Benedict & the sex abuse issue: Bumped & UPDATED


Fr. James Martin looks at the pope’s very long and full address to US bishops at the Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. It is a vast and far-reaching speech, and I’m printing it out to read and comment on more fully tomorrow, but for now I’m intrigued by Fr. Martin’s focus on the terrible scandals which will always be before us.

Even veteran Vaticanologists were surprised that Benedict chose to addressthe problem at such length, and in a public setting…before the world. His earlier comments, en route from Rome, indicated that he would address the issue, but few thought he would tackle the question so directly. Or so soon. Or so publicly.
But was it enough?

I’ve only written about it once, because I refuse to allow it to define me, but having lived through sexual abuse at home, I can say that really there is no adequate expression the pope can make. Apologies are not enough, but nothing ever can be sufficient recompense for the theft of innocence and trust.

Understanding that NOTHING can be enough, I’ve had to (while excusing nothing) attempt to forgive and move on; I could not have my life held captive to it all. I think victims of clergy abuse must feel similarly to what I have described here, substitute “church/faith” for “Daddy” – either way we are denied a place of consolation and safety to which we were entitled:

The displacement of one who has endured the sexual abuse of a parent is a curious one, because it is not a banishment to a lonely island or a teeming crowd. Rather, it involves planting two feet on either side of a chasm and staring down into a deep fault-line you know you neither deserve (nor want) to fall into, and from which there may be no rescue if you do. “Good Daddy” is on one side, “Bad Daddy” is on the other, and the chasm will never completely close.*

Given his remarks en route from Rome, I suspect Benedict cannot understand it, either – what brought about the abuse, what mindset covered it up. But he clearly – at 81 – intends to face this very painful issue.

Obviously I can’t speak for other victims – of course these people feel justly hurt and angry and betrayed – but when we look at some of the understandable excesses that are borne from that justifiable anger (as may be seen in some comments sections) we have to remember that amid the guilty priests and bishops there was the further complication all-too common in abuse situations: intimidated children did not “tell” a parent.

In a complicated household sometimes parents have a sense that something is amiss but, like a mother who chooses “not to know” what goes on in her house, they don’t look too deeply into it. I have read that some parents, informed by their children, went to legal authorities only to find that that they would not do all they could. And many other parents, for whatever reason, either never knew or chose not to prosecute. It’s the passive-but-malignant second part of the terrible secret of abuse. Back when all of this was happening, one did not “talk” about abuse, either inside or outside the family, which is why bishops, once informed, were – quite reprehensibly – able to simply move bad priests around, and why so many parents must have found the solution an uneasy one, and yet tolerated it. Thank God that part of our culture has changed.

Elsewhere I have written:

Where there is holiness, evil always exists on the periphery or nearby. Jesus in the desert, tempted by Satan who stood right alongside him. Jesus on the cross, thieves on either side. Where there is great light, darkness is nearby – darkness, in fact, emphasizes the light. Peter, whom Jesus constantly favors among the twelve, (even to paying Peter’s temple taxes) contradicting the Lord when he says he will suffer – and testing the Lord on the waters – is a study in the whole premise of the co-existence of dark and light. He embodies it when he sits outside the preatorium, worrying for Jesus one minute and then denying him the next.
[The Church] is earthbounded by man, by the imperfect humanity which must necessarily run the thing in order to bring the truth and reality and Person of Christ to all of us. We would like the church to be perfect, but it never can be because the church, in the end, is us.

If we look at ourselves as microcosms of dark and light – little versions of this big battle – we see it within ourselves. Where there is holiness, evil is always right there, on the periphery, pushing, and too often prevailing. But conversely, if we are decrying our own hearts- of-darkness and the ways that glamorous evil has enticed us, it is urgently necessary to remember that it goes both ways, that the light – and holiness – are also right there, on the periphery, being offered. We need only grab hold of the Rock of Faith and then let ourselves be formed and trained with the weapons of holiness – prayer, contemplation, humility and openness – that the gates of hell may not prevail.

There are no easy answers, no magic words of apology that will make victims feel healed and whole. The pope has made an important speech and the church in America and elsewhere have taken very solid steps to assure that these awful things may not happen again, and to console victims. She will have to do a bit more and I believe she will; she is treading new waters…but at least the treading has begun.

I pray for all victims and also for the good priests who have been treated to suspicion because of their sinful priest brothers. As the bad soldiers at Abu Ghraib managed to dishonor hundreds of thousands of good men and women, so have these bad clerics hurt tens of thousands of sincere and dedicated priests.

And I pray for the pope who has the thankless job of trying to keep an mighty structure in place while also doing what must be done, all while knowing that for some it will never – can never – be enough.

:::UPDATE::: Benedict met today with several victims from Boston, thanks to that city’s Cardinal Sean O’ Malley. It was the right thing to do; it solves nothing but it helps to start some healing. Thank God.

Fr. James Martin writes:

…Pope Benedict XVI has done what many people, including me, have long prayed for. It is not the end of the crisis. It is not the cure for the crisis. But it is a profound symbol, and in the Catholic tradition a symbol is not “just a symbol.” It is something that points to a reality greater than itself, and in pointing to that reality helps to make it real.

UPDATE II: There is truth here, in what Cardinal O’ Malley says:

“I think it has been very positive, in helping to understand the serious damage that is occasioned by child abuse,’’ he said. “I think in the past, people were not aware of the long-range effects. And, certainly, if you have the opportunity to meet with survivors, it becomes very apparent that this kind of tragic activity in their childhood often marks a person for life and is a source of great distress.’’ [emphasis mine – admin]

I’ve thought about that a lot, myself, about how – 30-40 years ago – abuse (sexual or otherwise) simply wasn’t perceived in the same way it is since the 1980’s, by anyone. If someone did tell a teacher or a neighbor or someone in authority about abuse, there wasn’t much in place to deal with it, even within the legal system. People just had a sort of “this stuff happens, and it’s sad, but buck it up and move on” mentality. When I was growing up dysfunctional families were just “the neighborhood,” and a drunken mother who tossed you across the room or a bad father, well, as I said, they were secrets and we all kept them and blamed ourselves. Our instincts and sensibilities are much more refined these days, and there are child-protection and other laws in place today that did not exist back then.

Amy Welborn links to CNN video of interviews.

*Edited for length – admin

Peter and the Gates of Hell
“Deeply ashamed” B-16
US Sees a very different pope
Benedict’s serious call for seriousness
A great definition of sin

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