Be Nice to Lawyers and Psychologists!

This is funny. Yesterday, I got emails from a psychologist and a lawyer in response to my musings here and here.

My psychologist friend writes:

Perhaps I’m being a bit sensitive on this issue–and it doesn’t bother me that much–but all this carping about psychologists is hitting a little close to home. Both you and Mike Dubruiel talk about Law consulting with lawyers and psychologists. The problem, it seems to me, is that Law did not listen to the advice of the therapists that was received. In one case, Bishop Dailey called the Institute for Living to complain that the discharge summary for Shanley was not as positive as he thought it would be, and in Geoghan’s case, they did not go by the reports of a therapist, by his family physician.

I am the first one to point out the stupid, unprofessional, politicized rubbish many of my colleagues spout as fact, but it doesn’t seem entirely fair to me to pin this one on the psychologists. Law’s deposition seems to make it pretty clear that he and his episcopal cronies chose to either ignore good professional advice or seek it where they knew it would already confirm their bias. They want to hide out behind plausible deniability, but it seems to me that the records from the Institute for Living Speak for themselves, “We cannot guarantee that this will not occur in the future.” I don’t think you need to be a rocket scientist (or an Archbishop) to know that probably means bad news for the future of the priest in question.

Correct me if I’m wrong about this.

I doubt you’re wrong. What I (and, in particular, my priest friend) was reacting to is stuff like this testimony from Law discussed in a very good piece by the invaluable Alan Keyes on Catholic Exchange today:

Question: “What was the practice that you had in place in 1984 when you were archbishop to deal with this kind of allegation when it comes in?”

Cardinal Law: “I viewed this as a pathology, as a psychological pathology, as an illness. Obviously, I viewed it as something that had a moral component. It was, objectively speaking, a gravely sinful act, and that’s something that one deals with in one’s life, in one’s relationship to God”.

“But I also viewed this as a pathology, as an illness, and so, consequently, I, not being an expert in this pathology, not being a psychiatrist, not being a psychologist, my — my modus operandi was to rely upon those whom I considered and would have reason to consider to have an expertise that I lacked in assessing this pathology, in assessing what it is that this person could safely do or not do.”

Keyes nails the problem as my priest friend did: “What’s wrong with that answer? I think everything’s wrong with it. If it came from the manager of a big corporation or a government official, I might be able to understand it. But Cardinal Law is a prelate, a preeminent spiritual leader of a spiritual institution proclaiming itself to the world as the Body of Christ.” The problem is a complete failure to understand his office. Law thought and acted like a CEO, not a priest. And he’s not alone. My priest friend doubts most of the American hierarchy has a clue what the office of priest means according to the Tradition.

My lawyer reader also writes:

Love your blog, but you guys really need to quit blaming the sexual abuse crisis on lawyers and “corporate mentality.”

I represent corporations in employment law, which nowadays means I handle a lot of sexual harassment situations (litigation prevention and defense). A few years ago, a client learned that a member of management, a middle-aged man, had allegedly had a “same-sex encounter” with a teenager who was working there part-time.

We investigated immediately. We concluded that a sexual encounter occurred but that it was probably somewhat consensual. We nonetheless believed that the manager had behaved in a grossly inappropriate manner.

We fired the manager (our “mercy” consisted of some severance pay) and disciplined a co-worker who had heard about the incident and had failed to report it. We had an in-person meeting with the young man and his mother, paid for him to get counseling, and asked them to let us know if there was anything else we could do. We did not ask him to sign a release in exchange for this — we felt that would be unduly legalistic and adversarial under the circumstances, and we wanted to do the right thing.

The whole resolution of this event, from start to finish, took us about a week. And, significantly, there was no serious dispute among ourselves as to whether this was the proper course of action.

It is because of this experience that I bristle when Catholics (of whom I am one) say that the cardinals’ mistake is treating the Church as if it were a corporation and relying on the advice of lawyers. I don’t know of any self-respecting corporation today that wouldn’t fire an egregious sexual harasser, which is the nicest way to describe what these clergy are. I also don’t know any reputable lawyer who wouldn’t recommend immediately getting the perpetrator out of a position where he would be able to do it again.

In my opinion, the Boston and other archdioceses should have acted a lot more like corporations and listened a lot more to their lawyers. I strongly doubt that their handling of these cases was based on legal advice — I believe instead that it was based on probably well-meaning but misplaced permissiveness toward the perpetrators and insufficient concern for the victims and potential future victims. But, if based on legal advice, then the bishops need some new lawyers because there are plenty out there who would’ve advised them to act differently.

I’m no lawyer and will certainly take your word for what you say. But I do note that some of Law’s action do appear to be done on the advice of lawyers nonetheless. The recent outrage wherein “standard boilerplate legalese” was employed to blame hold one of the evil Paul Shanley’s six year old victims and his parents “negligent” is a classic example, if the press reports are to be believed. But the central problem is not lawyers or psychologists, whatever they may or may not be up to. The central problem is that many bishops have forgotten they are priest and have thereby ended up denying people access to Christ. If we don’t grasp that, we will not grasp what motivates the Pope’s thinking here in his (IMO risky) attempt to let the American episcopacy begin to get a clue about what their office is. Prayer’s the thing now, cuz this is a job for the Holy Spirit.