Monday, August 27, 2018

Bad Venn diagrams

I apparently have to address homosexuality again.  Because when I shared my myths post, everyone kind of ignored what I said and just repeated "but lavender mafia tho."  It's really entrenched and I've been arguing against it over and over, but no one's really convinced and I'm wasting my time.  Instead I'll just throw it all in a post, and if I feel the compulsion to talk to these people again, I'll just linkdrop it as needed.

People like LifeSite News, Church Militant, Crisis, and former nuncio Vigano (more on him later) are pushing a single narrative in regard to sex abuse, the "lavender mafia" story.  Basically they separate priests into two categories, like this:

While they'll admit that there are few rare exceptions (apparently 20% of victims being female is just a tiny blip in the data) they mostly think that if you purged the gays -- who can be easily recognized because they are liberal and push gay rights -- there would be hardly any abuse anymore.

I argue that the Venn diagram looks more like this monstrosity:

In other words, some priests are liberal and some are conservative.  Of both camps, some are gay.  Whether liberal or conservative, gay or straight, some are not celibate.  And whether liberal or conservative, gay or straight, some of the non-celibate priests have molested children.

I've had some trouble because there is no statistical proof of what percentage of priests are gay, which makes it impossible to say if the gay ones are more or less likely to be celibate, or to be molesters, than straight priests.  One thing that is clear is that the rate of homosexuality is drastically higher than the surrounding population.  Estimates range from 1/3 to 1/2 of all priests having a homosexual orientation, though most would be private about it.

The usual "proof" given is that 80% of the victims in the John Jay Report were male.  The authors of the report denied that this meant the abusers were gay, but said it was about opportunity.  Still, they left themselves open to such a claim by calling the 11-14 age group -- the age about half the victims were -- "postpubescent."  Only, most boys in that group would not be postpubescent.  The clinical definition of pedophilia is attraction to children under thirteen.  Psychologists believe that pedophiles do not care about the sex of their victims; it's children in general that they're attracted to.  So I think we can discard this "proof."

The next claim is that priests who are gay (and by extension, assumed to be non-celibate and possibly molesting children) are necessarily liberal.  It makes sense that a gay priest might choose a liberal approach, because it would allow him to be sexually active without guilt.  And certainly there are some who have taken this approach, and if they get into any trouble for their behavior, whether with adults or children, they might claim "I'm being persecuted for being gay!  It's those terrible homophobes in the church!"  That way he can bring liberal lay people and liberal clergy to his defense.

But there are plenty of priests who take the opposite approach: they preach a very conservative, strict ethic on sexuality and even decry homosexuality.  Sometimes they even obsess over it, making it their main mission.  But this is a smokescreen to conceal their behavior.  What better cover for being gay than being a massive homophobe?  That, or they are so deeply ashamed over their behavior that they can't stop preaching against it, even though they also can't stop doing it.

Want examples?  There are lots.

Fr. Maciel, of course.  I don't remember him ever ranting about being gay, but his order was very conservative and gender-essentialist.  The sexes were strictly segregated for chastity's sake -- to the point that those of us who had brothers at the apostolic school weren't allowed to talk to them except under special circumstances.  But we also were not allowed to be undressed in front of other girls; to form particular friendships; or to share beds when we stayed in hotels together, even though we were put 3-4 in a room.  The careful tiptoeing around any sexual circumstance led to a lot of people defending Maciel -- "When could he have ever acted out sexually?  The rules there are insane, it would have been impossible!"  Well, the rules were different for him.  Anyway, he had two mistresses and abused dozens of boys.  To me, that looks like a person who is normally straight, but also a pedophile.

Fr. C. Frank Phillips, of the Society of St. John Cantius founded a traditionalist order of priests who say the Latin Mass.  He was placed on leave after credible allegations of sexual misconduct with adult males.

Fr. Tony Anatrella is the originator of much of the narrative of homosexuality being merely a defect -- you're not gay, he would tell people, but simply straight and confused.  He also helped write Benedict XVI's policy against ordaining homosexuals.  Later it turned out he was sexually harassing people during his "conversion therapy."

Cardinal Keith O'Brien campaigned heavily against gay marriage, calling it "grotesque."  Later it turned out he had been sexually involved with at least four priests or seminarians -- one of them for years.

This seminarian claims there was an active homosexual culture at his conservative seminary.

