Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Pennsylvania Report

     Quite a number of readers have written to ask me whether I intend to write about this. A few have sent me articles and op-ed columns about it. I completely understand why they’ve addressed me. I’ve been looking into the matter as deeply as is possible for a layman, and I believe I’m ready to comment.

     But I don’t delude myself that everyone who reads what I have to say will stand up and cheer about it.

     The Pennsylvania grand-jury report on the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests contains statements that would shock even the most hardened consumer of crime news. It states that over 300 priests have been accused of such abuse. It states that the accused’s victims exceeded 1000 children and young persons. It states that 25 different bishops had been involved in concealing such behavior and protecting those accused of it. It states that the Vatican itself was complicit in some of those concealment operations.

     This is horrible stuff. Even though the time span covered by the report is more than 40 years long, it shocks and dismays parents who routinely entrust the safety of their children to Catholic clergy and Catholic institutions. It’s close to being enough to elicit attacks upon the Church itself. At least it’s enough to evoke popular fury upon parishes and dioceses where child abuse has been concentrated.

     But as with all reports of this kind, there are more facts to be assessed than the stories circulating have room for...or inclination to report.

     The report makes frequent use of the words accused, alleged, and accuser. Far less frequently found in its pages, though they occur here and there, are the words confirmed, confessed, and convicted. This is consistent with the allegations of concealment by Church prelates. But it’s also consistent with the possibility – whatever one might prefer to believe – that some of the accusers are lying, or more kindly, have been misled by their own memories or the exhortations of therapists.

     A man accused of a heinous crime should have the opportunity to defend himself before a jury. Stipulate that some of the accusations are confirmed as true. If any are untrue, it follows that the accuser should be required to present them to a jury for disposition. A felony accusation should not be allowed to hang in the air over a man, destroying his life without having been proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Indeed, such a claim gives the accused a good case for a libel action.

     The American tradition of presuming the accused to be innocent until he’s been convicted by a jury should not be set aside merely because the accused wears a cassock and a Roman collar.

     It has frequently puzzled me that, though child abuse can be found in all religions, denominations, and sects, only charges against Catholic priests get significant air time and column-inches. Indeed, I can’t remember even one case of a Protestant minister or a rabbi being reported as are charges made against Catholic clerics. Why? What makes such a heinous deed more newsworthy if the accused is a Catholic priest?

     The Church does impose certain rules on its priests that other denominations, etc. do not:

  • The requirement for clerical celibacy;
  • The requirement that priests live in rectories, apart from their parish congregations.

     These are severe restrictions. A healthy heterosexual man will be taxed to obey them no matter how firm his will. Perhaps most priests remain within them; I have no way of knowing, and neither does anyone else. But it is equally certain that some do not.

     It seems that the contrast between the acceptance of those rules by an ordained priest and his willful decision to ignore one of them makes a Catholic priest’s sexual excursions more glamorous, more attention-grabbing. Editors must think they’re more likely to sell advertising space. If they do reason thus, they’re probably correct. At the very least, America’s managing editors seems to agree about it.

     Still, I’d like to know the rate at which accusations of child sex abuse are lodged against certain other occupations that are routinely given responsibility for the well-being of the young:

  • Protestant ministers;
  • Rabbis;
  • School teachers and administrators;
  • Day care center operators and staff.

     I’d also like to know how often such persons face a jury trial, how many are convicted, and what’s done with such persons by those to whom they report, when there is such a higher authority.

     "A mechanical process can reverse a bit at random, but motivation acts like a field -- the elements won't change unless the field does." -- James Tiptree, Jr., "Faithful To Thee, Terra, In Our Fashion"

     The torrent of accusations, both confirmed and unconfirmed, correlates strongly with other social phenomena:

  • The Sexual Revolution;
  • The rise of homosexual activism;
  • The development of oral contraception;
  • The destigmatization of both adultery and divorce;
  • The explosion of personal automobile ownership and motels.

     Correlation is not causation. No one could credibly argue that the incidence of child sex abuse would be markedly less were the above phenomena never to have occurred. However, social trends frequently engender attitudinal changes even among persons who are supposed to ignore them. Moreover, the incentive structures to which they point will have effects even on those who “aren’t paying attention.”

     Consider in this light another trend that correlates strongly with the five mentioned above: the radical decline in vocations to the priesthood. When it became apparent that the decline was not a momentary thing, many bishops became alarmed. The Church needs priests, but where was it to get them?

     The world had turned into a sexual playground. Everybody, seemingly, was “getting some”...except the men who had vowed lifelong celibacy in the service of Christ, the Church, and their flocks. The previous regime, in which a man was expected to marry at an early age, to remain faithful to his wife lifelong, and to support and protect her and her offspring no matter how many or how unruly, was far less attractive. Indeed, as a pre-teen I knew at least one priest who might have chosen his profession in part to avoid immuring himself in family life. Among other things, celibacy was less expensive and less a trial of one’s patience. Clearly, by the mid-Seventies that was no longer the case. The seminaries were emptying out in consequence.

     What sort of man would view the priesthood as more attractive for reasons of sexual access than the larger, overwhelmingly heterosexual lay milieu? And among persons of that inclination, would the proportion to whom pre-teen and teenage boys are a strong temptation be larger than in the heterosexual populace, smaller, or about the same?

     You can answer those questions for yourself, Gentle Reader.

     All the above having been said, the Church cannot permit the current plague of pedophilia – more than 90% of it pederasty -- to continue. Neither can it continue to think that incidents of that crime should and can be covered up.

