Tuesday, September 10, 2013


How often have I written of the terrible effects of wishful thinking? How often have I lamented our tendency to "think" with our desires instead of our heads -- to wish away the evidence of our senses in the hope that if we refuse to acknowledge it, it will "go away?"

However much of it I've done, it seems to have had little effect.

Peter Grant, a.k.a. "Bayou Renaissance Man," brings us today's examples of folly:

I've just been reading the latest report about the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. You want to know why I'm weeping?
The orders the Rev. Carlos Rodriguez got from his religious superiors after he confessed to molesting a 16-year-old boy just hours before were swift and decisive: Leave immediately. Check into a motel. Don't tell anyone where you are going. Wait for further instructions.

Rodriguez, then 31, picked up cash at a Catholic retreat center and waited by the phone. The next day, the regional leader of his religious order called and told him to book a plane ticket out of state. By the time the victim's family went to police, he had checked in at a residential treatment center for troubled priests in Maryland.

"I felt like a fugitive. But what else could I do under the circumstances. I had no other choice but to follow orders," he wrote years later in an essay that was included in his Vatican petition to be defrocked.

The essay was part of a 330-page confidential personnel file on the priest that was released Monday along with files for five other priests who were also accused of molesting children while working for their Roman Catholic religious orders — the Vincentians, the Norbertines and the Augustinians — while assigned to parishes in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Rodriguez's file stands out among the dozens of priest files that have become public in recent months because it includes a candid and detailed autobiographical account of his actions and the steps his religious superiors took to shield him from the family and civil authorities.

The file also makes clear that officials with Rodriguez's religious order, the Vincentians, and the LA archdiocese worked together to intercede. Both the order and the archdiocese knew of Rodriguez's confession, but no one spoke with police until the boy's family filed a police report a month later, according to the file.

"The thing that Carlos Rodriguez does is, he lays out the truth, the underbelly, and exposes that for all that it is," said Ray Boucher, a lead plaintiff attorney in the clergy litigation who secured the release of the files.

Horrifying. Not merely Rodriguez's molestation of a vulnerable teenager, but inarguably far worse, the efforts of his clerical superiors to cover up his crime. The passionless disclaimer from the Fox News story:

The Rev. Jerome Herff, the Vincentian regional provincial who told Rodriguez to flee after his 1987 confession and placed him back in ministry the following year, said he urged him to leave because the boy's family was irate and he feared for the priest's safety. The treatment center, he said, was recommended by a law enforcement authority, although he declined to say who.

"I did what I thought was best and had to be done and what happened, happened," Herff said in a brief phone interview. "I've lived with this for years and I just don't want to go back there anymore."

...simply doesn't ring true in light of other sex crimes concealed by order of clerical authorities.

Good Catholics want nothing more than to believe that such scandals -- the molestations and the cover-ups both -- are "in the past," firmly and finally dealt with. However, the Rodriguez disclosures compel us who love the Church and want to see it purified to ask:

Is this still going on?

Yes, we Catholics want to believe it's all a matter of history. But we cannot be certain. It's extraordinarily difficult to force sex crimes and their concealments out in the open. The perpetrator's motive to avoid disclosure is obvious, but the victim is almost as strongly motivated to keep the secret. If you haven't been raped or otherwise sexually abused, you can't imagine the horror, the overwhelming need to make it all go away.

The problem is many-fold. I regret to say that part of it is embodied in sentiments such as the following, again from Peter Grant:

I know the Church claims to be the Body of Christ, founded by Christ Himself, Divinely ordained to accomplish His work on earth. I believed those claims, and founded my life upon them. But, when one runs headlong into this . . . filth . . . again, and again, and again . . . how can anyone possibly regard her authority, in human terms, as anything but irredeemably compromised? May God forgive me, but I can't. My gorge rises (literally) at the thought of submitting to such flawed authority again . . . and what that thought must induce in those who were the victims of this atrocity is something I hope and pray I never have to feel myself, because it might make me suicidal. It has driven some of them to suicide. Their deaths are blood on the hands of the Church that did things like this.

There's no justice in blaming the Church collectively for these crimes. Both the molestations and their concealments are the crimes of individuals, for which individuals are responsible and should be punished. That they've continued suggests systemic failures in Church policy, but not collective, Church-wide guilt for the crimes themselves.

If we were speaking of crimes committed in a completely secular context, this would be obvious. Who did it? Find him and bring him to book. Who helped him to conceal his deed? Find him and indict him as an accomplice after the fact. Not their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, spouses, employers, or asshole buddies, but the criminals themselves. Anything else constitutes guilt by association, which is antithetical to American principles of justice.

People simply go a little crazy over sex crimes that involve the Church. I'm sure I don't need to dwell upon the reasons for that. Nevertheless, it remains a terrible mistake and a tragic misallocation of the energy that infuses our hunger for justice.