This article claims several conservative bishops are gay.  From the article:

"[This bishop] spent a million dollars in a campaign to persuade registered Catholics to support a marriage amendment that would define marriage as only between one man and one woman. (It was defeated on November 6, 2012.) In connection with this effort he wrote every priest of the diocese and said the he would "not tolerate any open dissent" to his efforts.
He wrote an article about his official teaching on homosexuality to a local paper. When a woman objected to his interpretation he wrote her a letter: "Catholics are bound in conscience to believe this teaching (that homosexuality is intrinsically evil). Those who do not cannot consider themselves to be Catholic and ought not to participate in the sacramental life of the Church... Your eternal salvation may well depend upon a conversion of heart on this topic." (Star-Tribune 5-11-10)
Our clerical informant insisted that [this bishop] has a gay orientation that was known and talked about since his seminary days. (I never report the identification of a cleric's sexual orientation without at least three reliable independent personal validations. Those I have.)"  [My note: I redacted the bishop's name because I still feel a bit funny about outing the guy.]

Three priests say gay men should not be priests -- I'm including this because I find it ironic that the first of the three did not know that his superior was sexually active with males, and the third was later accused by several women of sexually molesting them during "exorcisms." The former should tip us off that purging gays from the priesthood is a lot easier said than done; the latter should remind us that women are also victims of molesters.

Anyway.  Given all this, I'm pretty annoyed at Vigano's statement.  Not that I disbelieve his main point, that Francis knew about McCarrick and brushed it off.  I mean, we already know that Francis knew about Barros and brushed it off.  He's got a history.  And we also know that JP2 brushed off any number of things and still got canonized.  One can always claim one was naive and believed the guy was innocent.

But Vigano goes well beyond accusing Francis of defending McCarrick -- he blames the whole thing on a lavender mafia.  It's the liberals and the gays!  They're attacking the real church!  Their goal is to change church teaching on homosexuality!  And I don't think all this is true.  Why would gay cardinals want to change church teaching on homosexuality?  They aren't being held back from following it by church teaching.

Basically, here's what I think is going on.  Let's keep the mafia metaphor.  Everyone's got skeletons; everyone's got dirt -- or nearly everyone.  The bishops who don't have mistresses or lovers have covered at least once for those who do.  Vigano himself covered up an investigation against Niedstedt.  For a long time, it was an uneasy truce between liberals and conservatives -- let's sweep the scandals under the rug, even though we all know each other's dirt, because if a scandal came out, the church's reputation will suffer and we'll all be worse off.  (Just like in the Harry Dresden books I'm currently reading -- the wizards and the vampires hate each other, but there's a mutual understanding that you never call the cops.)

Well, the scandals are out and the church is suffering just as predicted, so Vigano thought, "Well, why the heck not?  Let's start slinging mud."  He's bringing out what he knows, because he hates Francis and the liberals.  We'll have to see if some liberal bishops have anything to sling back.  But I think we can predict a lot of ugliness in the future.  And really it's for the best -- even if they're exposing scandals for their own reasons, they'll be exposing them and that can only be a good thing.  Fewer coverups are always a plus.  Maybe people will stop doing it because they don't want to give their ideological opponents ammunition -- when, sadly, the virtues of chastity and charity were not reason enough.

Victims' advocates are coming out saying they don't care to be used as ammunition in a fight between liberal and conservative bishops.  And really, it's a pretty gross thing to do.  I'm also concerned about innocent people caught up in this -- for instance, Fr. James Martin, who has preached against discrimination against gays (though he has never, by the way, advocated for a change in church teaching).  People are saying he must be gay, must be part of the lavender mafia, must want more child sex abuse.  That's a really sick thing to say about a priest who, so far as anybody knows, is celibate.  And there are lots of quietly gay priests, both liberal and conservative, who are doing a fine job as priests, chaste and harming no one.  I would hate to see a witch hunt attempt to drive them out.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

It's a straight problem!

A Parody, Inspired By Stuff I Read on Facebook

First, I ought to point out that I'm not heterophobic at all.  I have lots of friends who suffer from opposite-sex attraction (OSA).  (I should note that it is not appropriate to call them "straight" because that implies their sexual orientation is who they are rather than a tiny, disordered part of them.)

But I'd be hiding the truth if I didn't admit what I know about heterosexuals: that they don't just have normal desires toward the wrong object, but an entirely twisted and disordered sexuality and psychology.