     Highly orthodox Catholic writer Matt Walsh, with whom I share many sentiments, cites these measures as imperative:

  1. All homosexuals must be banned from the priesthood.
  2. Evil must be condemned from the pulpit.
  3. The laity must wield its power.

     I have three problems with treating those measures, taken alone, as an adequate response. All of them pertain to incentives.

     First, it’s far easier to say that homosexuals have been expelled from the priesthood than actually to do so. (“Change is hard, and difficulty makes people impatient.” – Arthur Herzog) Many a bishop would succumb to the temptation to give it lip service rather than to “endanger” his diocese by emptying it of so many priests. Besides which, how is a bishop, or the administrator of a seminary, to verify that a young man who has not been blatantly sexually active is or is not a homosexual? The problem has defeated others.

     Second, while the laity has power and could, in theory, inflict severe financial penalties on parishes that tolerate homosexuals in the rectory, the prevalent inclination among Catholic laymen is to treat the matter as the clergy’s problem to be solved. Moreover, there’s both clerical opprobrium and the difficulty of making use of a new parish to be considered. When so many priests are less disinclined to condemn homosexual conduct than to condemn lay “judgmentalism” — often in the name of keeping congregants in the pews – it is likely that the power of the disincentives will prevail.

     Third, in the absence of other changes to the institution of the Catholic priesthood, the incentives that have drawn so many pedophiles – once again, more than 90% of the time the crime is pederasty — into the clergy will persist:

  • Owing to clerical celibacy and the rule against the ordination of women, the priesthood will remain more attractive to homosexuals than to heterosexuals.
  • The paucity of priestly vocations will induce bishops and seminary officials to downplay homosexual orientation as a disqualification for ordination;
  • The priesthood confers a kind of authority over lay people, including their children.
  • Priests are routinely given unsupervised responsibility for groups of children, especially young boys.

     The perpetuation of those incentives guarantees that as homosexuals and child predators are seined out of the clergy, others will filter in, albeit slowly.

     The Church has not always demanded that its priests be celibate. Indeed, the strict enforcement of that rule began in the Eleventh Century, so for half its history the Church accepted married men as priests. As there is no theological reason why a priest must be celibate – Christ certainly didn’t demand it of His Apostles – this strikes me as a practice ripe for reversal.

     Neither is there a theological reason that women cannot be ordained. The usual cant response is “a priest must be in the image of Christ.” But surely the willingness to labor humbly and lifelong, and to subordinate oneself through vows of poverty and obedience, is not confined to the male half of our species. Those virtues are more in accordance with “the image of Christ” than the mere possession of a Y chromosome.

     The Vatican has absolutely forbidden its clerics to discuss these possibilities openly with the laity. Nevertheless, several priests have spoken to me privately about such possibilities, even though in doing so they’ve endangered their status with the Vatican, and perhaps with their bishops as well.

     The subject has many facets. I’ve touched here on the ones that seem most in need of an analytical airing. Let it not be imagined that I regard myself as an unchallengeable authority on it. As always, I set down my thoughts first to clarify and organize them for myself, second for others’ consideration. And with that, I yield the floor to my Gentle Readers.



You raise some excellent points.

My Rabbi is married with four kids. And I certainly have no idea about sexual abuse by Rabbis - and would condemn it without reservation were I to learn of it.

You raise a broader issue as well, something that I actually started writing about some months ago and may resurrect as pertinent: the current "common culture" where you believe (perception, not necessarily reality) everyone getting some at the drop of a hat.

ENVY is one of the strongest sins, after all.

Amy Bowersox said...

I'd be curious to hear what you think of this piece by Fr. Edwin Palka.

Specifically, his claim is that the information that the Church gains from a would-be priest during his process of formation is used by certain people to determine his vulnerabilities, and then to put him into a position where he will be tempted, so that, if he succumbs, he's now in a position where he can be blackmailed into silence on the part of other abuses. This influence can carry forward even if he later leaves the priesthood.

(Karl Denninger has opined that, with the prevalence of "big data" today, this extends to everyone. Why do you think that Justice Roberts upheld Obamacare, for instance? What did the medical industry have on him?)

An Engineer / Veteran said...

I've noticed for decades that in addition to the turn towards hedonism ("If it feels good, do it") pushed by many, the Church has dropped the vast majority of any mention or practice of sacrifice. St. Paul wrote about the conflict of body versus spirit, preaching the virtue of self control. Practicing same, though, is passe in much of today's world. Even the Church's traditions encouraging same: fasting before Mass, meatless Fridays, fasting and abstinence for more of Lent and Advent, etc. have essentially gone by the board. Hermits and martyrs were revered and almost every weekday was some saint's day that was celebrated.

That which is dearly obtained at great price is usually greatly prized. And that which is cheaply obtained is often poorly prized.

So, in a era of little self discipline and less self control, am I surprised that a small portion of the clergy succumbed to the horrific temptations being discussed? No - and my prayers are for their penitence and return to salvation. And especially for the many clergy who work to prevent such horrors while living under the threat of false accusations by those who are using this demonic plague to further Satan's wishes as well.

I don't claim to know what punishments are appropriate for those who did such terrible deeds. Nor for those who use this climate as a way to deliberately destroy innocent clergy with accusations of which their falsehood cannot now be proven (how could anyone prove something *didn't* happen 50 years ago?).

The Church will prevail - Christ said so Himself. But the storms against it will continue, both from within and without.