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

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • fzavis

    Ditto that the media did not CAUSE the sex abuse scandal.

    On the other hand, it has allowed the Leftist media gloat over the failure of religion. This fits right into the Marxist agenda.

    These same Leftists that demand full prosecution of pedophile priests would not hesitate to do all they could to make a victim out of the pedophile.

    I would bet money that the Church is not the only organization that used “slush funds” to pay off “Victims”.

    And the stain of money taints all of these allegations – both “victims” and their attorneys have become rich.

    One case in point – in Boston. The “Victim” suddenly remembered he had been molested after reading a story. This “repressed memory” theory has long ago been discredited. Yet this priest went to jail.

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  • Viola Jaynes

    Sexual abuse in any form is one of the most hurtful things a person will deal with. The Pope did a marvelous thing today in meeting with these victims. I pray that this will be a balm of healing for them. I wept when I read this.

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  • TritonTR

    “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.”

    I agree. While there is no excusing the abuse, I have always been upset at how the media and society judges actions taken in the 1970′s by today’s standards. Back then it was thought that everyone who did something bad could be rehabilitated. Add to that the Church’s belief in forgiveness and redemption, and one can see how re-assigning offending clergy would have been considered the right thing to do. Sure, some of the bishops could have been just covering their own (and the Church’s) backside, but I believe that many were just doing what they thought was the charitable thing to do at the time.

  • pabarge

    One hopes that Catholics across the internet are reading this also.

    Not a pretty picture of B16 is it?

    Here’s the link:

  • TheAnchoress

    This thread isn’t really about that, is it?

    Actually, pabarge, if people read the full text of what Benedict says rather than a few words and then other people’s analysis, it’s not a bad picture at all. But frankly, there is so much going on, I won’t get to read everything and really digest it for another week or more. I’m disappointed that people are so quick to jump on this and subject it to the usual Harriet Miers/Dubai Ports seething hate and over-the-top high drama. It’s really much less dramatic than some are portraying it.

    But then again, I must be an “elitist” catholic.

    I’m sure that anyone who really wants to criticize the pope will do it for one thing or another.

  • crusader coyote


    Since the lady is busy, I’ll step in and say a few words to address the issue you brought up. Go to the Vatican website, where they have posted all the addresses and statements he’s making on this trip. Read what he actually said, remembering that this is a man who is very precise in his wording. You’ll find that (for once) Mrs. Malkin (and Mr. Tancredo) got it wrong. He never said a thing supporting open borders or illegal immigration: What he said was 1) he supports “orderly” immigration, which no one would use to describe illegal immigration and 2) That immigrants should respect and obey the laws of the country they move to–> and he never made an exception regarding the laws about how to enter the country.

    Rather, what he seems to be saying again and again is: America! What a wonderful people you are! Keep being wonderful! What a hope-filled place this is– remain in the hope of Christ! Let us pray for each other, and help each other, and continue making the world a better place!

    Benedict loves the fact that we are such a diverse population, that we are so welcoming to those who come to us, that we are so ready to share our hope and dreams with those who come (in an “orderly” way). He affirms that America is a land of hope, commending us not only for the way we help each other, but the way we help the world. He is inspired by the way we embrace different people from different lands who decide to become American.

    Benedict loves America for all the wonderful and bright reasons anybody loves America. No, we are not perfect and, as the Pope said, neither has the Church been perfect. We all have the stain of Sin. But, still, he loves America as America, not as “America that ought to be Mexico.”

  • TheAnchoress

    Thanks, Coyote – I’m always amazed at how people who ordinarily don’t trust the press on anything are always so quick to believe their worst interpretations of a pope – any pope.

    Between this really over-the-top representation of Benedict’s point and today’s media falsification of Benedict’s words, I guess I’ll be writing late tonight to respond. Sigh. I needed the day off, too! :-)

  • smmtheory

    And too, it is human nature when one is so far on the wrong side of an issue to lash out angrily at the gentle corrections given by someone wiser. I have been told that my viewpoint is ‘open borders’ because I would like to see the Visa rules overhauled so that everybody at every level of education and skill has an equal opportunity to immigrate, not just the rich and/or famous. Too many of the people angry about illegal immigration cannot see that the current set of regulations is not just. When I try to explain it to them, it seems all they can utter is that I for some reason do not think the U.S. has a right to sovereignty.

  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    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 . . . There are no easy answers, no magic words of apology that will make victims feel healed and whole.

    There is nothing that we can do to make them whole. Thankfully, then, we are not alone in this. It is in such times that we can start to understand the absolute necessity of Christ. We can never do enough to heal some injuries, but He can. So it is important that we not merely lay this all at the feet of the Church, or her clergy, but instead give it to Jesus — one more weight added to the heaviness of the Cross — because it is only through that Cross that they can be healed. It is beyond our power to heal them.

    As the Pope told the bishops, “it is easy to make the mistake of thinking we can obtain by our own efforts the fulfillment of our deepest needs. This is an illusion. Without God, who alone bestows upon us what we by ourselves cannot attain, our lives are ultimately empty. . . . Christ’s abiding presence in the midst of our suffering is gradually transforming our darkness into light: all things are indeed being made new in Christ Jesus our hope.”


    Now, I am very happy that Pope Benedict speaks fairly good English, so that he is pretty understandable once you factor in his German accent (which is not as heavy an accent as JP2′s Polish). Nevertheless, one does not fully grasp the immensity of what he is saying at the time he says it. And even reading his remarks off the computer screen leads to a lot being missed. Hence, it is quite fruitful to actually print out his remarks and read them off the printed page (underlining pen in hand). True, from his White House remarks to the United Nations address, there are nearly 18,000 words, spread over 20 single-spaced pages in 12-point font, but taking the time to actually study, not merely read, what he has said is quite helpful.

  • TheAnchoress

    Yes…the reason I needed a day off was because I was starting to overdo, trying to blog and blog to cover as much as I can, and also trying to really READ Benedict. The reading will have to be taken slowly and deliberately. It may be months before I get through and really digest all he is saying every time he speaks.

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  • karen

    Please don’t get sick again, A.

    I thought of you today when i went to Mass@ our Benedictine Monastary. We(they:)) sang the Liturgy of the Hours(Terce)& i smiled. It’s lovely in Latin, eh? I will have to go again soon becasue i want to tell the Novice(oh-so-beautiful)Sr w/an awesome voice- about Mystic Monk coffee. I told her i ~blogged~ and went to The Anchoress.

    It may be hard for some of us to put all these holy feelings into words(except for those in these above comments), but the power of it all is definitely being felt. Gotta love it!!

  • chardonnay

    I love Crusader Coyote’s common sense. Yes yes yes, we are a great country and we have always done great, loving, and wonderful things with the sole intention of improving peoples lives. It is always the left that distorts our intentions.