driven by men who sought to gain power, sought to increase power and sought to maintain power, by any means necessary. How many of their cardinal doctrines and actions came about as a result of some pope trying to keep the oppressed down and himself on the throne (rise of the monarchal episcopate, distinction between clergy and laity, original sin, the bull unam sanctum, sacriments, sacrifice of mass/transubstantiation, crusades, the inquisitions, simony, sale of indulgences, hagiolatry, keeping the Bible out of the language and hands of the common man, etc). I believe history will include the current priest sex abuse scandal in this infamous list of oppression of the congregants. However, this is nothing new. The same things happened after the decision was made that the priesthood must commit to a life of celibacy; widespread immorality plagued the church, culminating perhaps with Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) and his six children by two women. Do you know of an earthly government that is not corrupt? When the church departed from the "my kingdom is not of this world" mandate, it became another earthly government and in time fell to the same corruption that plagues secular governments. PS- and I promise I will end this post; have you ever read "The Eternal Kingdom" by F.W. Mattox? Interesting read. Begins with the church is prophecy, progresses to the church preparation, establishment, persecution, thriving, departures from the New Testament pattern and ultimate slide into a farce.

Author
brandon
Date
2005-12-21T12:30:44-06:00
ID
103907
Comment

Sorry about the extra long posts. I just can't seem to say what I want in 25 words or less. Perhaps it is a sign of ignorance (a fool is known by his much speaking) or a sign that I am addicted to the sound of my own voice. Once more: Catholics = good people, love'em dearly; Catholic church = go away.

Author
brandon
Date
2005-12-21T12:35:44-06:00
ID
103908
Comment

Hmmm. Good post. I can't say I completely disagree with what you're saying, but I see two strains in the Catholic tradition: the hierarchical (oriented towards keeping the powerful powerful) and the spiritual (oriented towards legitimate religious experience). For every Alexander VI there is a St. Francis of Assisi or a St. Ignatius of Loyola or a St. Teresa of Avila or a St. Benedict or... [etc.] The streams have run more or less parallel. Another thing I try to bear in mind is that prior to the Great Schism, what we call the Roman Catholic Church was institutional Christianity as a whole, because there wasn't anything else; and even after the Great Schism, it remained the only institutional form of Christianity in the western world. It was only after the Protestant Reformation that the bad behavior of the Roman Catholic Church reflected only on the RCC. Until that point, it was a scandal for all Christians that the church was used as an instrument of power, of dominance, of political influence, geared towards benefitting the rich and corrupt, rather than an institution that actually attempted to live according to Jesus' words. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-12-21T15:24:07-06:00
ID
103909
Comment

I should mention the third, and maybe most important, stream of the Catholic tradition: The social justice stream. I had issues with much that JPII did, but I loved what he had to say about the poor, and his powerful role in using the church to confront totalitarianism rather than trying for a nonexistent middle ground. And Catholic Charities is a beautiful witness for the church--one of my very favorite organizations, across the board. Even when I disagree with some of what it might do in minutiae, I have to stand by the courage, dedication, and love of the folks who run that ministry. But I think I agree with your point, which is that there are and always have been crooks in the Vatican. Leave it to humanity to take a beautiful message and turn it into a racket. Cheers, TH

Author
Tom Head
Date
2005-12-21T15:27:33-06:00
ID
103910
Comment

Tom Celtic Paganism (generally) The Druids, by Peter Berresford Ellis The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature, by Jean Markale (almost anything by Markale) The Book of the Cailleach, by Gearoid O Crualaoich Ravens and Black Rain: The Story of the Highland Second Sight, Elizabeth Sutherland The Silver Bough, by F. Marian McNeil Yearning for the Wind, by Tom Cowan The Red-Haired Girl From the Bog, by Patricia Monaghan Celtic Christianity Celtic Christianity and Nature, by Mary Low Listening to the Heartbeat of God, by J. Philip Newell Living Between Worlds: Place and Journey in Celtic Spirituality, by Philip Sheldrake I'm hesitant to list much more.

Author
whateveryouwant
Date
2005-12-21T16:35:58-06:00

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