I’ve now had time to read yet more details of the newest report of Pope John Paul the Second’s habitual shielding of abusive priests from consequences.
The linked report gives a lot of the evidence that’s been compiled. It certainly looks credible.
What strikes me is that one of the perpetrators is described as exclusively abusing girls, in a catechism class. Of the other two, one seems to have exclusively abused boys, and the gender of the third’s victims is not mentioned. All the way back in the 70s, John Paul the Second, then Archbishop Karol Wotjtyla, knew that abusers were victimizing girls as well as boys. There’s no way he wouldn’t have known that detail. He personally re-assigned that priest even after he’d been in prison for abusing girls. Girls and women have always been among the victims of sexual abuse and those who shielded the priests have always known that.
But when the Church finally couldn’t hide abuse anymore, when it all came tumbling out in public in the worst way, what was the story we heard? We heard the problem was gay men. Gay men were molesting altar boys because gay people have no self-control. Never mind that girls were abused too. Never mind that the John Jay report did not find that homosexuality was a factor in whether or not a priest would abuse, and stated that the disproportionate number of male victims was due to the fact that sexual abuse is a crime of opportunity; the priests were around boys far more often than girls. Abuse is more or less its own orientation and abusers take what’s available. But the whole issue was immediately blamed on homosexuality.
They started banning men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” from seminaries. And, of course, we’re no safer.
I’ve heard Catholics take different lines on exactly how the supposedly gay priests became abusers. I’ve heard absolutely deranged conspiracy theories claiming that abusive gay men were put into seminaries on purpose during the Cold War by the USSR in order to weaken the Vatican. Some people don’t believe in a vast left-wing conspiracy, but they are possessed of the notion that a gay man would join an institution that hates them and forces them to hide who they are and study theology for four years on top of their college degree, on purpose, simply in order to have access to young men. Some don’t seem to think gay men are that crafty, but believe that gay priests abuse because they just can’t help themselves. But whatever the reason, we were all assured this was the fault of gay people. And many believed it.
And here, all along, anyone who dealt with abusive priests knows that girls and women had always been victims. Right there at the top of the stack is Pope John Paul the Second, and he knew. He knew personally. And the myth was perpetuated anyway.
The problem isn’t gay people. It’s never been gay people.
The problem is abusive people, and the hierarchy that has consistently shielded them from justice.
Every institution has abusive people in it. You will find abusers in elementary schools and colleges, churches of every denomination, mosques and synagogues, hospitals and television studios. The difference between a safe and an unsafe institution is that the safe ones realize there could be abusers in their midst, and plan for what to do to protect others from them, and have the humility to adjust their plans when they realize they won’t work. An unsafe one will claim abuse can’t happen here, and then shield the abusers when it inevitably does.
The Catholic Church has consistently been an unsafe institution for several reasons, and none of those reasons are homosexuality. One of the reasons is how abusers have been protected. And when the Church got caught, they made up a story about another marginalized group to blame them. They always knew it wasn’t true.
As for me, I’m exhausted just looking at the corruption and lies.
But the last thing we should do is look away.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.