Don't believe me?  Consider this:

  • 9 out of 10 rapes are male-on-female -- a total of over 200,000 rapes a year
  • Girls are four times as likely to be sexually abused by a man than boys are
  • Prisons actually have to segregate their populations to avoid heterosexual rapes
  • Over one-third of straight marriages end in divorce
  • 20% of priest abusers had female victims -- which means the tiny minority of heterosexual priests must be commiting a huge proportion of the crimes

Hollywood is a hotbed of heterosexuality, with most of the actors and writers being active in straight culture.  Much of what they produce has graphic heterosexuality on screen.  Even children's shows include heterosexual romances!  Unsurprisingly, we have found out that Harvey Weinstein and others have committed sexual assault and harassment.  What else would anyone expect from such a rampantly straight culture?

Another place where heterosexuality has infested the culture is colleges.  Parents, be warned: if your child goes to college, they will be exposed to the most depraved heterosexual culture imaginable.  Almost everyone is in a straight relationship or even "hooking up" promiscuously at parties.  As one might expect, there's a lot of rape going on at college too.

But, you'll protest, not all straights are like that!  Some get married and raise families.  Well, sure, but is that really a good upbringing for kids?  700,000 children are abused in the US every year -- the vast majority of that in straight families.  And that's if you don't count children absorbing a heterosexual ideology as abusive, which it almost certainly is -- given that it leads the children to think this gravely disordered "lifestyle" is normal.

Most horrifying is the way heterosexual culture normalizes adult men being attracted to underage girls.  Girls are called "jailbait" if they are attractive and below the legal age.  Heterosexuals would gladly sleep with minors if they thought they could get away with it.  There are whole "jailbait" reddits and actresses playing sexy roles at early ages.  In the past, when heterosexuality was even more normalized, men would even marry girls of 14 or even younger.  Men like Picasso or Robert Koch are glorified, with no one batting an eye at their statutory rapes of minor girls.

So what does all this have to do with the priest scandal?  Given that heterosexuality is this dysfunctional, clearly the only solution is to bar men with OSA from the priesthood altogether.  Even if they are chaste, they must have all the same dysfunction inside them, which is connected with sexual promiscuity and narcissism.  That will lead to problems sooner or later.  The priesthood is an occasion of sin for them, since they have to give counsel to women, act as superior to nuns, and hear the confessions of young girls.  Demand that your bishops banish the straights from the priesthood!  It's the only cure.

Note.  This is just to demonstrate how easy it is to bring up out-of-context statistics, random ancedotes, and naked assertions to make something sound a lot worse than it is.  I don't really think straight priests are a problem. And no one actually knows, so far as I know, what percentage of priests in the US are gay vs. straight.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Debunking some myths about the sex abuse scandal

I've been kind of obsessed with reading up about the sex abuse scandal.  Not to the point of reading the report out of Pennsylvania -- I don't want to actually read graphic accounts; that upsets the heck out of me and I can always read summaries elsewhere.  But I've been reading studies, statistics, and many, many editorials, trying to figure out how this happened and what can be done.  I think maybe I feel drawn to do this because I never followed the scandal at all before.  It broke while I was in boarding school and I was forbidden from reading anything about it -- a rule I followed till 2006.  But even after that, I tended to assume the usual talking points were true -- it was a problem at one time in the past, it's over now, and anyway the Catholic Church is no worse than anybody else in this regard.

But despite my interest in learning more, I've tried to stay relatively quiet.  It's not my problem to solve, and the one answer that keeps coming back to me -- just run far away! -- is not acceptable to most of my friends.

Only, after the initial anger and sadness -- reactions which heartened me, as I saw more and more people acknowledging the problem -- there has been a backlash of the old defensiveness.  Or else people are latching onto it as a way to attack their ideological opponents.

So I thought I'd write a master post with answers to some of the most common bits of misinformation here, so I don't have to keep typing up the same responses and digging up the same links.  My main sources are the John Jay Report (summarized here) and the Australian study, The Royal Commission on Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse.  I'm also drawing a little from the work of the late Richard Sipe, expert on the psychology of priests.  Here goes.

Myth #1: Sex abuse by priests is extremely rare and it's much less common than in other organizations.