I can't find it in me to castigate others for not seeing the above as clearly as I do. I have a gift for clarity that most others lack. It renders me immune to the illusions that enable so many of the mistakes we make out of good intentions.

One of those illusions is the belief that if we refuse to see a thing for what it is, it will somehow refrain from being that thing and doing what such things do.

Gentle Readers who know me well might have deduced where I'm headed with that statement. The subject is a painful one; it points to a source of tragedy Catholics could have mitigated at least for ourselves, had we but the courage to defy the attitudes of our time.

The source is male homosexuality.

It's been widely acknowledged that homosexuals, despite our various attitudes toward their conduct with one another, ought to have all the rights anyone else enjoys. And so it must be...as long as their deviancies involve only consenting others of legal age. When that constraint is broken, we must take notice: punitive notice, just as we would in cases of heterosexual rape.

Unfortunately, the combination of wishful thinking, alarm over dwindling vocations, and misplaced compassion has brought about the admission of many homosexuals to our seminaries. Recent estimates hold that about a quarter of seminary enrollees over the past four decades have been homosexuals, whether overt or covert. Before they're ordained and assigned to duties among the lay faithful, they must swear that they will refrain from homosexual conduct.

Some such oaths are honored and rigidly observed. Some are not.

Consider: We almost never hear about Catholic priests molesting young girls, or Catholic nuns molesting minors of either sex. Why is that? Despite all, there are far more heterosexual priests than homosexual ones. There are far more Catholic nuns than there are priests! So why are the crimes almost entirely molestations of male minors by priests?

Are you willing to confront the implications? I hope so; we've denied them for far too long, out of a desire to see homosexuals as "just like us." But it's not so. Male sexuality of either orientation is aggressive. Male homosexuality is just as aggressive, if not more so. Worst of all, the half-mature bodies of teenage boys are exactly what most powerfully attracts the aggressive homosexual.

Homosexual activists and mouthpiece groups have trumpeted against this obvious conclusion at the tops of their respective lungs. Even to suggest that the overwhelming preponderance of pederasties among clerical sex crimes ought to be studied is enough to call the wrath of the Lavender Brigades down upon one's head.

The solution -- really, the mitigation, since this is a problem that can't be solved 100% definitively and for all time -- is to bar homosexuals from our seminaries and to expel them from the priesthood when they're found to have slipped through.

Hate it as much as you like.

There is no other solution. I'm certain of this because there is no other approach. Once homosexuals are admitted to the priesthood, they will inevitably be placed in company with young Catholic boys. Some will restrain themselves; some will not. Which ones do you think we'll read about in the papers?

But there's a third illusion we must dispel before we can regard the subject as fully covered: the belief among far too many clerics in positions of authority over other priests that the best approach to the discovered sex crime is to cover it up. This isn't just an offense against all the laws of God and Man; it's also futile.

First, it's futile because sexual predation leaves unique and unmistakable marks upon its victims. They simply cannot conceal the signs of abuse lifelong; the truth will come out. When the truth does come out, months or years later, the devastation eclipses anything one might have predicted. Families are shattered. Longtime loves and friendships are undermined, often destroyed. Lives are sometimes lost.

Second, it's futile for a truly terrible reason, yet again something few of us can bear to admit to ourselves: The sexual predator cannot be reformed. He can be restrained, with great effort; that's all. But his inclinations will remain as they are; if allowed the opportunity, he will exercise them again.

If our clergy were unaware of this forty years ago, they should surely be aware of it today.

Even a Certified Galactic Intellect can't solve all the problems of the world, nor those of the Church, in one essay. However, the solution to this one is above in black and white.

I've said it all before. I've been called "everything but white" for it. I've challenged my detractors to find another approach -- one that hasn't been tried -- that logic and evidence suggest might have a chance of success.

To this date, that challenge remains unanswered.


Weetabix said...

Amen, brother.

KL said...

I am curious how Fr Ray's homosexual feelings in your "Chosen One" series reflects the thoughts you wrote here. Is he a sign of the current clergy or an example of successfully overcoming temptation?

Excellent books by the way.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Thanks for the kind words, KL. I think you meant Father Tony Baldaserra, from "The Blessing of Water" in Chosen One. I'd have to say he managed to restrain his demons, albeit at some cost.

Fr. Tony was a consequence of a bet I had with another writer, who knows how conservative I am. He challenged me to write a story centered on a simpatico homosexual. I saw his bet and raised him by making the character a homosexual priest...and following that up with Rusty McGill in On Broken Wings.

However, I'm not willing to speculate about what fraction of homosexually inclined candidates for the priesthood are willing and able to act against their desires. I have an uneasy suspicion that that fraction is not large.