This week, the world reeled at a shocking report issued by a grand jury in Pennsylvania. The report concerned predatory Catholic clergy in that state, and the abuses they committed against children. In reply, Catholics brought to bear a defense that we’ve seen before. Today, I’ll show you what that defense is, and how it backfires completely.
A grand jury in Pennsylvania released this report, which they titled “40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury REPORT 1.” It came out just a few days ago. In over 800 pages and encapsulating years of investigation, the grand jury’s members detail almost a hundred predatory Catholic priests’ doings in parishes and dioceses across their state.
Even more importantly, the report describes a systemic cover-up of those priests’ crimes against children. That cover-up extends all the way to the top ranks of the state’s Catholic officials.
Further, in moves that will surprise exactly nobody who’s read the news, those officials shuffled predators all around the state–even all around the country if not beyond. They not only sent these predator priests to a special private hospital they had set aside for the purpose, but they then ensured that the Christian groups receiving these supposedly-reformed predators knew nothing about the risks they were running with their children.
And lastly, in an even more shocking turn of events, the report outlines the actions of a Pennsylvania district attorney who scuttled the criminal investigation of clerical child rapists. The Beaver County District Attorney, Robert Masters, did this because he wanted to avoid “unfavorable publicity” for the Catholic church. Not only that, but he sent one victim’s transcribed interview to a Catholic bishop for the purpose of helping the bishop to silence the victim and his mother.
If anything could make their cover-up of these crimes worse still, the report also describes those religious officials’ frequent and concerted attempts to discredit the victims involved.
I’ve been reading the report. Indeed, I’m making it a special point to read the whole thing.
By page 14, I’d already wept twice. Tears rise to my eyes right now, just writing about what I’ve read. It’s hard going, if anything ever was. But it’s important to me to read it through. To me, this report illustrates exactly what horrors lurk in the heart of Catholicism as a system. The religion’s about growing power at any cost–so much so that its leaders will ignore even the pain of children and even the evil of child rape to keep what they have gained at their followers’ expense.
Not only do I feel that it’s important for people to understand the degree of victimization involved here at the hands of these trusted child-rapists, but I feel it’s also important (to whatever relative degree one wishes to consider) to know how those child-rapists’ leaders covered up their crime and shuffled them around to abuse yet more children.
This report makes two facts crystal-clear:
First, nowhere in the world is untouched by Catholic child-rapists wearing clerical collars.
Second and of equal importance, their masters developed calculating measures protecting those child-rapists from any consequences of their actions. Those child-rapists’ victims found no reliable help from them.
Another Day, Another Piece of the Puzzle.
By now, fervent Catholics feel about as touchy about their clergy child-rape scandal as Mormons do about reminders of their pasts steeped in institutionalized racism and their horndog founders’ demands for polygamy.
To be sure, we’ve been talking about it for many years now. The initial bombshell nuclear-blast-level reports first came out in like 2002 in Boston Globe’s now-famous Spotlight series. The 2015 movie based upon those Pulitzer Prize-winning reports won two Oscars (out of six nominations) and a host of other awards–besides being a tour de force of acting and filmmaking. Shocking headlines related to the scandal still erupt constantly in the news.
It must feel to Catholics like every single day brings some new, fresh accusation. And that’s when the day doesn’t bring with it some new tangle in existing older accusations.
I search myself for sympathy for their discomfort, and find that my fields are barren. All my sympathy already got harvested for the victims of clerical child-rapists.
The Predictable Toxic Christian Response.
A few days ago, someone raised the question of the Pennsylvania report on Catholic Answers Forums. I’m sure she gave voice to a feeling many Catholics can identify in themselves:
I know I’m going to be questioned about my faith- and I sometimes waiver why this would happen to God’s church. I know man is full of fault, but why so much in his church? What can I possibly say in reply?
But she didn’t need to worry. Her pals at the forum had evasive, toxic Christian answers at the ready for her–answers they’d doubtless already deployed in their private lives.
One user, Agatha_Sicily, immediately replied with some good ole-fashioned moral leveling:
But just because it [meaning “horrible things”] happens doesn’t mean Catholicism is wrong. Actually, people in all groups commit horrible crimes. It isn’t a religious thing, it’s a fallen nature thing.
See? Everyone does awful things, so nobody can be blamed.
Other users (like Os2Hugh) decided that anybody who gets upset about the scope and breadth of child abuse in the report is just “using this scandalous tragedy and crime as an excuse to further attack all catholics. But the truth is many of them have always hated the church. . .” Oh honey, like anybody needs some new excuse to despise Catholicism.
Sometimes one sees a user who punts to mystery, like Entwhistler did: “I just have to admit that God is in charge and He has a plan.”
These Catholics largely perform a shuffling of responsibility, even a complicity, that goes straight to the top of their ziggurat of power.
I Don’t Know Why Anyone’s Shocked.
From the very earliest days of the organized Roman Catholic Church, its top leaders have had to conceal and keep secret one simple and obvious fact.
That fact is that their priests often prey upon the flocks to get their jollies. Nobody is safe from those predators–not even children. And no situation is safe from those predators–not even the act of confession.1 A while ago, the Bishop Accountability Project released copious sources and quotes regarding this abuse in recent years–but people have been talking about priests preying upon children for centuries.2
The majority of Catholics themselves bought a bill of goods a long time ago about their organization being anything but a business. They reel right now from this report. It shows like nothing else could the reality of their situation. Some Catholic professor on Wall Street Journal wrote this heartbreaking editorial about it:
Instead of rending their hearts like grieving fathers, too many bishops have rendered their silence or their press releases like management professionals.
Well, DUH, is all I can say. Dude wants his leaders to behave like “true shepherds,” he says, but they are not and never were. That he ever held that notion in the first place speaks to the power of Catholic marketing.
