By Yvonne Sam
Social and Political Commentator
At the opening of the annual gathering of U. S Catholic bishops in Baltimore, on November 12, a bombshell request from the Holy See to delay planned votes on proposals to address clergy sexual abuse scandal, evoked outcries.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the Bishops conference, told some 250 participating prelates, that the Vatican requested the delay on account of Pope Francis’ impending summit on child protection, in February, with the heads of all the global conferences.
Such a demand threw some of the prelates — who were set to vote on November 14 on two specific proposals: a new code of conduct for bishops and creation of a “special commission” to review complaints made against bishops — in a state of confusion.
DiNardo claimed that he was only made aware of the Vatican’s decision the night before. At a mid-day press conference, Bishop Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, stated that the request “has thrown many of us a little bit sideways because it was completely unexpected”.
On the said issue, W. Shawn McKnight, Bishop of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri, suggested that the request might be indicative of the Vatican’s inability to understand the seriousness of the situation in the United States. Referencing listening sessions he has had with people in his diocese, McKnight said: “There’s a lot of righteous anger.” www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/vaticans-delay-us-bishops-abuse-measures-leaves-even-some-prelates-confused.
What was really taking place? People were murmuring that the Pope should not have intervened, at least not at such a late date. Was this a case of Rome not grasping the enormity of the sexual situation, here at home? The surprise, shown by Di Nardo, revealed the absence of regular and healthy parlance between the leadership of the conference and the Pope. Was the request a papal ruse to avoid dealing with clergy sexual abuse?
Currently the U.S bishops are facing heightened scrutiny over their management of abuse allegations, following exposures this year about the behavior of ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick (www.nytimes.com/2018/07/16/us/cardinal-mccarrick-abuse-priest.html`) and the release of the shocking Pennsylvania grand jury report, which identified more than 1,000 child victims and detailed sexual abuse by more than 300 clergy.
The only comparable sexual scandal in the mind and memory of many Americans occurred in Massachusetts, where in 2002, more than 600 articles about misconduct, under the administration of Cardinal Bernard law, were published in the Boston Globe. The investigation was memorialized in the 2015 award-winning movie, Spotlight. www.bostonglobe.com/arts/movies/spotlight-movie.
Among the primary issues for discussion by the bishops will be how to answer to the present clergy sex abuse, which necessitates pinpointing how they arrived at this point. Although there exists a general consensus on the causal factors for the crisis, there is nevertheless two non-complementary meta-narratives about causation.
There are those who contend that the crux of the issue is the spread of homosexuality among the clergy, facilitated by lousy moral theology and weak papal leadership. Granted, the crisis in the Catholic Church began as a sex scandal in the selfsame manner that Watergate began as a burglary: now the sequela has become the real scandal.
Differently stated, the true cause of the scandal was clericalism which so perverted the attitude of bishops that when confronted with the fact of clergy abusing a child, far too many of them replied, “Poor Father”. We all know how abominable is the abuse of sexual minors, but somehow the bishops did not react with horror, and that is what truly shocks. It is apparent that they are more interested in protecting the institution, and their own reputation, rather than the protection of the victims — children exposed to clerical sexual predators.
Although the scourge of priestly pedophilia dates back centuries, it was only after World War 11 that modern paper trails started, with the appearance of treatment centers for rehabilitating abusive priests. Rather than increased openness, bishops at the same time, developed practices for disclaiming and concealing allegations of child sexual abuse. www.attorneygeneral.gov/report/.
The 1950’s and 1960’s found bishops, from around the U. S, beginning to direct abusive priests to church-run medical centers, so that they could receive evaluation and care without divulging their wrongdoings to independent clinicians.
In 1947 Father Gerald Fitzpatrick, who promoted prayer over medicine, moved to New Mexico and founded the Servants of the Paraclete, a new order of Catholic priests, devoted to healing deviant clergy. The state eventually became a dumping ground for pedophile priests from 1947to 1955, and other priests sent to the Paracletes were returned back into ministry in their home diocese, reassigned to new parishes that had no way of knowing about their abusive past. www.ncronline.org/news/accountability/bishops-were-warned-abusive-priests
By 1956, Fitzgerald became assured that pedophilia could not be treated, even as he maintained a belief that prayers could cure other illnesses, such as alcoholism. He petitioned U.S. bishops to cease sending him their child abusers, recommending instead the firing and permanent removal from ministry of abusive priests. Following direct appeal to the Vatican, Father Fitzgerald met directly with Pope Paul V1 to discuss the problem in 1963.
Those hoping that the Church can rise from this sexual quagmire, must also hope that the Holy See understands how fed up the American people are with this so called hierarchy.
Research has shown that since at least the 1950’s the Pope and bishops have known about the sexual predators among their own. And it is no prank but the Church has frequently silenced potential whistleblowers from within its own ranks. In addition, facing the disregard of bishops is, for many, a threshold concern and leaders must now earn their respect.
The question of clergy sex abuse has also unleashed broader questions about justice and faith: Can souls be repaired in courtrooms? To date, in the US, no cardinal or bishop has ever been sent to jail for their role for complicity in child sexual abuse. In civil settlements the Church has only been held financially accountable www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674028104&content=toc.
Conclusively a combination of political complacency and expired statutes of limitations has prevented most survivors from securing real justice.
Hopefully, in February, Pope Francis will settle the issue once and for all, as the people will no longer care to belong to a church that, on the issue of sexual abuse, has left them in the lurch.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.