This claim is often trotted out and I've seen it in many Catholic articles, but none ever cited a source. I've scoured the internet for evidence of it, and I think I've found it here. But it actually says Catholic priests are no more likely to abuse than other religious ministers, not than, say, teachers or scout leaders. It also isn't a rigorous study: they simply asked a few experts who deal with sex abuse whether they see more from priests or other ministers. Certainly I know many other religious groups have a sex abuse problem: evangelicals and Mormons come to mind. But that doesn't mean every denomination has a problem of the magnitude of the Catholic Church.
What hard data I can find is as follows:

  • 4% of priests in America have been accused of sexual crimes against minors according to the John Jay Report
  • "Of the 4,392 clergy accused, 3,300 were not investigated because the cleric had already died. Of the remainder 1,021 were reported to police and of those, 384 were charged, resulting in 252 convictions and 100 prison sentences; In total, out of the 109,694 priests who were surveyed, 100 were imprisoned." [ibid.]  That makes .26% of all Catholic priests in the US during the time period actually convicted--though this isn't a fair data point, considering 3/4 of the priests involved had died, and in many of the rest of the cases, the statute of limitations had expired.  
  • "Even the John Jay study of the Crisis of Sexual Abuse in the United States has only recorded the priests “reported” for the sexual abuse of minors (now well over 5,000 since 1950) from the data supplied by the various dioceses. As more cases are documented the actual number of abusing priests is approaching 10 percent, for instance in Boston and Albany. Los Angeles had 11.5 percent of its active priests in 1983 subsequently revealed to be sexual abusers. The Diocese of Tucson harbored 24 percent abusers on its active clergy rolls in 1988—including retired Bishop Francis J. Green." [Richard Sipe]
  • In America, from 2001 to 2005, 2500 teachers have been disciplined for sex crimes against minors, out of three million teachers.  I get .08% out of that -- but over only five years, whereas the John Jay Report covers decades.  I am not sure how you'd convert those numbers, but it still is a fraction the size even of the convictions of the Catholic priests.
  • What about the population overall?  It took me a lot of digging but I think I have an answer. "According to the National Center for Missing And Exploited Children, .262% of the population are sex offenders[6]. We know that juveniles are the victims of approximately 66% of sex offenses[7], which means we can estimate that 66% of sex offenders have crimes against juveniles, or .17292% of the population." [source]  That would make Catholic priests significantly more likely to be convicted of a sex crime against a minor -- even given the extensive coverup which hindered convictions from happening. 

Let's turn to the Australian data.  This isn't exactly parallel to the American situation, but I'm referring to it because there is a great deal more information available on sex abuse in Australia thanks to the work of the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.  This was a government project to investigate child sex abuse in all institutions, religious and secular, and make recommendations to prevent the same from happening again.
  • The Royal Commission found that between 1950 and 2010, 7% of Catholic priests were accused of sex abuse.
  • They don't seem to have similar percentages for each religion studied, but the breakdown in cases was 61.8% Catholic, 14.7% Anglican, 7.3% Salvation Army, and the rest Protestant and other.  I compared this to census data from 1986 (since this is in the middle of the time period studied) and found Australians were 26% Catholic, 23% Anglican, .5% Salvation Army, in addition to many other religions.  This shows that, proportionally, Catholics had a much bigger abuse problem than Anglicans.  However, the Salvation Army also had a disproportionate rate of abuse, so it would be untrue to say that Catholics are the only denomination with a problem.  [source]
  • Australian data for schools is as follows: "Almost one in three of all survivors we heard about in private sessions (2,186 survivors or 31.8 per cent) told us they were sexually abused in a school setting as a child. Of these survivors, three-quarters (75.9 per cent) said they were abused in non-government schools, of which 73.8 per cent identified a Catholic school and 26.4 per cent identified an Independent school." [source]  This is surprising given that two-thirds of Australian children go to a government school. [source]  However, Australia does have a terrible history of putting Aboriginal children in abusive religous boarding schools, so we may be seeing some of that problem here.

This does seem to demonstrate that while the problems in the Catholic Church are not entirely unique, neither are they exactly the same as everywhere else -- schools, other denominations, or the population at large.  Of course, because there are a lot more teachers and parents in any country than priests, it is far more likely any given child is abused by someone other than a priest.  But we can safely conclude that the Catholic Church has a bigger problem than elsewhere.  And no one denies it has also been compounded by a poor institutional response.

Myth #2: This is a gay problem -- the cure is getting rid of gay priests.

This myth comes in several parts.
1.  The majority of abuse has had male perpetrators and male victims.
2.  That means the perpetrators were homosexual.
3.  The cure is ridding the priesthood of all homosexuals.