It Gets Worse.
Bill Donohue, also known as that crank whose mere existence puts the lie to Catholics’ entire worldview, has issued a counter-report he claims debunks the Pennsylvania report. In it, we learn that he only narrowly defines rape as penetrative assaults and that teenagers totally don’t count. Also, only convictions matter–not clear evidence of the crimes from the luxurious desks of Catholic leaders themselves. (He does not successfully debunk anything.)
The Catholic damage-control engine roared to life to deal with this serious threat to their bottom line. Cardinal Donald Wuerl‘s name pops up more than 200 times in the Pennsylvania report involving 32 priests under his command and 19 new allegations arising during his watch. He issued a statement declaring himself innocent of complicity. He hopes it’ll help. (It won’t.)
The Vatican is what this nest of Pennsylvania vipers calls its ultimate home. They issued a statement as well. Pope Francis totally wants to end “this tragic horror.” Maybe he should start with the child-rapist priests he himself has allegedly helped escape the law. The report makes crystal-clear that victims–along with their leaders–felt reluctant to report abuse because they wished to protect the business that is Roman Catholicism from bad press.
We’re gonna talk later about this urge because it’s not universally Catholic obviously, but Francis claims he wishes to end that protective focus. My reaction: shyeah, and pigs will fly outta my butt. That urge is built into the fabric of broken systems. It functions as a method whereby predators in those systems keep prey in supply. I don’t see how Francis can do a thing about it before he dies of old age. (He won’t.)
Why This Report Is Still Relevant.
First of all, the Pennsylvania report remains relevant because this abuse continues and is ongoing.
One of Catholic Answers Forum’s users, anikins, scribbled some napkin math to come up with a child-rapist rate of about 9% of priests in Pennsylvania. His math might not be totally sound; he assumes a constant but gradual increase in ordinations, but generally speaking priests’ numbers have declined steadily. The usual rate of priestly child-rapists usually runs between 4-7% of ordinations, as anikins himself notes.
Second, many of these abusers and their coddlers still serve today and have never faced any reckoning for what they’ve done to their groups’ children.
As the report itself notes, most of the abusers the grand jury exposed and uncovered stand well past the statute of limitations. Pennsylvania law shields many of them. Worse, I gather it does so even when Catholic leaders and secular authorities conspired to silence victims and shield perpetrators within that window.
Third, because clearly Catholic leaders are just hunkering down. They wait for the scandal to blow over.
We need them to know that it will never blow over. This scandal is the dealbreaker for their religion. The children they thought were safe to abuse now stand as the very people bringing down the great evil those leaders have brought forth and handed power.
“People Are Still Being Duped.”
As SacredHeartBassist said of the child-rape scandal elsewhere on Catholic Answers Forum, however,
[S]omething in me died the other day. . . what was coming out of the pulpit was that the church is now currently doing all she can to ensure it won’t happen again. I’m sorry, but she hasn’t. It’s still been covered up and people are still being duped into putting their money in the collection basket so that the diocese can pay off millions in settlements.
This is the biggest reason why the Pennsylvania report remains highly relevant. Believers like this one haven’t yet had all of their love and compassion scorched out of them by Catholic apologetics and cruelty. This user struggles with their faith. They feel distrustful–as they should–of their leaders to keep children safe. And, too, this user struggles with their disgust over church leaders’ demands that their followers finance these settlements.
They should struggle. It’s truly a revolting display. Things only get worse when we consider the source of the struggles. These predatory priests betray every bit of the trust people put in them.
I do not find my expectations unreasonable for the leaders of a world religion. Those leaders seek to claim some kind of moral high ground. Therefore, they need to show themselves worthy of that consideration. If they can’t, then they deserve to be kicked to the curb.
The Real Reason for the Cover-Ups.
And that’s why Catholic leaders have always sought to hide these crimes. They know nobody will follow them if those crimes become known. They’re perfectly aware that nobody will give them money, either. They know they won’t be allowed near real political power if people know that almost ten percent (according to that one dude) of their priests are child rapists. Hell, the child rapists themselves know that no parents will allow their children anywhere near priests if they know what chances they run.
The Catholic Church functions now as an irredeemably broken system. It long ago lost the ability (or even the care) to perform its stated functions. Now it exists only to further its own power–and to grow it, if at all possible.
This powerful scene tells us what the stakes really are in this story:
They knew and they let it happen! To kids! Okay? This coulda been you, it coulda been me, it could have been any one of us. We gotta nail these scumbags, show people that no one can get away with this! Not a priest or a Cardinal or a fricking Pope!
Clerical predators and their protectors can run, but they can’t hide. Not forever. Even the bones of their victims cry out from the ground. Justice will be done, despite Catholic leaders’ very most concerted efforts to stymie it. And we will be there to witness it.
NEXT UP: I want to show you how these systems keep prey in the sheepfold. A hero emerges from the ashes! Then we swing back into the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Report. Man oh man. HairyEyedWordBombThrower summarized our next topics best: “Ladies, don’t worry your pretty little heads, now…” See you soon.
1 In recent years, Catholic leaders accidentally exposed that last fact to the world. Apparently the admissions emerged during trials involving child rape scandals. Yep! Not only do a shocking number of priests solicit sex from parishioners during the sacred act of confession, but the Church developed a special law code specifically for dealing with the act. Catholic leaders began passing laws punishing confessional solicitation in the sixteenth century. Between 1723 and 1820, in Spain alone, almost four thousand sentences were handed down to priests found guilty of this religious crime. Catholic leaders accorded three other crimes that level of secrecy and severity, incidentally: same-sex relations, child sexual abuse, and bestiality. Gosh, Catholics aren’t safe from their clerical predators–not anywhere, not anytime! (Back to the post!)
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