Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Priests and Sexual Abuse

The Scandal Within the Scandal

Readers of this blog will know that I have a great affinity for our dear Catholic priests.  I have always had such an affinity since my early days as an altar server.  All,  ALL, of my memories as a youth attending daily mass in Advent and Lent, and serving mass, even playing football in the altar boy football league in London, Ontario are fond memories.  Yes, some of the priests I met then were a tad crotchety, but they were for me at the time, and remain "alter christus", another Christ.  

I am not a babe in the woods.  I know that they were sinners, as I am a sinner, and I know that some (far too many) sinned in ways that society now realises did great harm to youth, in what it termed the "sexual abuse scandal."

I also know that the Canadian and American Catholic Churches hid the abuse that was happening under the eyes of leadership for many years, which only exacerbated the problem, and left victims with pains that magnified over time, absent healing. Over 20 years ago I met a priest who had been transferred to one diocese from another, and given work in the marriage tribunal, to keep him away from young people.  He was not the only one, and so rather than making him face the truth, and rather than face the truth itself, his bishop buried him elsewhere.

Of course, this was wrong, seriously wrong, and the Church of all places should know better.  Yet, at the same time, in polite society, sexual abuse was being buried as well.  Families built systems to protect the abuser from guilt, and if an outsider was presented with a claim of abuse, that claim found a hasty end, with no resolution for the abused, except possibly more serious abuse.  I have seen several instances where families of abuse have turned against one who would speak out the truth of what was happening, thereby re-victimizing the victim of abuse.

In our secular society, we now watch for signs of abuse, and point fingers much more quickly at things that look wrong.  It is not always the case that an abuse has happened, and many abuses go unnoticed, but the abused are more likely to receive a hearing, and to be believed.  Many men, and even women are languishing in prisons because of being successfully prosecuted for crimes of sexual and even physical abuse. 

But, when someone claims that a priest has sexually abused a young person, no matter how long ago, there is an added incentive, the monetary factor.

Catholic dioceses, particularly in North America, probably because of their guilt and shame over hiding abuse for so many years, changed the whole field of abuse.  A pendulum does not rest at center, unless the clock is stopped.  A pendulum first moves right and then moves left, passing center, but not stopping.  So too has the abuse scandal, to the effect that there is a newer scandal, the scandal of depriving priests of the right to confront their accuser, of the right to be considered innocent, until proven guilty.  This is the zero tolerance policy of the USCCB, followed similarly in Canada, that accepts all claims as valid and all priests against who a claim of abuse has been made, as guilty first.  Lawyers for dioceses rush to pay off, in so many cases, claimants and their lawyers, litigation pros working on contingency.

Many claims are valid, and there is a need for justice.  However, assuaging these claims with filthy lucre seems to this scribe to be fraught with opportunity for abuse of the justice system, and it has been so.

When a Catholic priest becomes a non person, unable to afford to defend himself, the possibility for justice for him goes out the window.  The rights of a priest to protection under the law, are different than the objectives of our Catholic dioceses, who are attempting to minimize scandal.  He must defend himself separately, but can ill afford it, based on the life of secular poverty that almost all priests live.

So the love of money becomes the root of all evil, even in the Church, which plays along.  The pendulum moves right and then moves left.

But, this pendulum must come to center.  The Church has too much at stake to allow the counter lies to the original lies about the very existence of the original sexual abuse scandal to continue.

Father Gordon MacRae, the falsely accused priest of These Stone Walls blog, has spent over 16 years as a guest of the State of New Hampshire, for claims against him that are so easily disproven that I weep for him, and for all the other falsely accused members of our priesthood.  Father Gordon has started a three part series here, about the false accusations against priests. 

I urge you to read it, and I urge you to pray for all those who are victims of sexual abuse, either those who poor victims who have had their lives damaged by it in fact, or those priests, who are falsely accused for crimes they could not have committed and in fact did not commit.

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