The first point is true.  Though very often people will add that the victims were supposedly "postpubescent," thus drawing an inference that the men who abused them were attracted to them because they looked like adult men.  That part is false.  Over half the victims were within a very narrow age window: 11-14 years old, with the average age being 12.  Most boys go through puberty after twelve.  I've taught 14-year-old boys and most of them did not look like adult men.  They looked like gawky children.  My guess is that boys of this age were targeted because this is an age when they are most likely to be altar boys.  They are between the age when they would be allowed to go on trips or to boarding schools, and the age when they might have the courage or strength to fight off an attacker.

Most likely, boys were more accessible to priests during the years mentioned.  And the John Jay report does mention that the share of female victims went up after girls were allowed to be altar servers, so that seems to confirm this view.

The second point is not true.  Oddly, many men who identify as heterosexual and have sexual relationships with adult women also abuse boys.  Fr. Maciel, for instance, had two mistresses as well as many male victims.  Some will claim that this still counts as gay because they did have sexual contact with males, but these men don't fit the expected profile of a gay man.

"Research suggests that child sexual abuse is not related to sexual orientation: perpetrators can be straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual. Research has indicated that ‘men who identify as heterosexual are just as likely as men who identify as homosexual to perpetrate child sexual abuse’. We heard about adult perpetrators who were married or had adult sexual relationships with people who were not of the same gender as the children they sexually abused.  In Case Study 18... we heard about a child sex offender, Jonathan Baldwin, who was a Youth Pastor at the Sunshine Coast Church. One of Baldwin’s colleagues, Dr Ian Lehmann, told us that despite concerns brought to his attention, he did not suspect the relationship between Baldwin and the boy he was abusing to be improper because Baldwin was at the time in a relationship with Dr Lehmann’s adult daughter, whom he later married. Research suggests some perpetrators who sexually abuse children of a particular gender may do so because they only have access to children of that gender.  It is a common misconception that all perpetrators who abuse children of the same gender as them are primarily same-sex attracted and identify as a gay man or lesbian woman."  (RCIRCSA)

" Clergy who exhibited homosexual behavior were not significantly more likely to abuse minors than those who did not. Sexual identity is different, of course, from sexual behavior, and the study did not identify the sexual orientation of all the offenders. The report suggests that one reason the majority of victims were male may be that boys were more accessible to the predators than girls. The data show that the percentage of girls who were victims increased after girls were allowed to become altar servers." (John Jay Report)

And that shows the third point is false too.  If abusers don't fit the usual profile of a gay man, how can they be somehow "rooted out"?  They will not tell seminary directors they are gay, because they don't think of themselves as gay.  If asked, they may point to past relationships with women.  And amazingly, they may preach very loudly about the evils of homosexuality.  Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Fr. Tony Anatrella, and (outside the Catholic Church) Ted Haggery fit this profile.

So, while abusers may be primarily targeting boys, there's no reason to think that simply saying "no gay seminarians" (a rule the Church has already made) or defrocking priests who preach in favor of gay marriage would do a thing to solve the problem.

That said, it turns out a lot of the talk of a "gay subculture" in the priesthood isn't the conspiratorial myth I thought it was.  There is male-on-male predation going on in the priesthood and in seminary, and I do think there may be a connection between that and child sex abuse.  Is it possible that priests molested by older priests, then turned around to molest others?  It certainly could be.  But that needs to be disentangled from the notion of identifying as gay, because the people who are participating it do not all identify as gay, and there are surely lots of priests who do think of themselves as gay who aren't predatory.

It may help to consider that a large proportion of priests may be homosexual.  I've seen numbers ranging from one third to one half of priests.  Especially before the sixties, homosexuality was so stigmatized that a single man might need some kind of "cover" to avoid being accused of being gay.  The priesthood was a popular option.  What this means is that there are not a few members of a "lavender mafia" that need to be purged, but thousands and thousands of gay priests, many of whom are sincerely pious and keep their vow of chastity.  Would people still feel the same about "getting rid of the gays" if they realized that might mean getting rid of their own beloved parish priest, who sat up all night with their dying grandfather and who has never ever touched a child?

The worst part of this is that it's a bit of a smokescreen predators like to cast.  If they can shift suspicion onto people who identify as gay, then all they have to do is not identify as gay and they will be seen as innocent.  I have heard plenty of claims that the sex abuse scandal is over and won't return now that gay men are barred from entering seminary.  All we have to do is wait for all the priests from before that change to die.  But that's going to be a long generation during which children continue to be abused, before we finally realize that we haven't actually rooted out the abusers.

