As the risk of terrible simplification

Posted: Jun 14, 2002 12:00 AM
The headlines continue to suggest the scope of the disaster. A sampling. - "Prelate Says He Let an Abuser Stay as a Priest." - "Accused Priest Commits Suicide." - "Illinois Priest Guilty in Drug Case." - "Maryland Priest May Face Criminal Probe." - "Maryland Priest Is Arrested." - "Oklahoma Archbishop Failed to Oust Priest: Long Trail of Abuse Prompts Criticism." - "Kentucky Bishop Is Suspended in Abuse Case." - "Nearly 100 Kentucky Men Add to Accusations Against Priests." - "Vatican Accepts Resignation of Milwaukee's Archbishop." - "Accusations Lead to Suspension of High-Level Priest in New York." - "Man Who Accused Priest Shoots Him." - "Gay Pastor's History of Abuse Shocks a South Dakota City." - "Philadelphia to Convene a Grand Jury on Accusations of Priest Abuse." - "Personnel Files Detail Priest Abuse in Boston: Records Show Accused Priests Remained in Ministry." - "Victims of Abusive Priests Rally." The Catholic Church is by far the largest organization of any kind in the United States - yes, bigger than the federal government, the AAA and even the AARP. Unless you live under a rock someplace beyond such headlines' reach, you know that the church - probably the planet's leading force for moral good - has been rocked by a litany of sexual abuse cases. Church officials are thrashing around trying to figure out what to do about it. And suddenly, as so often happens regarding major public questions, artificers, sophisters and facile complexifiers have confused the intellectual landscape with a multitude of rocks and pits in the form of pleas and rationales such as these.... Call in the facilitators and counselors and sociologists! A little consenting intergenerational sex now and then isn't necessarily bad. How do we know the accusers are telling the truth? The accused are good people and shouldn't be ruined by some mere indiscretions. Don't let a puritanical society drive them down because of their lifestyles or sexual preferences. Give them second chances. Keep them where they are and work with them; move them to other parishes to get new starts. Look out for privacy rights. If only the church would get rid of celibacy. The real problem is pedophilia.... And the abused? They're suing. They're seeking the lifting of keep-mum provisions in past settlements. They're agitating for the removal of state statutes blocking the prosecution of clergy for felony sexual abuse of children. They're protesting with placards declaring, e.g.: "My name is Mark Serrano. I was abused for seven years, from the age of 9 to 16, by my pastor in Mendham, N.J.," and "My name is Lee White. I was sexually abused when I was 14 by the Rev. James Silva in Newport, R.I." And they're organizing - into groups such as the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP): In 21 U.S. and Canadian cities, according to The New York Times, "members of SNAP stood at the chancery doors of 21 Roman Catholic dioceses and urged bishops to push for legislation to make it harder for abusers to escape prosecution." At the risk of being dismissed as a terrible simplifier, here are some central truths.... - The real problem is not pedophilia but predatory homosexuality. Some cases involve pre-teens; the heavy majority involve teen-agers. - We're not talking just molestation here, but felonious sodomy and rape - usually involving boys. Forced (or consensual) fellatio and anal intercourse. Life-altering crimes. - The Boy Scouts, God bless 'em, know what key Catholic officials do not - or have forgotten: that homosexuals can be (often are) promiscuous and predatory. In this instance, boys are the primary targets. An awful aspect of the broader problem is the robbing of vulnerable boys' emotional health and viable manhood. - Ask yourself: If your son told you a teacher had fondled him, would you shrug and dismiss it as the teacher merely expressing himself and satisfying his needs or would you storm over to the principal's office and demand the teacher's removal and prosecution? Too often in the Catholic Church, such complaints led only to counseling and retention - or to rotation to another diocese, where the offending priest resumed his predatory activities. If complaints proceeded to prosecution, there usually were secret settlements. The Church covered up. In Watergate, the cover-up went beyond the crime. - This is catastrophic for the Catholic Church in countless ways. Long have the Catholic and Protestant churches had their scandals - their boozers, hacks, quacks, crooks and adulterers. They have had their quiet homosexuals, too - and rarely did anybody notice or mind. Now the problem appears to have grown exponentially, with the church seemingly a haven of predatory homosexuality putting boys at risk, undermining the trust adults and parents properly can place in the church and its leaders, and splintering the church as an arbiter - a yardstick - of normal vs. deviant behavior, and ultimately of right and wrong. Thus the scope of the disaster. This Protestant weeps for a church that is not his (though for decades he has been weeping for an enervated Protestantism). Affectional profiling won't cut it. Nor will dropping the celibacy rule: That's peripheral stuff, and even Protestantism with its spousal ministries has increasing difficulties attracting adequate candidates to its seminaries. How to win back lost trust? Total openness, zero tolerance (and no second chances), and removal and prosecution of those who committed the crimes and those who covered them up might help. Yet, with all that, what of the church would remain - and who to carry out its earthly mission?