Myth #3:  This crisis could be solved by priests getting married.

Well, this one is a bit of a half-truth.  In its simple form it's false; you can't simply issue a pedophile a wife and have him stop molesting.  More likely, he will molest his own children.  And isn't that a pretty icky attitude toward women, that they should sacrifice themselves to evil and abusive men to keep them from raping anybody else?  And it is a fact that most child molesters are not vowed to celibacy; many are married, including married clergy in non-Catholic religions.

That said, many experts (Richard Sipe, the Royal Commission) do believe relaxing the celibacy requirement would help.  For one thing, Catholic priests are not all celibate, despite their vows.  Richard Sipe claims that about half of priests are sexually active.  He also cites these numbers from a group of 354 priests who are sexually active and report on their sexual activity:

"53 percent of this group are sexually active with adult women.
21 percent are sexually active with adult men.
14 percent are sexually active with minor boys.
12 percent are sexually active with minor girls.
In all 74 percent are involved with adults.
And 26 percent are involved with minors.
65 percent of priests choose sexual partners of the opposite sex.
35 percent of priests choose same sex partners." [source]

When celibacy is practiced this little, is it really celibacy at all?

But it's not the same as simply not having a celibate priesthood.  Instead, it's a situation where everyone has secrets, some of which may be used as blackmail material.  Perhaps this is part of why the bishops didn't move against abusive priests they knew about -- they were afraid of getting caught in their own sexual lapses.

I suspect that not everyone is capable of being celibate.  That's why teens who pledge abstinence still get pregnant, couples using NFP get pregnant, priests with a vow of chastity have sex, and so on.  If they find a willing partner, they wind up giving in.  Most of them do not offend against minors, but choose adult partners.  Still, it creates a culture where everyone secretly knows that the vow of chastity is only an ideal.

Something similar may be the case with the ban on openly gay priests.  The secrecy about orientation may actually drive some of the worst behaviors.  Victims don't want to admit they were victimized for fear of people thinking or knowing the victim is gay.  Predators use the knowledge that a target is gay to single him out.  (How did they learn that the target was gay?  If I believe what I read, from hearing his confession.  There is no bottom of the awfulness.)

If celibacy were optional, you'd see more straight priests.  And if there weren't a policy against gay seminarians, it might not be something you could hold over anyone's head.  Women priests or women in leadership positions were also recommended by the Royal Commission, but obviously that's never going to happen.

Myth #4: This the fault of the American bishops.

Americans tend to assume the problem is with their own bishops.  After all, the paper trail leads right to the bishops' door.  But the pattern is actually global, with scandals breaking out in Ireland, Australia, Mexico, Italy, and elsewhere, all following a very similar playbook.  And there is some evidence that the trail leads past the bishops' door and all the way to the Vatican.  For instance, John Paul II had been informed many times about Maciel, and forbade any investigation.  Benedict XVI was informed of McCarrick's predatory behavior and did not make any move.  And Francis, of course, was told about Juan Barros before installing him as cardinal.

It may be that the very structure of the church is inimical to accountability.  While other churches can fire a priest immediately, through a board of directors or local leadership, Catholic priests can only be laicized by the Vatican.  The tribunal is secret and until recently could only include priests.  And, just like our own legal system, there is a statute of limitations, so priests who abused long ago, even if the abuse is proved, may remain in the priesthood permanently.

I have a suspicion that some of the American bishops might have petitioned that abusing priests be laicized, only to have their requests denied.  They could complain about this publicly -- but the pope put them in their positions and can remove them just as fast.  How would we know?  I recently watched a documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, which suggested this.  However, I've had difficulty in tracking down the documents they cited.  (Which is why I find videos a terrible way to get information; it's almost impossible to track down the sources.)  I do recommend the video, and if I track down the documents, I will add them here.

If the rot really does go all the way to the Vatican, the best the laity can do is wait and hope.  The pope chooses the cardinals and the cardinals choose the pope -- there is no part of church structure that allows for lay appeals or lay accountability.  Even nuns have no role.

From the Royal Commission:
"The governance of the Catholic Church is hierarchical. We heard that the decentralisation and autonomy of Catholic dioceses and religious institutes contributed to ineffective responses of Catholic Church authorities to child sexual abuse, as did the personalised nature of power in the Catholic Church and the limited accountability of bishops. 
The powers of governance held by individual diocesan bishops and provincials are not subject to adequate checks and balances. There is no separation of powers, and the executive, legislative and judicial aspects of governance are combined in the person of the pope and in diocesan bishops. Diocesan bishops have not been sufficiently accountable to any other body for decision-making in their handling of allegations of child sexual abuse or alleged perpetrators. There has been no requirement for their decisions to be made transparent or subject to due process. The tragic consequences of this lack of accountability have been seen in the failures of those in authority in the Catholic Church to respond adequately to allegations and occurrences of child sexual abuse.
The hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church created a culture of deferential obedience in which poor responses to child sexual abuse went unchallenged. Where senior clergy and religious with advisory roles to diocesan bishops or provincials of religious institutes were aware of allegations of child sexual abuse, often they did not challenge or attempt to remedy the inadequate responses of their bishop or provincial, or believed that they could not do so."  (RCIRCSA: Volume 16)

Now it's not entirely hopeless.  Occasionally lay people have been able to change the church, either from within or without.  St. Catherine of Siena changed it from within, Martin Luther from without.  And of course all lay people can make changes in their own lives: they can exercise more suspicion about religious environments where their children are, they can believe children who report abuse instead of shaming them for speaking against a priest, and they can report all crimes directly to the police instead of expecting the diocese to handle them.

Most of all, though, I think it's important for people to avoid using this scandal as an opportunity to grind their favorite axes ("it's the gays!" / "it's celibacy!") and focus on accountability and openness.  What needs to change, more than anything, is the clericalism which assumes the laity, and the secular government, can't have anything useful to add and therefore don't need to know anything.  The hierarchy should be encouraged to open up all their records, to come clean once and for all in every diocese about just how bad it was.  All bishops who concealed crimes from the police and moved abusers to new parishes should step down--not to a pleasant retirement and the title Bishop Emeritus, but to a life of quiet penance and reflection.  And the Vatican needs to look to parts of the world where we haven't heard as much: Europe, Latin America, and Africa all have sexual scandals and need the kind of reform the US bishops have been working on, or more thorough reform than that.

Further Reading:

Friday, August 3, 2018

How can people still trust the church?

The faith of American Catholics has had a bad week.

I started the week following Melinda Selmys' posts about Humanae Vitae.  A lot of people have been saying that the encyclical was "prophetic" because it said, with birth control, men would cease to respect women and treat them like objects.  I hate this argument, first off because a men who actually respected women would respect them regardless of what pills they were or weren't taking; and second off because mistreatment of women is not new at all.

In fact, even the sexual revolution wasn't as new as people seem to think.  Paul VI gave a lot of "predictions" that were actually descriptions -- because birth control had been available since the early 20th century.  All that sleeping around in jazz age novels?  It wouldn't have worked out very well without diaphragms and condoms, both of which were available at the time.  Abortion, of course, has been practiced since at least Roman times.

Anyway, Melinda has been making the argument that the Church's claim to infallibility was actually an overreach.  What the Church actually has is a general promise that God will "lead it into all truth" -- not that Popes won't make mistakes, but that the Holy Spirit will eventually correct them.  This seems plausible to me -- the only proof that the Church is infallible is that it claimed it was, in Vatican I, so if you don't already agree, there isn't really a reason why you should.

There were all kinds of debate going on about that -- people were very emphatic that the Paul is infallible, that Paul VI exercised that infallibility when he banned birth control, and that anyone who disagrees or disobeys is going to hell.  That context made things a little awkward later in the week.

About the same time, there were the McCarrick revelations.  It's still unclear how many bishops knew what he was up to, but certainly some of them must have.  I've also read that the papal nuncio was informed in 2008, which means Benedict must have known.  I'm of the view that Benedict actually did a lot more, quietly, to deal with abusive priests than either John Paul II or Francis.  He defrocked quite a few, and he did force Maciel into retirement.

But, on the other hand, Maciel's retirement was a beach house in Florida, surrounded by mistresses and adoring seminarians.  Benedict was hardline on abuse compared to some of his contemporaries, but not at all as hardline as perhaps the situation called for.  So maybe he did know about McCarrick abusing his seminarians and didn't think it was worth doing something about.

For the first time, I'm seeing the Catholics I know actually getting angry about abuse.  They aren't defending the church, and they aren't pulling any tricks like "what about Protestant ministers who do it too?" or "that was a long time ago!" or "our standards are better now and this will absolutely for-sure not happen again."  They're mad.  They realize that they, the Catholic laity, are not to blame, but their bishops may be.  Some have been talking about withholding donations from their dioceses, or perhaps a prayerful protest in front of the chancery.  And I think that's all very good.  Don't be a human shield for a bishop who didn't do his job.  Be the first to demand some accountability.

But then, with impeccable timing (which almost certainly was entirely coincidental) Francis shook their faith all over again by coming out more strongly against the death penalty than John Paul II had.  Instead of saying it's always avoidable in our time, and therefore should be avoided -- which is a teaching broadly ignored by American Catholics, on the grounds that it's only "prudential" -- Francis said it's "inadmissible" without giving any such exception.

Personally, I'm against the death penalty, but I'm getting the impression that American Catholics are in no mood to listen to the Pope right now.  How dare he make a new rule for them to have to absorb, when he hasn't even cleaned out the episcopacy yet?  And I'm not unsympathetic.  It turns out it is kind of annoying to have the hierarchy binding up heavy burdens for the laity to carry, especially when they aren't even carrying their own loads themselves.

Then there's the whole issue that the church has already proclaimed the death penalty to be moral, almost certainly infallibly, in the opinion of many.  I went through this whole conundrum some time ago and reached the conclusion that this is one of the issues on which the church has already contradicted itself, but the new proclamation is bringing more people face-to-face with this problem.  Was the magisterium infallible in those proclamations in the past, or is it now?  Is it even possible to tell?  Some people are concluding it can't have been infallible then, others that it can't be infallible now.  Some people say the past and present declarations aren't entirely contradictory because the words "intrinsically evil" weren't used in the present one, and "morally obligatory" weren't used in the past.  Some people say that they'll never understand it, but they'll just try to believe it despite the contradiction.  Some people say this is proof that the Pope has committed heresy and forced a schism.  I have never seen any church teaching which gives the laity authority to decide the pope has committed heresy, nor any understanding of a schism that can be anything but you separating yourself from the Pope, not vice versa, but of course people latch onto this because they disagree with the Pope, but don't want to stop being Catholic.  Which is funny given that earlier this week the same people were telling Melinda that she couldn't disagree with the Pope and still be Catholic.

I guess what people are finally noticing is that they don't have a vote.  This is a purely top-down system.  It was very simple for medieval peasants to assume the bishops knew what they were doing, but it's a lot harder for modern, educated Catholics with an internet connection to believe the same.  They know the bishops are up to no good, at least some of them, and they know several successive popes have failed to do anything about it.  They also know what popes of the past declared, and that it is wildly different from what popes of today have said.  They know that there are teachings of the church that don't work out well in their lives.  That makes it really hard to have any confidence in the institutional church.

Yet ... so what if you don't?  There's nothing you can do.  You can't vote your bishop out of office.  You can't demand the Pope take back what he said.  You can refuse to donate, but the diocese will just fire all the catechists and shutter the schools ... they will be the last ones to suffer.  You can protest, but they can just ignore you.  In Chile, actual fighting broke out in the cathedral when Bishop Barros was installed, but the ceremony still went on.  Why should they be concerned that the people are angry?  What is anyone going to do?  They know, and the laity knows, that no one can actually leave.  Outside the church there is no salvation.  If you make too much of a fuss, they can deny you the sacraments, and you won't have any recourse.

It does a lot to prove my thesis that where there is no accountability, there is always going to be oppression.  Every authority must be accountable to those it professes to serve, or it will abuse that authority.  That's happened pretty much universally, so no surprise that it's happening in the Catholic Church.

The question is, why in the world would this structure be divinely ordained by someone who could clearly foresee how it was going to turn out?  And why do people still trust it?

These days, I feel more and more like I escaped from a burning building, but I'm helpless to pull other survivors from the wreckage.  Some feel like there isn't a problem, while flames spread around them.  Some are angry that I'm still hanging around if I don't want to be in the building anymore.  And some love the building so much, they can't bear to leave.  I don't know.  I don't even know how to handle respectfully the reality that's going down right now.  I can't leave well enough alone, because I care too much; but I can't actually do anything helpful because I'm not part of the family that's going through the crisis. 

All I can do is say -- yes, it's terrible. I'm angry that you trusted these guys and they treated you so badly.  I support whatever you can think of that might call them to account.
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